Today we're honored to be talking with a very special guest who you’ve probably seen on TV. Her name is Kelli Ellis - and she is a celebrity interior designer, certified life coach and the author of 'Do I Look Skinny In This House'.
Despite her background in marketing and law, interior design was always in Kelli’s blood. But it was only after getting married and having two kids, that her career really jump started with the help of TLC’s show, Clean Sweep. Since then, Kelli has appeared on HDTV’s Take Over My Makeover, Celebrity Holiday Home, House Hunters Renovation - and is the star of Design Therapy on The Design Network.
Today, we hear Kelli’s journey from designing doll houses in the living room to doing-up million-dollar celebrity homes. We discuss the importance of building relationships, design psychology principles, finding inspiration - and how the online movement has changed the role of designers today. Take a listen it's a great show!
Key Points From This Episode:
- How Kelli went from designing doll houses to celebrity homes.
- More about Kelli’s breakthrough into the TV industry.
- Why Kelli has never had a publicist or agent.
- Kelli’s ROCK star principles for any designer.
- The importance of relationships and creating connections.
- Learn more about Kelli’s book, Do I Look Skinny In This House.
- Design psychology and changing your environment for fresh starts.
- Discover where Kelli finds her own design inspiration.
- The pros of using Pinterest as a design resource.
- How the online movement has changed the game for designers today.
- Find out more about Kelli’s new TV show, Design Therapy.
- The three F’s in the room: Function, Flow and Feel.
- And much more!
“I spent hours designing Barbie’s house but I never cared what Barbie was wearing.” — @designerkelli [0:01:43.1]
“You have to show up when you are going to create relationships.” — @designerkelli [0:05:56.1]
“Pinterest is the best, easiest resource that designers use for the everyday person.” — @designerkelli [0:17:13.1]
“With the online movement, you can either join it or you can be slapped in the face by it.” — @designerkelli [0:22:28.1]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
RugKnots on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/rugknots
RugKnots on Twitter – https://twitter.com/RugKnots
RugKnots Website – https://www.rugknots.com/
Spinning Yarns Podcast – https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/spinning-yarns/id1237709106?mt=2
Kelli Ellis Website – https://kelliellis.com/
Kelli Ellis on Twitter – https://twitter.com/designerkelli
Kelli Ellis on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/designerkelliellis
Kelli Ellis on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/designerkelliellis/
Design Psychology Course – https://spencerinstitute.com/certification-programs/design-psychology-coach-certification/
Design Therapy TV Show – https://thedesignnetwork.com/series/design-therapy/
Do I Look Skinning In This House by Kelli Ellis – https://www.amazon.com/Look-Skinny-This-House-Psychology-ebook/dp/B00J8YXHN6
Read The Transcript
[0:00:05.7] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Spinning Yarns, the interior design podcast brought to you by rugknots.com, luxurious hand knotted area rugs for your home and clients. Want to offer top quality hand crafted oriental rugs to your customers? Setup your trade account now at rugknots.com/trade and get special discounts on all products.
Now, let’s talk interior design.
[0:00:27.7] SE: Welcome back to the spinning yarns podcast by RugKnots. I’m Sarah Eyd, digital marketing coordinator for Rug knots and today we are talking to a very special guest who you’ve probably seen in TV. She’s a celebrity interior designer, author of do I look skinning in this house and certified life coach. She got her start on TLC’s clean sweep and his sons appeared on HDTV’s take over my makeover, celebrity holiday home, house hunters renovation and is the star of design therapy on the design network. Her name is Kelli Ellis.
I see you have your bachelor’s degree in marketing and now you’ve taken that from interior design, the TV business, writing, I mean, you’re insanely successful. Can you just kind of fill us in on how you got here, how you got to this point in y our life?
[0:01:17.7] KE: Yeah, it’s kind of a crazy ride, it would probably look like a really interesting map if I decided to map it out which I might do one day. I did a marketing degree and then went to law school actually and hated that but I had a best friend in law school, I became a voice over agent and she kept bugging me because she knew I did homes for fun.
I mean, I’ve been designing homes through college as a kid, I always joked that you know, I spent hours designing Barbie’s house but I never cared what Barbie was wearing. I just, yeah, I would seriously cover my mom’s entire living room floor and just making houses and rooms. True.
