Natalie does design and motherhood on her terms, without apology or permission. A mom of 2, Natalie reminds us that motherhood doesn’t have to be boring or cookie cutter, and neither does your home. Natalie has not only the courage to create totally unique, bold, inspiring spaces but a life that is her own as well. Her secret to balancing daily life and an exploding business? Hiring all the help she can as fast as she can, without guilt. Natalie’s story of following your nagging passion, staying true to yourself, and having fun in this life will remind you saying yes to your soul’s calling will take you exactly where you long to go.
Natalie thank you so much for making the time to talk to me today. I know you are a busy mom and entrepreneur but I am so excited to hear your story. Can you tell me about yourself and your journey to where you are today?
Yes! I’m Natalie Papier. I grew up in a very small town, population of about 700. For a while, I was looking to go to art college, that was my goal. My whole childhood and in high school I was very art centric. I loved visual art, it was something I was good at and inspired by and wanted to continue as an artist but it’s kind of a difficult job to get into. At the time my family was going through some major changes, my parents were getting divorced, it got kind of messy. I went to community college for a little bit and then I started working full-time in finance. End of art story.
How did art come back into your life?
Working in a finance company wasn’t what I intended to do with my life, but I was there for 8 years. I met my husband and moved with him to Chicago. I got a job at the Illinois Institute of Art, granted, it was in the accounting department, but I was excited to be in that environment. However, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I was having a hard time transitioning so I ended up getting another job at a consulting company where I learned a lot about customer service relations. On the side, I started doing murals for children’s rooms to keep that art part of me open. Eventually, Allen and I got married, we had kids, and I became a stay at home mom. We moved to London for a year and a half with Kellen, then I got pregnant with my daughter and we moved back to Chicago. Those years were just a lot of transitions. I didn’t really find my footing or know what I was supposed to be doing. It was a lot of experiences without any real goal.
When we moved back, we bought an old home in Oak Park. I went from this little condo to a much larger Victorian that was pretty much a blank slate. We were kind of house poor at that point because we bought at the top of our budget so I knew I couldn’t spend a lot of money on furniture or things like that so I started getting really creative. Maddie would take a nap and I would just start painting or wall or I’d take something I’d found at a flea market and spray paint it, just to give it a little bit of personality that didn’t cost a ton of money.
I started feeling a need to get out and do something again. Maddie was going into kindergarten and I just kept talking about it and talking about it and the ladies in my book club where like “Natalie, just do this! You can do this!” and was all “how do I get started?” and I think I said it to enough people that eventually a friend of a friend asked me to help her with her house. She had this formalness to her house she wanted to make more boho and relaxed, more approachable.
I went into the job thinking “I’m gonna help her, charge a minimal amount to see what this is like.” It was fun! I enjoyed it but I was really nervous. I had to work within her budget. I was trying to make her happy but I had to combine that with my own design style.
During this time, I met this other woman at my kids school Kim Daunis, my now business partner. We were having a conversation over drinks about how we both love vintage and we hoard things that we find. I have an unfinished basement so my basement became the place for all the things. I’d find something or a project piece and I’d put it down there, and I would paint it, restore it. Kim and I got this idea that would do these vintage pop up shops. I went to estate sales. Saturdays and Sundays, first thing in the morning I would jump out of bed, go to whatever was happening and I would just buy. I would buy things that reflected things I would want in my own home and that were priced well. You don’t need to go the big stores and spend a million dollars on these things. You can find these really cool pieces and transform them into your house with a lot of personality.
How did the pop up shop turn into the Home Ec. design business?
I started doing a more styling jobs. I was a little bit pensive. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was worried I wouldn’t be taken seriously because I don’t have my degree in interior design. But, nonetheless I kept getting hired. It got to a point where I just got so busy and I looked at Kim, who was kind of doing this on the side too, and said “are you interested in joining forces? I think this could really be something.” From there were just like decided not to overthink it. “We’re gonna start a company. We’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do it on our terms and what’s the worst that could happen?”
