Dennis Scully: From our headquarters in New York City, this is Business of Home. I'm your host, Dennis Scully. Every week, I'll be talking to leaders and innovators from all corners of the home industry. I hope you'll join me.
Dennis Scully: We'd like to thank our friends at Business of Design for sponsoring this episode. Interior designer Kimberley Seldon launched the online learning platform to share strategies and procedures for running a multimillion-dollar design firm. With Business of Design, you won't just succeed. You'll soar. Join Business of Design today and gain access to more than a hundred online courses with specific instruction on how to run your business like a boss, profits, confidence, procedures. We all know design matters, Business of Design knows designers matter, too. Become a member at businessofdesign.com.
Dennis Scully: Now, on with the show. My guest this week is Bunny Williams, who, after 22 years of working at Parish-Hadley, left to open her own firm. Some three decades later, she shares how the industry from pricing structures to the value of the designer has changed.
Dennis Scully: Bunny, let's start by talking about how the interior design industry feels different today than when you first began your career.
Bunny Williams: When I started out, everybody wanted to go and work for a good firm. That's where you got started. Today, somebody can decide they want to be a designer and have an Instagram account and a Facebook page and whatever and kind of convince a lot of people that they are a designer. We didn't have that 50 years ago. It's true. We had none of that, and you also ... What was amazing to me is all the time that I was at Parish-Hadley, I was learning all the time. I knew what I didn't know. I think that the experience that I have or Brian or David or all of us who've come out of there is what we know, and there's a lot of knowledge there. That's when we know what space planning is like. We know when things work. I can look at a piece of paper and say, "This isn't going to work."
Dennis Scully: Yeah.
Bunny Williams: So many architects give me plans of bedrooms I can't put furniture in. I'm thinking, "Where's the bed going to go?" I don't line beds in front of a window. I need a wall.
Dennis Scully: Sure. That's part of what you learned along the way. In stark contrast to being quick to go out on your own, you actually worked for Parish-Hadley for 22 years before you were finally ready to go out on your own. Even then, I remember you've talked about you weren't sure if you were comfortable with the business side of having your own business and that was the hesitation about going out on your own. Tell me about making that leap finally for you.
Bunny Williams: Well, two things that happened. First of all, after all those years, I had my own clients at Parish-Hadley. People were coming to me. I would work for somebody. They would refer their friends. I had a client base at Parish-Hadley. We learned right away it's a business, and we learned about our worksheets, our purchase orders, the billing, the estimating. Everything was run very, very professionally.
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: And it is a business. The business management that we learned at Parish-Hadley is what we all still do.
Dennis Scully: Tell me about that. Back in the day at Parish-Hadley, how did you charge clients? Was there a design fee? Were you working on hourly as well? Relative to sort of how we talk about it today, how did you charge back then?
Bunny Williams: Percentage. It was wholesale and retail.
Dennis Scully: It was your markup.
Bunny Williams: It was in the markup, and then there were hourly for the design fees, hourly designs if we were doing the architectural part of it. It's still very much the way we do today.
Dennis Scully: Okay. Would clients sign a contract back in the day or would they ...
Bunny Williams: It was a page. They were not long contracts, a letter of agreement, so everybody knows what you're doing. I do the same thing here. But it's the paperwork. I always say to my clients, "I might be the creative force here, but this office that I have, the coordinators and the assistants, they're getting it done." They're really more important than I am because once I pick out the fabric and sketch the chair and know what it's going to be, I never think about it again. I've moved on to the next thing, and they're executing it and they are 80% of the job. We just finished a huge house and four big trailers of furniture went out, and in one week, an empty house was furnished. Everything, lamps plugged in, lampshades custom-made for those lamps in the house.
Dennis Scully: Does that mean you had everything shipped to a warehouse or a facility?
Bunny Williams: Exactly.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Bunny Williams: Everything goes into a New York warehouse.
Dennis Scully: Okay. Is that generally what you do on your projects?
Bunny Williams: Always.
Dennis Scully: Everything is sort of accumulated all together?
Bunny Williams: Exactly. And this was over three years, three and a half years.
Dennis Scully: Today at Bunny Williams, do you still work on this sort of a markup, this sort of retail net?
