10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#7: The Goggins

May, 2011: Pine Street, Winnetka

The thing about business is that you can’t really have one without clients. And frankly it’s not all that fun without good clients. Preferably kick ass ones.

Cue Milestone Moment #7 - The Goggins. 

One of the clients Meg had introduced us too were the Goggins. We hit it off immediately - all design meetings usually happened on a Friday night and involved at least a bottle of wine. 

Their project went off with a bang with everything arriving in time and looking pretty dang good. So good that we were asked to feature the home on the Winnetka House Walk…which I quickly learned translated to close to a thousand people from Winnetka and neighboring communities coming to see the home. 

It was an opportunity that didn’t come around every day. 

There was only one snafu - Danielle was due to have Baby #3 exactly one week before. Meaning not only was she being asked to open her house up to close to a thousand strangers but would have to clear out while they walked through literally every room of their home. With a newborn. 

I sadly assumed it was a definite no. Just recalling the scenario gives me anxiety. 

But cue Danielle the warrior, who is afraid of very little in life and knew what a big deal it was for us. Without skipping a beat she agreed to do it. 

I will have eternal gratitude for that move. Because that was when the North Shore met Sarah Vaile Design. 

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10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#6 HAYLEY

february, 2011: Chicago, IL

With Meg’s black book of referrals, clients were pouring into our studio. We were bursting at the seams yet I couldn’t find it in myself to turn any project away. I was convinced Melissa and I could handle it all. 

Just what is it about bringing on your first hire that is so terrifying? Landing a partner in business feels a lot like finding a spouse - it makes every challenge ahead a little less scary. But yet making a first hire...it feels a little more like having your first child. Suddenly there is someone largely dependent on you for their future, their wellbeing, their happiness. I wasn’t looking to expand anytime soon. 

Yet somewhere between hanging drapes and a gallery wall, I found myself confessing to our client Debbie that I was drowning from all the work. 

The next day I had a text from a new number. 

“My mom mentioned you might need some help. Drink this week?” 

See the thing about Hayley is that she is extremely charming. In the most genuine of ways. The girl could sell ice to an Eskimo.

We left that night agreeing she would help us part time. What was the harm in that? It felt like a good way to get our feet wet.

I think it was two weeks before our part time girl was a salaried employee and only a few years before she was a firm partner.

The night Melissa and I asked Hayley to be a partner, she confessed that had long been her game plan.

Little did I know that one drink would turn into Hayley hiring me.

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10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#5: Meg

September, 2011: Chicago

When the stars align, they just align. One of the best gifts of the fortuitous fall of 2011 was Meg.

We had first met years before when I worked as the Sunday girl in her shop. The Design Shoppe was my first peak inside the profession of interior design and I had loved everything about it. Enough that I dragged myself there bright and early Sunday after Sunday dreaming about a world outside of my current career in advertising.

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Meg’s demeanor was contagious. She was the definition of fun. Every conversation was better had over a drink and no conversation was out of bounds. You spent an hour with Meg and felt like you had just tapped into the depths of your soul. And happened to hatch a brilliant design or business plan while you were at it. Everything about her embodied the world I wanted to be in.

I didn’t confess until years later but it was my short stint at The Design Shoppe that gave me the courage to pick up and move to New York City to pursue my dream career.

Fast forward 3 years and I found myself back in Chicago with a promising business in tow but no prospects of work on the horizon after completing my friends’ Lincoln Park home.

Then one day I got a call from Meg.

“Sarah, you can’t tell anyone but you’re about to find out that I won Design Star and am getting my very own HGTV show.”

“Holy &%$@ Meg, that’s incredible.”

“Right? I need your help. I have a million design projects that I don’t know what to do with. I am booked filming for the next 6 months and need your help!”

And that is how Chicago took off for us.

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10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#4: Time To Expand

July, 2010: chicago + cincinnati

The smartest thing any entrepreneur can do is to realize once they’ve outgrown herself.

I’ve had my fair share of missteps but but one thing I’d like to think I’ve done pretty well is recognized once it’s time to expand. And just who the right candidate should be.

My sister Melissa and I had learned years earlier that we balanced each other well. I always sought to push harder. She tended to err on the side of caution. She was the yin to my yang.

Thus Enter Melissa, Sarah Vaile Design’s left brain. 

She is very much the reason we are still operating ten years later. You see, most designers don’t specialize in the only-buy-what-you-can-afford, don’t-spend-like-your-first-record-just-broke, are-you-sure-we-don’t-need-that-expensive-antique-for-inventory type decisions. We love to spend. And collect. And acquire. What can I say, it’s the very nature of the biz. Every designer should just hope they bring aboard a Melissa before it’s too late.

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10 Milestone Moments Over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#3: Chicago Bound

February, 2010: Lincoln Park, IL

I lived and breathed for design in New York. I was among the greats of the greats. I can’t tell you how many days I would skip class to attend a seminar at the D&D only to find Bunny Williams and Albert Hadley leading a group of thirty people. I wanted to hear how it was done straight from the racehorse’s mouths. 

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I spent a spring interning for Celerie Kemble, who shared the elite design world’s ins and outs with the fullest transparency and enthusiasm of a professor…a brief apprenticeship that I will never take for granted to this day. 

I would run to go grab a sample and meet John Robshaw. I would bump into editors everywhere. New York was no doubt the epicenter of design. 

Only one small problem - my heart and soul still resided in the Midwest. I always knew New York was just a for-now thing and well….and could sense the time was up. There are not many things scarier than moving a private practice to an entirely fresh city but I could sense that it was now or never. 

A fortuitous phone call from my best college friend and I had my first Chicago project - a single family in Lincoln Park, Chicago. 

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10 Milestone Moments Over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#2: the big leagues

August, 2009: Richmond, Virginia 

It all started with a meeting in the cafe of the mid-town Bloomingdale’s, just around the corner from the D&D. I was meeting a client, who had just bought a parcel of an old plantation outside Richmond and was on the hunt for an interior designer to help build her dream country home.

It’s amazing how you remember milestone places in your life like they happened yesterday. I could still point to the exact table where we sat and had coffee.

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We hit it off immediately. I was humbled to be meeting with this client. I was still marveled that she and her husband would entrust a designer with such a small portfolio to lead such a big project. I had seen the project’s architect and builder in Veranda a number of times. It was no small endeavor. She wanted someone young and eager who would really dive into the project and her vision. I couldn’t have been more eager.

Fast forward eighteen months….

….One Nor’easter later, I had foraged south down 95 with a car full of fourteen foot drapes.

….Made sourcing trips all over the country to find the perfect pieces.

…Hauled more than one piece of furniture down the quarter mile driveway (It’s no joke when the freight truckers say “only to the end of the driveway”….I only later learned of this line item called white glove delivery.)

…I had done the NYC to Richmond drive in more Zip cars than I’d like to admit.

….Filled 18 meandering rooms with Scalamandre velvets, Farrow & Ball greens, Swedish antiques, Turkish rugs and family heirlooms from Vermont.

…Added four more guests to my future wedding. 

I officially had a project in the portfolio. And one very happy client.

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