It felt really good to get the infrastructure in place, the website and the social media stuff because then it really started to feel like it was real. I think a lot of our success was because we believe in being really approachable. If you’re looking for expensive model home, Restoration Hardware, Merchandise Mart type of design, that’s not us. But if you’re into colorful and bold and eclectic, we’re your people.
We started finding a lot of people in Oak Park who had these really cool, historic homes, but they didn’t know what to do with them. It feels very daunting to have these period homes. You almost feel like you should be doing something specific with them, a lot tried to go down that period road, but then it ends up feeling really antiquated. And these are young families with kids and that’s not the vibe they want in their homes. A part of our aesthetic in general is about bringing things they already have, heirloom pieces, or just pieces they can’t afford to switch out right now, and working with what they have and making small updates, combining vintage and modern, and just creating a home they love even more.
I really love that when you decided you were going to go for this, that you weren’t really going to overthink it and you wanted to do it on your terms. Tell me more about that decision.
If you go on Instagram and find local designers, it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed and intimidated. These people are doing amazing things. But I think there was a missing point in the market for an approachable design concept. And when I say, do it on our terms, it means not pretending that I’m a person who is going to design at that level. That’s not my style. That’s not what I do. That’s not what I’m into. It just doesn’t feel real. So for me, if we’re going to do this, it needs to be how we would do it and we’ll find our people. There are designers out there for everyone.
So you ultimately decided to be yourself, to not pretend and try to be something you’re not, and you’ve had massive, massive success.
We definitely climbed. Part of that was just local business but Instagram became the fun place for us to post our portfolio and that’s where people really started finding us. Design Sponge, a really well respected design website, contacted me about an article on my house and that was a huge step in our portfolio.
I bought a couch from JoyBird for our attic and I just reached out to them and said “I love this couch” and I sent them pictures and they replied back asking to do a style story on me. Basically, I think the whole thing is, you can’t wait for things to happen to you. You’ve got to ask for it and the worst thing they can say is no. Sometimes you get lucky but most of the time you have to take the reigns. People are nice, be kind, and put yourself out there.
How was it going from being a stay at home mom, to the pop up shops, and then into a working mom with your own business…how do you juggle all of that?
You don’t realize how little time you have for yourself as a mom until you try and do something more. At first, when I was doing the vintage shopping, that ended up being my time by myself. My husband was really supportive. I’d go out in the mornings and do that and then be home in the afternoons and be with the family. So it didn’t suck up a ton of time and it was kind of my little escape, but once the business started, it was definitely a juggle.
I’m a stay at home mom so how can I do this both? Kim and I both really value the time at home with our kids, so our working hours are when they’re in school. But I was no longer finding the time to grocery shop, or make meals, or even clean the house or all the things you have to do to keep up your life. I kinda had a mini nervous breakdown at the end of last year. “What am I doing? I can’t do this all, it’s too much, it’s a lot.” but I didn’t want to give it up either.
I sat down with one of my friends, who is a lawyer, and I was like, “I don’t know how you do this, how do you do it all?” and she said “I don’t Natalie. Get help. Say no. It’s okay. You’re a full-time working mom, even though you’re on your kids’ schedule, you’re a working mom. Get help. Don’t feel bad about it. Quit feeling guilty. It is what it is.” It really snapped my head in place and I was like okay, “I am a full-time working mom and it’s okay to get help.”
There’s so much guilt coming in, trying to be present and some of that is just a fucking mess. You have to take the time when you have it and be present and then finish working later. You do your best. It’s okay to do that. At first I was having a really hard, feeling guilty, I had a hard time saying no. I was on the PTO and all that crap and was like “I don’t have time for this. I’m happy to be involved how I can be involved, but for the rest I have to say no.”
What does help and support look like for you?