Bunny Williams: I do net plus a percentage. The market's so different today. When I first started out, everybody gave a discount to designers. Today, because the market is so different and we have Internet buying, we work on a cost-plus. The clients know. They see the bill for what I paid for it, and then I have a percentage I put on top of that. Plus hourly for design and their design fees. I work so much with architects that everything ... For instance, the tile, the hardware, I don't order that, but I choose it, so I charge a fee for all of that.
Dennis Scully: Sure. In the time of Parish-Hadley, was the D&D Building sort of the primary resource back in the day?
Bunny Williams: Oh, yes.
Dennis Scully: Right.
Bunny Williams: Oh, yes.
Dennis Scully: Has that changed or has the dynamic there changed versus today?
Bunny Williams: I think the dynamics have changed tremendously, because first of all, in New York City there are probably a 10th of the unique shops that used to be here. The shops, some antique shops, but some shops where the dealer had great personality. Chris [Chardoff 00:06:49] was a design, had a shop on 57th Street. He had antiques, he had new things. It was such style you just couldn't believe it. Those have disappeared between the rent and also I think that there are people who don't shop. They don't. They're not curious about it.
Bunny Williams: I have dealers who say, "I sell. It's all online." Nobody even comes in to look at it. And this is from a design office. My office is very funny because if they bring me a picture, I said, "Have you sat in this chair?" And I say, "Don't bring me a picture that you got off the computer. If it's in a shop in New York, I expect you to go down there and look at it, sit in it, feel it. Then, you can bring me a picture of it. But don't just sit on the computer and print out for a meeting 20 pictures of things you've never seen." They do it all the time.
Bunny Williams: That's the sad thing to me about a young designer not ... You've got to touch and feel. You have to have a fabric to know its hand. Is it going to make pretty curtains? Is it too stiff? All these things that go into a decision, and furniture particularly. People say, "Oh, brown wood furniture," and I said, "When you see a beautiful 18th century, faded mahogany side cabinet, it makes my heart sing." But it's because I'm looking at it, and it's not going to be the same in a picture.
Dennis Scully: That's interesting to me because today I think of this new entity Material Bank, for example, the online sourcing for sampling and the notion of designers on their computers just going through and getting fabric samples versus coming to the D&D Building or wherever. It's hard for me to imagine, as you say. I'm surprised that the traffic has gone down so dramatically at the D&D Building, for example, because so many designers are no longer coming to the building. They say, "No, no. We only go there or maybe we go there a few times a year."
Bunny Williams: I don't understand how you can really be at the top of your game and not go see things. I see something different all the time. I'll go in a showroom and I'm like, "Oh, look at that table. Who's making that? That's interesting." I wouldn't find that on the computer because I don't know who it is. In the computer, you're going back over and over to the same old thing you already know, and I think ... I'm always surprised when I look at magazines how often a designer will be using the same thing in projects. I do sometimes, but you've got to mix it up and make each room a little unique.
Dennis Scully: Right. And you think that might be because they haven't seen a lot of new things or sort of been inspired by things?
Bunny Williams: Well, and you can't. It's like going into an antique shop. You may be looking for a chest of drawers, but you get in there and you see a chandelier or a unique mirror and you think, "I've just got to find a place for this. It's so special."
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Bunny Williams: Finding in the hunt. Whether you're in a flea market in Paris or looking in shops all over the country, if you don't go hunt, your work is never going to quite have the magic.
Dennis Scully: In 1991, Bunny entered her first foray into retail with Treillage, a garden shop based on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, opened in partnership with designer John Rosselli. While the business may have struggled against the rise of the digital age, the long-term result of the partnership, Bunny says, was well worth it.
Dennis Scully: Now when did you first meet John Rosselli?
Bunny Williams: Well, I knew John from his shops. When I was one of the young at Parish-Hadley, Mrs. Parish loved John Rosselli, loved his shop. All decorators did. It was the go-to place for finding great accessories and objects and furniture and quirky things. I would go there to shop for clients that I was working on with Mrs. Parish or Mr. Hadley, and one spring I was in there and I said ... John in the fall, he had a bulb order, so he'd be ordering bulbs and I'd put in some wholesale bulb orders for him in the fall. The bulbs were coming in and I said something about the Chelsea Flower Show. I said, "I've never been." He said, "Neither have I." He said, "Let's go." I said, "Oh," and I was married at the time. Anyway, I went to my husband and said, "Do you want to go? John and I want to go to Chelsea Flower Show." He said, "No, go ahead."
