podcast | Apr 22, 2024 |
How ‘Million Dollar Decorators’ helped shape Nathan Turner’s career

Nathan Turner and California go way back—four generations, to be exact. Raised in the Bay Area, he grew up visiting his family’s nearby cattle farm, where he was inspired by Western history and cowboy culture. “I know it sounds corny to say, but I really see and feel [that pioneer spirit] in a lot of people that grew up here. It’s that can-do, will-not-quit, tough-as-nails [attitude]—it’s running through my veins,” he tells The Business of Home Podcast host Dennis Scully. “It’s funny because I’m a Los Angeles–based decorator. You’ve got to be tough to be a Los Angeles decorator.”

During college, where Turner studied business and economics, his semester abroad in Italy inspired him to join the world of antiques. After he graduated, he spent a few years working for a dealer—and accompanying him on buying trips to Italy—then moved to L.A. to start his own retail shop in 2002, channeling the sense of community he had found in Italy.

It was a hit, and after the store gained coverage in publications like the LA Times and Domino, people began asking him to decorate their homes. Without any formal design experience, he had to lean on his industry friends, one of whom was Mary McDonald. She introduced him to all the professionals she worked with, from curtain makers to painters, and gave him advice on how to manage clients. “People don’t do that [in the industry in general],” says Turner. “They’re not that open and willing to share. [But] I think that in our little tight-knit community here in L.A., there are a lot of people that do. The school of hard knocks and a lot of help from friends helped create my own design firm.” Then, when he landed a spot on the 2011 reality show Million Dollar Decorators, the experience propelled the designer and his business to international fame.

Despite that success, he still keeps his firm small—a key piece of advice he received from one of his mentors, Mario Buatta, who explained that a more compact team meant less overhead, and the ability to take only the projects he wanted. “There’s a freedom to that that is really valuable to me, and I never forgot that,” says Turner. “I’ve always had that kind of a setup. We’re not churning out a gazillion jobs. But I have great jobs, great clients, and I’m not on this treadmill of panic [about] keeping jobs going because of all this crazy overhead. That’s where my business has always been.”

Elsewhere in the episode, the designer discusses his new fabric collection, crafting a California-inspired aesthetic, and how dupe culture blurs lines in the industry.

Crucial insight: After the success of Million Dollar Decorators, Turner got more jobs not only in the U.S. but also in other parts of the world, specifically Asia. With an increase in overseas work, he learned that he works best with full control over his projects—meaning he does most of the work in L.A., then ships products to their respective destinations in containers. “I would do a lot of it here, where I could visit my workrooms on a weekly basis [to] make sure everything’s coming out OK,” he says. “Is that the cheapest way to do it? No. But my clients want things done the way they want them, and that’s the way I know I can deliver it properly.”

Key quote: “I’m not a ‘no’ person. I’m a total ‘yes’ person. I’m up for the adventure. We’ll figure it out. And figure it out I did. In our business, I always think it’s great to share mistakes, because no one is perfect—and people want to maybe portray that they are, but I’ve had some real doozies.”

This episode is sponsored by The Shade Store and Hartmann&Forbes. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

The Thursday Show

BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus and host Dennis Scully discuss the biggest news in the design industry, including a look at why baby boomers aren’t downsizing, the latest with Ralph Lauren Home, and a check-in on the state of AI-powered design. Later, BOH editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen joins the show to recap High Point Spring Market.

This episode is sponsored by Loloi and Annie Selke. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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