Right now the 2 things that are instrumental in keeping my sanity is a house cleaner bi-weekly and a woman who comes to my house on Tuesday and cooks 3 healthy meals for the week. The thing I hate most in the whole world is planning, prepping, and cooking meals. I don’t like it. So for me, this is amazing. I didn’t even know there was an option like that out there because I wasn’t looking for it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, if you’re feeling stressed you can’t just be a martyr about it. You have to do something to help yourself.
I think as moms we feel like everything is our job and we’re somehow failing or lazy or selfish if we don’t do it all. I fully believe you cannot be the wife and mom you want to be when you’re giving all of yourself away. If you can offload something you hate, or something you just don’t have time for, why wouldn’t you? Especially if it frees you up to make money or pursue your interests. Do you feel like getting help has made you a better, more present mom?
Totally. My daughter is such a picky eater, which was part of the reason I hated cooking, but now I’m not emotionally invested in the process so I don’t find myself getting angry or resentful about meals.
What I have noticed is that I’m a happier person doing this now and my kids see that. They’re happy for me, they’re proud of me and that is something I don’t think you anticipate when you start something. If you’re excited and happy with what you’re doing, it really does rub off on your family. And they are my biggest supporters, they love it and totally encourage me.
Right?! It’s such a great example to show your kids that yes you’re a mom, and yes you’ll take care of them, be there for them, love them but you’re a person too and you have a right to a life that doesn’t revolve around them. I don’t think as mothers we value that enough. We try so hard to do the “right thing” by being there and deny everything that we need and want and end up being bitter, crabby, and resentful, basically anything but the mother’s we want to be.
I don’t think there is a perfect scenario. It has to be what works for you and your family. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out that adjustment period but it’s totally freeing and you stop feeling guilty. Once you go through it and see how everyone benefits.
So when you get what you need it’s better for everybody?
What would you say to a woman, who maybe has something on the back-burner in her life, as you did with the art for so long, what recommendations or advice would you give her to try and reconnect with that?
I think the most important thing is that you can learn from other women doing it. If you’re interested in something, find another woman doing it, ask her about it. Ask them how it is, people are willing to help. I had another designer here in Chicago who helped me a ton, and she didn’t have to, she was already certified and really making it, but she spent the time talking to me. There are women out there supporting women. That’s part of our business model too. Whether that’s other women in our community, a boutique or whatever, we believe in building up other women in small businesses.
Do you believe that there is enough business, money and support and attention to go around.
Of course. So much. If you’re not finding it, you’re not looking in the right places. Right now we have all of the tools at our fingertips, the internet is a wonderful thing. Just continue to put yourself out there. Follow others you like and respect. Putting the love out there for them will send it back to you.
So what’s next for you guys?
We have an article coming out in June for Better Homes and Gardens as the flea market experts, which is such good publicity. We keep coming back down to our roots, our love of vintage and modern. Kim and I are trying to do more Home Ec. on the road, going to flea markets that are in Minneapolis or wherever. We’re trying to plan a trip to go overseas. We want to fly to London, see what we can find over there and find a way to ship it back. We’re working out the details. We’ve also been contacted by a producer, a pretty big producer that is scouting us for some opportunities as well. We don’t know what that looks like yet, it’s hard to know, but it’s all very transitional now.
Basically we’re putting our hands in all the buckets of the things that we like and know something will work out. Some of that is making connections and some of that is following what’s true to our heart. We would love to do a cross country flea market trip with a big Uhaul and come home with all the things and do another vintage pop up shop. We want to do more big design projects outside the area as well. It’s great we can stay local in Oak Park and we’ve been so fortunate to have so much business here locally, but sometimes it feeds your soul to do something different and interesting, like last year when we went to Nashville. It was so fun.
Would you say that listening to your desires and following your wants, even if you’re not sure how it’s all going to come together, is the best path towards your best life.
Yes. Totally. Your inner self is telling you something, you’ve got to listen to her.
Take some time to check out the complete articles and publications on Natalie and Kim and Home Ec at the links below!