Bunny Williams: When we got there, we had amazing time, and all around the Chelsea Flower Show were all these garden-related things. People were selling things, and I said to John, "Why doesn't somebody have a great garden shop in New York? You can't find any of this." He said, "Well, let's open one." So, that night he called his nephew Jonathan, and he said, "Get the lease on this space on 75th Street." It was an old blacksmith shop, and it had been a carriage house. Had these beautiful carriage house doors. John had a paint studio next to it, and he said, "This space is just divine."
Bunny Williams: I trusted him and we started buying the next day for Treillage. We got back, and I went to see the space, and it was the dark hole of Calcutta. There was a pickup truck in the middle of the space and a welding machine, the biggest welding machine. The only thing it had going for it were these beautiful carriage house doors. Anyway, I said, "Okay, we can ..." He moved out, and it was unbelievable. The great thing is that when we were doing the construction, it was a tin roof, and it was sort of falling down. When we pulled it off, we found out that there had been a huge skylight, and the minute the light poured down into the space, it became truly magic.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Bunny Williams: And it had old brick walls and kind of a crumbling atmosphere, and so we opened this great shop that really was a destination for anybody. It was a different era. It was a time when people shopped. You went around. The designers came in, people from out of town came in. It was a destination.
Dennis Scully: Remind us of when it opened. It was ...
Bunny Williams: It must have been in about 1990. I'd started at '88, so it was probably about 1991.
Dennis Scully: Roughly 1991, and that was a time, as you say, where people shopped and they came in and saw things that they loved.
Bunny Williams: We were always having parties. We were always having an art show for people or a launch of something, book signings. Everybody couldn't wait to come to Treillage. We have all these creative people around, and Howard Christian, who managed it for a while, and he could make it look ... You would just go in there and people would just go, "I can't believe this." He's a great stylist, and we were always ... John and I went probably four times a year to Europe to shop between Maison Objet and all the markets. It's hard work. You're up, and we were buying and getting up and standing freezing cold in the French market at 4:00 in the morning in the dark with a flashlight, waiting. But it's so much fun. It's just the hunt that is exciting, and we loved hunting.
Bunny Williams: But times changed. All of a sudden, we saw people weren't going shopping. We moved. We opened on Lexington Avenue and did all sort of tabletops and one-of-a-kind. Not one-of-a-kind but the sort of accessory things there. But you realize the Internet had come in. People could buy online, and retail just went down.
Dennis Scully: When did you first start to see signs of retail declining? When did things really start to become more challenging for Treillage?
Bunny Williams: I would say we had about 12 or 15 years of good business. Then, you saw just a big change. The older designers who supported it were retiring and the new group wasn't shopping so much. They were shopping, but they were shopping online. I do think that all of the online, the computer and the ability to buy online changed everything. And we were ahead of the game.
Dennis Scully: Right. At one point, you talked about putting Treillage online, but that never really happened. Right?
Bunny Williams: John doesn't even have a cell phone.
Dennis Scully: John is not an embracer of technology.
Bunny Williams: No. Doesn't understand it at all.
Dennis Scully: Okay. We should point out then ... We don't want to skip the best part of the partnership between you and John that came as a result. You and John got married. There was a divorce, among other things.
Bunny Williams: We had the baby first, and then we got married. I think that the summer that we spent buying for Treillage and launching Treillage, I had the most extraordinary time with a partner, my partner, who I realized that we were bookends. We were meant to be together. A very close friend of mine, we just celebrated his wedding this weekend, and I said, "These are bookends. They're people that you know belong together and that all the volumes that come between them will all be about common interests and common experiences." That's when you have a great relationship.
Dennis Scully: What a gift to have a partner like that in your life.
Bunny Williams: I agree.
Dennis Scully: We're going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsor, but we'll be right back.
Dennis Scully: We'd like to thank our friends at Business of Design for sponsoring this episode. Interior designer Kimberley Seldon launched the online learning platform to share strategies and procedures for running a multimillion-dollar design firm. With Business of Design, you won't just succeed. You'll soar. Join Business of Design today and gain access to more than a hundred online courses with specific instruction on how to run your business like a boss, profits, confidence, procedures. We all know design matters. Business of Design knows designers matter, too. Become a member at businessofdesign.com.
