High Point, North Carolina-born and bred interior designer Libby Langdon says it's been a "wild and wacky path into interior design": Born and raised to an interior designer mom and a father who worked in the textiles business, she says, "The home furnishings industry was in my blood." But she first pursued modeling and acting, including appearing in TV commercials, soap operas, TV series and movies, and doing voice-overs. These were experiences that would serve Langdon—who has since developed a successful design-focused YouTube series—well.
Langdon shares her take on the business—both show business and the interiors industry, as well as how the two relate—with Business of Home.
On her beginnings:
In addition to being an actress, I worked in ... the movie business producing films. This was a wonderful training ground to learn about being on camera, as well as pulling together production details and shoot days. It was also in the 1990s, before the advent of social media, when grassroots marketing was everything. It was all about discovering ways to reach out to people and get your message out in the most efficient way possible.
I decided to shift career focus from acting and producing movies and ended up auditioning for the TLC series Trading Spaces as a host. They learned about my background in design and asked me to come back and audition as an interior designer. I didn’t get the job, but the production company contacted me three months later and said they were working on a new show for Fox called Design Invasion, where I would be the host and the interior designer, and would I like to audition? I did, and I booked the show and spent the next eight months traveling to real people’s homes across the country, seeing how they really lived and what they really wanted out of a home.
I would have 12 hours and $6,000 to completely transform one room in their home that I had never actually seen before, and that was my Guerilla Interior Design school—it was trial by error, and “gun and run,” and it quickly inducted me into this glorious industry! Once I started seeing the impact that a new design could have on someone, no matter the budget, I knew this would be my next career chapter, and I started my own design firm, Libby Interiors, in 2004. Two years later, I started filming a show on HGTV, Small Space, Big Style, and after five seasons, I had compiled so many small-space design tips that I decided to write my book, Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions, which was published in 2009.
Working in makeover TV melds my interior design work with my knowledge of the film industry, and it’s a favorite component of my Libby Interiors business!
On the importance of producing content:
In today’s entertainment climate, there are so many media outlets and formats to share the content you create, which is great news for folks who want to jump into the world of video/TV. It used to be that network TV or a cable outlet like HGTV or TLC was the only avenue where people could discover specialty home-decor-focused programming, but these days, more people get information and entertainment from Netflix and YouTube than all national networks like ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox combined. Streaming is the new channel surfing, and social media allows all of us free “advertising” on where to find content and what design tips, tactics and takeaways viewers can expect to see.
The good news is there are so many ways to reach potential viewers. The bad news is there’s so much “noise” to wade through to get your platform recognized and heard. It’s no longer enough to simply say, “I have great design ideas; people should take note.” Because now there are websites like Houzz and Pinterest where people can discover their dream design within a few minutes of surfing—and they don’t always need you.
It’s all about discovering what your messaging is, what makes you special as a designer and what you offer clients that can create a seamless experience and rewarding end result. You have to have your soundbite about who you are, what you do, what you offer and what the experience working with you will be like. People will see the value and need in working with you. In this consumer climate, we all have to be storytellers; whether you are a designer, retailer or manufacturer, you have to be able to tell the story of your value, worth and benefit and make sure it’s compelling enough to resonate with the end user and person who’s shelling out their hard-earned money and making the buying decisions.
It’s no longer enough to say, “I’m great on camera; bring me what you want me to say and I’ll do it.” It’s now so much more collaborative and insightful; we all need to be our own producers and present content on a silver platter. Easily digestible tips and takeaways, and hard-and-fast design facts that folks can put into action. As designers, we see the design dilemmas that are so common and we need to offer solutions and how-to’s to remedy what ails the consumer design wise.
The encouraging option for designers to produce their own content is that you know the challenges that faced your client, the space or overall design to begin with—it’s all about telling that story and sharing what you did to get on the other side of it. It’s so much easier than you think it will be, You know why you did what you did with the design—it’s just finding the on-camera outlet to share that. You will be surprised how easy it is to talk about your designs.
On her evolving approach:
I honestly think the simplest approach to creating video content is the best way to begin. I started posting videos on my YouTube channel based on makeover TV segments I did in 2005 for The View, The Rachael Ray Show, NBC’s Open House, and the Today show. Don’t worry if those national platforms aren’t in your repertoire yet. There’s a reason why videos of kittens playing with toys, babies crawling, and simple life-moments resonate with viewers: It’s approachable, accessible and feels good. You don’t need something overly produced, and actually, studies have found a “real feel” video with blips, bloopers and the occasional stammer here and there engage and endear a viewer to connect on the idea that you are more like them than you are a perfect persona. Tell that story!