Dennis Scully: Now, back to the show. Unable to profit from the garden shop, Bunny and John closed Treillage in 2015, but that wasn't the end of retail for the designer. She had launched home furnishings manufacturer B-Line, which was later renamed Bunny Williams Home, in 2008 after struggling to find the perfect drinks table. In light of the company's 10th anniversary, Bunny uncovers the challenges of manufacturing abroad, building and retaining talent, and making the brand relevant for the next generation.
Dennis Scully: How did the idea to launch B-Line first come about?
Bunny Williams: I believe every chair needs to have a little table next to it so you can put your drink down. I would spend hours trying to find these little drinks tables, and I thought, "This is ridiculous. Why don't I just design some and make them." You'll find most designers do design furniture for their clients or for a project.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Bunny Williams: And I also found it impossible to find the perfect bedside table. I like a table a certain height. I like a drawer. I like a shelf. You can put your books on it. I don't want some dinky little table that doesn't function, and they were hard to find, so we started designing for just our jobs pieces of furniture, little drinks tables, and I began to explore the idea of possibly doing a line. I went to High Point. I had someone take me down to High Point. I'd never even been. I was very disappointed because to me, the furniture companies were ... They weren't designers. They were making and selling furniture, and they had this idea that everything should match, that there had to be a suite. So, if you had a bed, you had the matching night tables and the matching chair and the ... I don't decorate like that. Hate it.
Bunny Williams: They also think that if you make something, it can come in 10 different finishes. Well, I don't agree with that. I think that you design a piece of furniture and it's either meant to be black or wood or ... Its uniqueness is the design. The material is a part of the design. I never got this idea that that would maybe look good in five different colors. I kind of didn't jibe with a lot of the big manufacturers, so I said to myself, "Let me try to do this on my own." Very naïve, but it was fun. Everything's an adventure. I've been to China. I've been to Vietnam. I've been to Southeast Asia. I've been to Honduras. I've been to these places. All these sourcing trips, fascinating, absolutely. I wouldn't trade it for a moment. What you see, conditions of work, how it happens. I learned a lot.
Bunny Williams: Also, I wanted to do it myself instead of just be a licensing. All other designers go to a company and they design it and it's a licensing agreement, and you're completely dependent on that company to sell it, manufacture it, and do everything. Now maybe that is a simpler way than what we do, but we manufacture our furniture. I wanted it in stock. I think a lot of designers don't necessarily want to wait 24 weeks, that they'd like to know I've got a client and I could get this table tomorrow. The lamp can be drop-shipped in two days.
Bunny Williams: So, it evolved. Lamps, I found it very hard to find really interesting lamps, and I love porcelain. I love interesting glazes. I also think a lamp needs to have a pretty base on it. It needs to be finished. When I was at Parish-Hadley, we used to have to buy a base, draw it, scale the base, draw the base, scale the lampshade, have a custom-made lampshade. To get one lamp, it went from a carved base. It had to be wired and a custom-made shade.
Bunny Williams: Well, you're not going to make any money doing that, so I said, "Let's make some good-looking lamps that have a pretty base and comes with a shade and an affordable price." I very much wanted our line to be more affordable, that it was things people could think about. It's not the cheapest, but it is beautifully made. If you open a drawer, it's finished. You can turn our furniture upside down. The bottom is finished. It's quality. I want people to think of it as something they're going to have the rest of their life.
Dennis Scully: You went on all these Asian sourcing trips. Where did you end up?
Bunny Williams: Vietnam.
Dennis Scully: With Vietnam.
Bunny Williams: Yes.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Bunny Williams: And I'm going next week.
Dennis Scully: You're going next week-
Bunny Williams: Before Christmas.
Dennis Scully: ... to check on some of your production?
Bunny Williams: Yes. We have our spring collection. We go check on the prototypes. Kyle Marshall, who's my creative director, we go there. They have all the prototypes made. We look at them, adjust them, what we want adjusted. In that night and the next day, they remake it. And we go back the third day, and there it is.
Dennis Scully: Fantastic.
Bunny Williams: It's incredible.
Dennis Scully: Tremendous capabilities, it sounds like. And Vietnam felt better to you than China, Singapore?
Bunny Williams: Actually, the Vietnam, the factory's owned by an Englishman, and he has been in the furniture business for years and has gone everywhere. It's also a factory that will make a small quantity. You can't go to a factory that manufactures for a company like Restoration Hardware because they make a million of something.
Dennis Scully: Right, yeah.
Bunny Williams: I make 10 tables. Now I have to fill up a container, but I've got 10 of something and 10 of another. You need to find a high-end, smaller factory who will make in that quantity.
Dennis Scully: Okay, so they're making your case goods. Are they making your lamps?
Bunny Williams: No. The lamps are still coming in China.
Dennis Scully: From China. Okay. Got it.
Bunny Williams: Because we found these people in China that do hand-painting and glazing.
Dennis Scully: Got it. Okay. Are you affected by all the tariff controversy that's going on.
Bunny Williams: Yes.
Dennis Scully: Of course, and so you're thinking you may have to raise prices soon?
Bunny Williams: What I was going to do, because it makes me so mad, I'm just going to put the regular price and I'm going to put the tariff, whatever the tariff is, as a cost. Everybody knows it's happening, so I wouldn't raise the price. I'm just going to say the lamp is $350 and the tariff-
Dennis Scully: Is X? Right?
Bunny Williams: Uh-huh (affirmative.) Right.
Dennis Scully: A cost.
Bunny Williams: What I don't understand is the lamps that I sell ... There's other people make lamps in this country that are beautiful. They're three times the cost of mine. The consumer can either have it domestically made and pay so much more, or you can import it and have quality at a cheaper price. Our clothes, everything, what are we ... I believe in American-made, and I'm actually trying to open a ... I don't want to run this business. I'm trying to find somebody to do it, but I want ... I bought a building in the little town I live in in Falls Village, Connecticut, and we're restoring. It was a '50s grocery store, and we're making a space.
Bunny Williams: I would like somebody to run it as a cooperative for craftspeople. In the northwest corner, there are potters, glassblowers, whatever. That business would have to be run as a cooperative, and people would have to consign their product. We would sell it and they'd pay so much to ... It's not a big business model. I just want to do it because I think it's important to the little town I live in, and I think it's important to the artisan. But you can't go to American potter and buy his plates and mark it up what you'd have to to put it in a retail establishment because nobody's going to buy them. They just won't pay for them.
Dennis Scully: Yeah. That's what you learned along the way with what became Bunny Williams Home several years into B-Line. It sounds like people were counseling you that really it should bear your own name. Yes?
Bunny Williams: Yes. It was very interesting having a business. I'm a bit modest about ... I find all the self-promotion kind of overwhelming, but we have to do it. I don't like doing it, but it's part of ... If you look at @bunnys_eye, my Instagram, I may post something once a month, but everybody else is posting five times a day. I'm like, "Okay. I've seen your dog. I've seen your house. I've seen you. I've seen you go to this party. I saw you go to the grocery store. Do I really need to know all this?" I post when the mood hits me, if I remember how.
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: And we just moved into a new apartment. I posted a picture yesterday of one of my dogs on the sofa saying that "Annabelle is trying to decide if she was going to even like being here." There was a little picture of the living room. I haven't done much about that. But other people would have been posting the progress every single day.
Dennis Scully: Of course, and they do. But that's never felt comfortable for you. Even calling the store Bunny Williams Home wasn't your first inclination because that seemed a little much for you.
Bunny Williams: Well, it's funny how you said when we were talking before, it is ... As someone said, people are going to come here because they want something that you've designed or a part of it.
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: They want to be a part of this and you use it. We've had a game change at Bunny Williams Home, and there were people who were hoping I'd make them partners in the business. I said, we were having a discussion like we do now, "Where are we going to be in 10 years? What is it?" I can't read the glass bowl. Anyway, they brought in a branding company and at great expense, and they wanted to do it. I said, "Fine." Anyway, so we went through this, this and that and yeah, and they came back to me afterwards and they had this whole kind of layout of what they thought things should look like, and they said, "We think you should change the name of the company."
Dennis Scully: From Bunny Williams Home to something else?
Bunny Williams: To something like Eveready. There was this list of names that I just, I was shellshocked. Then I said, "You know, it's very interesting." I said, "Karl Lagerfeld did not ask to change the name of Chanel when he took over as the design director." What I was asking for is, how do you make Bunny Williams Home, which I'm not a kid, I'm not a young person, but it's relevant to young people. How do you make the next generation want that? Look at the generations that still want Ralph Lauren. Look at the generations that still want Chanel.
Bunny Williams: So, you take this, and this is where I get out of my comfort zone, but I do have something to say. I do have knowledge. I do know what a good piece of furniture is. I know when something's interesting. I do know how to put rooms together. How do you make this? And this is when you ask about what I'm working on, what is the future? That's what's interesting to me now. It's having young people around me and saying, "Okay, you can be critical, but how do we make what we're doing relevant?"