Again, if you have a great design tip or a special space to share and you do it in a fun and engaging way, it doesn’t matter if your 10-year-old videoed you sharing your insights or a professional videographer—it’s just about getting your messaging out and presenting it in a passionate and engaging way! My approach has evolved from being less fussy about a perfect picture and video presentation to sharing my design ideas in a raw and fresh way that feels natural and organic to the viewer. It needs to clearly convey my tips but also seem like it’s easy and not too preachy! I also make sure to let my personality come through. I want to be my positive, upbeat self, encouraging people to discover and create their own best design!
On what makes a successful design video:
The same elements that work with a great movie work with a successful design video: Paint the design dilemma and what’s not working or what you need to overcome; make the viewer want to hold on to see the solution—and then give them the design answer and solution! Seems simple, but with so much content out there these days, the “it’s-pretty-to-look-at” approach doesn’t work anymore; it’s more design and informationally driven and important to know what you are shooting and why and what will someone will be able to take away after watching your segment.
A good “before” and “after” hooks people every time, so you just want to make sure you get pictures or video of the space in its original state. Also, look back at what you think your messaging is and assess your content based on that. Make sure your messaging is consistent and keeps telling the story you want to tell. I’m a big sharer; I like to share everything I know. I understand some designers might not want to give up all of their “design secrets,” and if that’s your philosophy, creating video content might not be your best platform, because this is all about giving it up and sharing what you know!
On how video feeds business:
My video content allows my potential clients to see who I am, how I work and what I’m all about; my personality is very evident in all video clips on my website and YouTube channel. I have the ability to completely control my messaging and persona, 100 percent, and when it comes to courting potential clients, managing perception and expectations is paramount. I also know that my videos let people see that I’m approachable, accessible, and driven by creating a fun process; that’s part of what I want folks to take away from working with me. It should be a fun, exciting and rewarding process, and the goal is for them to end up with a final space design that they love and adore! I also think it allows potential clients to see spaces in their “before” stage and that can be a wonderful way for people to see that you can take a space that may look (as bad) like theirs and really turn it into a gorgeous room.
On her forthcoming Libby Langdon Living videos:
I’m focused on the fact that people like quick “yummy bits” of concise content, shorter and more info-based segments and a good-old before-and-after that’s really dramatic. The focus on my YouTube channel is showing how I install a client’s home all in one day, and offering design tips and tactics that people can use. I think people can expect real hands-on looks at how to move their design forward, no matter how detailed or how simple.
Once I hit over 10,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel, I was granted access to the YouTube Space studios for free. They have all of the camera and sound equipment, as well as editing bays and studio spaces for you to film in—you just need to bring your own cameraperson. It’s an amazing state-of-the-art facility, and I couldn’t believe all of that was now available to me for no cost—YouTube just wants you to continue creating content so their platform can just continue to grow.
For more location-focused content, I’ve started filming my client installations that I do in one day, and I’m excited to trim them down (many hours of filming) into streamable TV series segments and create smaller soundbites that are about six minutes long. As people's lives get busier and attention spans get shorter, it’s tougher and tougher to carve out space to get on their radar. The key is to just jump in, start to film and have someone video you in spaces you’ve designed. You’ve got this!
On tips designers should know:
Start having someone film you walking through spaces you’ve designed, talk about what you did, what your thought process was with the design, what were some special details, materials or paint colors you used. It can even be done on your phone—that quality is fine, but keep in mind that the format for YouTube, Facebook and your website is horizontal and Instagram is vertical. I like to have someone taller than me film me if possible so they aren’t shooting me below my chin (never a flattering angle!).
It’s going to feel silly at first—and I mean really silly. You’re going to think you’re bad and you’re going to judge and self-censor yourself. I hope while all of that’s happening, you will hear my voice in your head saying, “Keep going! You’re doing great. People want to see your designs!” It’s more about getting into the habit and thinking about video as the next best way for folks to find out about you!
I do think before you start shooting you want to have in your mind what it is you want to say and find a concise way to say it; the most amount of information in the shortest amount of time seems to be the best approach.
Start your YouTube channel and make it for your business, link it to your website and all company correspondence. Film short clips and teasers for social media of you telling people to go to your channel to see a space you’ve designed, and yes, I’m telling you to make a short video talking about your design video! It’s not just enough to start shooting videos, but the key is letting people know about them and where they can watch! It’s really all about just jumping in, being fearless, and telling your story, and I promise, there are lots of people out there that want to see and hear your design stories!