Dennis Scully: Right. You've mentioned that there was a real game change for the business. A few key players left, a couple of people who thought they were going to be made partner, and so you found yourself having to look at the business anew.
Bunny Williams: Well, what I found is, after being shocked, because it came as a blow-
Dennis Scully: You had no idea.
Bunny Williams: None.
Dennis Scully: Okay.
Bunny Williams: Which, again, hurt because when I left Parish-Hadley, I had discussed that with them for two years. We had such a close relationship.
Dennis Scully: Right. You had a plan and [crosstalk 00:30:18].
Bunny Williams: There was, "What are we going to do about it? Could things change?" When I got my first office, the first guest I had was Mrs. Parish.
Dennis Scully: Ah. [inaudible 00:30:29].
Bunny Williams: I remained friends with them. And I have so many people here who have come and talked to me about their future, and some stay, some go. That's part of life.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Bunny Williams: There are just ways of doing it.
Dennis Scully: Right. Unfortunately, it came as a surprise to you. Some key players left the business-
Bunny Williams: Right.
Dennis Scully: ... who had played an integral role. What did you do? Tell me how you handled all of that.
Bunny Williams: Well, interesting enough, you take a deep breath, and the person ... I needed to hire a new creative director, and I was very lucky. I actually went to a head hunter who deals in our business and hired a young man who'd been with Ralph Lauren, designing for Ralph Lauren, has been to Vietnam, knows the furniture business. I was like, "Wow. This is good." He and I get along really well, and he is always bringing me something. He brought me a little book that he had of a furniture designer from sort of ... It's almost late Biedermeier, but quite modernist. I'd never heard of him. Wow, I'm stimulated. He had learned a lot.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Bunny Williams: So, I hired a creative director. And then what's interesting, I just worked and promoted within the staff that was there. Because I often think you have people who are loyal to you who want or given a breath of fresh air that they can do something more. So, the lady, young lady who is now designing, is running the business side of it, started here as a receptionist.
Dennis Scully: Fantastic.
Bunny Williams: And I like that.
Dennis Scully: Sure, as you worked your own way up.
Bunny Williams: Things got changed, and everybody's happier. They see that their wings can be spread, that they're having a chance to respond, and that's been exciting.
Dennis Scully: Glass bowl or not, Bunny's frontline perspective of the retail, manufacturing, and design divisions of the industry give her great insights. In our final few minutes together, she shared the new consumer habits and changing lifestyles disrupting our industry.
Dennis Scully: What's next for the trade? How do you see the role of the interior designer changing?
Bunny Williams: I don't know where design's going to go in the future. People hire me for a lot of reasons, working with the architect, landscape designer. I do all this. I have a lot of experience. I think that it's harder for a younger person who doesn't have that experience. It's going to come out pretty quick that you don't have it. Clients aren't naïve, particularly, and my projects are big. They're really big. Even some of my younger clients ... One of our clients called up and they said, "Oh, we just bought this house in Florida. It's so ugly. But we're going to buy a bigger house one day, but we just wanted something, and would you do it for a limited amount of money?"
Bunny Williams: We said, "Of course." I said, "I can do both." I've done two big houses for them, and they love them and they don't want to not have us involved. So, we sat down and figured out how we could do it. Then the wife says, "You know now we really do want it nice." And I said, "Well, you better talk to your husband about the budget." I don't care what professional you're talking to, you're pretty soon going to know what their knowledge is, and I think that a young designer who hasn't been through the ropes, who hasn't worked for a firm, who hasn't been involved in architectural projects, who hasn't thought about the landscape, the client's going to know that fairly quickly.
Dennis Scully: Right.
Bunny Williams: And they, therefore, will not have the confidence in them that I think they'd probably have in me or David Klingberg or Brian McCarthy because we have the background.
Dennis Scully: Sure. And all of you worked for big firms and for a long period of time and learned a lot along the way. It sounds like part of your advice to designers today is to-
Bunny Williams: Work.
Dennis Scully: ... work somewhere else, right? And really learn the ropes, whether that's five years or however long.
Bunny Williams: It's more than 15 minutes.
Dennis Scully: Okay. You seem to feel pretty strongly about that.
Bunny Williams: You ask this question about how do we sell our product? Is a showroom the way to do it? Our sales are up a lot this year, and the traffic in the showroom is down. This is the whole thing. This is what I come back to is that what happens, I think, is they do come in once. They sit in it. They see it. They then can go sell it because they've been there. They don't have to come back. It's not like it's an antique shop where the merchandise changes or not. But I think that we get repeat orders from designers all over the country because they have been in the showroom.
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: It's not like they've never seen it, and they can call up and say, "Oh, I want John's sofa in this job, and I want to do this and that." So, Rebecca can help them. But even though there isn't new traffic every day, I think that we needed to have a place that people could see the breadth of the collection. And the orders which are going up are not reflective of the foot traffic, but more the online visit. And magazines have changed. I think that we all need to embrace and tell our story. I am working on my website to be my magazine.
Dennis Scully: Interesting. Tell me what you mean by that.
Bunny Williams: Meaning that not only will there be product for sale, but they'll be stories. They'll be why you use it, why you put this together in a way, sort of teaching articles about what I do.
Dennis Scully: Wow. You're creating your own content around it.
Bunny Williams: Right.
Dennis Scully: Do you see yourself on a path to sort of step away more?
Bunny Williams: I love to work, unfortunately. I've worked since I was 20 years old, and I love being creative. I love being creative, and I love the world that we have. We can get on a plane, go to Paris and shop. My travel and my life have all sort of melled. John says one of the reason that we sold the house in the Dominican Republic, he said, "They don't make anything there. I could never go find a good metal person or a good ceramicist or anything." He said, "We end up with a house in the one country where they don't make anything." It drove him crazy.
Bunny Williams: Yes, I'd love to maybe go down to four days a week and have a longer weekend, and with a great staff, you can do that. I keep saying that, but then I'm on a plane every week, and I'm going to Vietnam before Christmas. Then I have a book coming out in the spring, which will mean a lot of travel for the book.
Dennis Scully: Oh, my goodness. Okay, so what's the book that's coming out in the spring?
Bunny Williams: It's another design book, and the book is called Affairs with Other Houses.
Dennis Scully: This is your work on other projects that you've done and then Affair with a House, just for people that might not know, was a beautiful book that you did about your own home and the years you spent fixing it up.
Bunny Williams: And it's been the best-selling design book because it's so personal.
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: I think other people want to do that book, but it was fun. It was John in the kitchen and his recipes and us in the greenhouse and the way we live and the china closet and the whatever. It's a very lived-in house.
Dennis Scully: And it's fun to share all of that, right? People love getting to see your home and your garden, and you're very generous about sharing all of that. People love to see your garden and John's incredible collections of-
Bunny Williams: Things.
Dennis Scully: ... things.
Bunny Williams: I think today one of the big differences that changed design ... The house I have in Falls Village I bought 37 years ago. I paid $110,000 for it, and we had no money. It was a struggle. I stripped the walls. There were rooms that had no furniture in it for five years. Little by little, I've made that house special, the gardens. We've done the barn. [inaudible 00:38:59]. It's crazy. But I never moved from there. I think today, the millennials don't think of permanence.
Dennis Scully: Mmm.
Bunny Williams: They don't want to buy the apartment because they might not want it in three years, and that affects design. It affects what you buy because if you're not going to be here, why should you spend a lot of money on anything? I've always thought that I have it, and the things in our new apartment, the sofa in the living room I bought 30 years ago. It's beautiful. You can't replace it. But I think of wanting to own something for a long time, and I think that's the big difference of if you talk to a 30-year-old, a 32-year-old, do they even think they want to own that chair forever?
Dennis Scully: Do you think that's a temporary situation? Do you think they grow into wanting things longer term?
Bunny Williams: The reason, again, is our lifestyle, Internet, computers. People used to go to work at a bank and they had a job for a period of time. They had a career. No more.
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: Jobs change. A lot of people do things online. They don't even work in an office, so the idea that it's stability. Now if you have children, you've got to stay in a place where there's schools and you may move to a place. And once you have children, you're going to think you're not going to move as much because the kids have friends and they make a life. That's sort of, that's my client for Bunny Williams Home is somebody who's said, "Okay, I'm moving to Darien or I'm moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. I've got kids, and we're going to stay here for a while and we're going to plant some roots."
Bunny Williams: Again, I think with what education costs today, it's extremely expensive to then pay for your lifestyle, pay for the education of your children, and then have money left over to really decorate your house.
Dennis Scully: That's one of the big challenges facing the design industry today.
Bunny Williams: Yes, and it's not that these people ... There is money there, but the lifestyle of people's ... And they want to travel. People have to get involved in their house. I grew up in Virginia. Everybody, your house was your sanctuary. I can remember Mommy, setting the table with my mother when I was a little girl and going down the road to my godmother's and she was having a party. She wanted to borrow something from my mother. Housing and living was it. Even when I first came to New York, we had the tiny apartment. We would entertain there because it was cheaper to make tuna wiggle casserole and have a salad and have all your friends over with a cheap bottle of white wine than go out to a restaurant.
Bunny Williams: I knew how to do that, and we had fun doing it.
Dennis Scully: Sure.
Bunny Williams: I think that, I hope that people will realize that their home is something special and not just a roof over your head and a place to sleep because you're out all the time. I don't know. Well, I said to John, I said once we moved in this new apartment, I said, "I'm determined every other week to have friends over, all age groups." Even if you order Chinese food or whatever, doesn't have to be a big deal. But put people together to talk and to enjoy each other. And I love having different age groups. You always go away thinking, "This is special." If when you do go to somebody's house and there's a group of people, you come away from it thinking, "Wow, why don't we do this more often?"
Dennis Scully: Well, and you have such a different relationship with someone when you've been to their home. Right?
Bunny Williams: Absolutely. And also, you learn from people, where they've been, what they've seen, leaving on a trip. Even discussing politics, which you're not supposed to talk about, but it's interesting. And I find it interesting to talk to somebody that I disagree with. I think that, I just hope ... It does take time, but it's so enjoyable. Running a house takes time, but I actually love doing that. I love thinking about it. I don't always want to be in the kitchen cooking for two days, so I'm always thinking, "Okay, how can I go pick up a stew from ... The good thing in New York, because you can go anywhere and pick it up and take it home and heat it up and put it in a bowl and open a bottle of wine, and you're going to have a dinner party.
Dennis Scully: I know you feel strongly about the education for interior designers, it can possibly be improved. What are your thoughts there?
Bunny Williams: I think that for residential interior design, there's a big difference. Interior design covers a lot of things. Interior design covers hospitals, hotels, corporate headquarters. Interior design is a big word. For residential interior design, for what I do, I think that you're going to learn more in a design office because there are fewer people who are going to be good at this. There are a lot of people who can go out and get a job in corporate interior design. How many hotel rooms have you been in and thought, "Who designed this room?" Right?
Dennis Scully: Yes.
Bunny Williams: Nothing fits. You're thinking, "Does this design ... Is this ..." I think that the design schools obviously have to cater to their student, and that's a student who's going to get a job. And I think that if people want to do what I did, the best thing is to go intern and work, but work for a good period of time for a job designer and wherever you are, because you will learn a lot. I remember at Parish-Hadley being on the first what we call installation, and you realize how many decisions went into every one of those things for it to arrive on time and put in place. And Mrs. Parish was adamant about when you put a room in, it needs to be finished. And she said, "You know, you'll lose a great client over not delivering a lampshade. The pillows have to be on the sofa. Everything."
Dennis Scully: Everything had to be in place, and you've carried that on in your own firm.
Bunny Williams: Because that's the only way the client, when they walk in and see it for the first time, can go, "Wow." You do flowers. We just finished this big house and the clients came in and ... We said, "You can come Friday morning and we'll be finished." And everybody's in tears. I'm in tears. They're in tears.
Dennis Scully: When they walk through the door and see everything for the first time, it's an emotional scene. How fantastic, though. What a gift to be able to give them that. Right?
Bunny Williams: Yes. Sit in every room and go, "Wow."
Dennis Scully: Yeah. Well, Bunny, thank you again for letting us come and spend time in your office and visiting with you. This has really been a fantastic conversation and a privilege for us. Thank you for your time.
Bunny Williams: I'm so happy to have you, really.
Dennis Scully: My guest this week has been interior design legend Bunny Williams.
Dennis Scully: Thank you again for joining us. The show is Business of Home, and I'm Dennis Scully. If you like what you hear, please feel free to subscribe, tell a friend about the show, and most of all, leave us a review on iTunes. Thank you again to our sponsor and our producers. You can find us at businessofhome.com. We're on Facebook or Instagram. We'll see you next week.