Wallpaper, everything, just designing and but you know, I’m an only child of a judge so I followed the path that I thought I was supposed to take but I had been designing forever and after I left law school, quickly became a missis and had two girls, two daughters a year apart, I was joking with Marcy saying I’m up at 3:00 in the morning watching HDTV, I could totally do that and she’s like, you can’t and I’m going to send you something and you better go and audition for this show. And I did, and I got it.
I know, it’s nuts, it was a show on TLC called clean sweep. So, clean sweep was my first real introduction to interior design so I kind of started my career in interior design on TV. It was trial by fire really, I learned the ropes about television, I think, I already knew about design just because it was innate for me but I knew that I had to at least get certified in some way shape or form, just in case someone asked, although I have to tell you, no one’s ever asked.
They haven’t but I did, I went to back to school for a stint so I could be certified and that was it, the TV shows just kept rolling form one show to the next and of course, you got to know what to do with that exposure if you’re going to parley into something else which is kind of really the name of the game.
[0:03:18.1] SE: Right. I mean, it’s really interesting, a lot of people they tried to get on TV and that’s kind of you know, maybe they use interior design as that way to get in but you’re actually the opposite, you were just kind of doing interior design and happened to get on TV which is awesome.
[0:03:34.2] KE: I know, it’s crazy. You know, there are so many – TV’s so subjective too these days. When I’m talking to designers or educating them, we’re talking, they always ask me, how did you start, how did you get on television and there’s so many ways to break in to television these days, especially with podcasts and YouTube and you know, it’s a very different definition of media that we have today. I think it’s even easier really to sort of make your mark if you really are determined to do it.
[0:04:05.8] SE: Right. Speaking of kind of doing it on your own and branding yourself, I did read that you actually have never had a publicist or an agent, is that true?
[0:04:15.1] KE: True. Yeah, I guess coming from a marketing background, I get it and I know what needs to be done, I call my rock star principles because I had to put it down, again, when I’m educating or talking to designers or designers or doing some business coaching or branding coaching.
Talking about how that came about, I sort of narrowed it down to this and this became a joke and I’ll explain it later but I called it the rock star principles and basically the R stands for relationships. I do know how important it is to create them, maintain them, be genuine with them and then the O is knowing your opportunities.
A lot of people will see an opportunity in front of them but they don’t really see it. We could go into that a little bit later too and the C is to having courage, right? So you really need to have a little bit of gumption but courage and then K is for kick ass really. I was just going to say arse but kick ass. I mean, you got to get out there and actually go and do it and follow through, you know?
The courage is saying yes and t hen the K is to go do it. You know, when I was talking about the relationships, obviously that’s really important, I don’t know if you’ve been to a market or design market which I’m sure you have. You see a lot of designers that are walking around just taking pamphlets and getting scanned and you know, that’s it, really.
They’re there but they really don’t show up. For those designers that really want to say license or where they want to make a mark or creative brand, they have to be willing to stand out because there’s hundreds of thousands of us, walking through the aisles and not kind of blending, right?
I just see that you have to show up when you are going to create relationships. If there is somebody that you want to get to know and you want to create a line with them, you want a licensing deal, you need to show them one, who you are, why you’re special and why they should be talking to you.
Those things are really important. That, seeing an opportunity and that’s having courage. It’s really, all of those things have to work together in order to sort of create that, the first fire to really want to brand yourself. A lot of designers will just come up with the name and come up with a logo and they’ll make card and they’ll get some work hopefully and they’ll try to figure out how to get higher end clients, that’s usually the biggest struggle.
Then, you know, not really working towards much else. If you really go and see the top people who are, they’re called what? Influencers or notables, they all are doing the same thing, there is never ending. It’s constant self-branding and constant marketing over and over again.
[0:06:56.4] SE: Do you recommend that kind of I don’t know, grass roots is the right term but you know, can a person actually having like a team of a marketing team or a publicist or agents for designers, you do think it’s more important for them to be out there on the ground putting in the work.
[0:07:11.9] KE: I do, because I think at the end of the day, I have a designer friend who have publicist and I’ve never put together a deal, they’re just really – they’re just pawns on a chessboard that move around and not really sure what they’re doing, they’re just doing it and I think for the true business person like myself, it depends on obviously who you are but I think you need to understand.
Why is it you’re valuable, what do you have to offer. You know, being able to have a conversation, sit down with somebody, do a proposal, tell them why they need some changes or what changes you can make to their company and why that’s important. You know, we do licensing deals and you actually have a PR agent.
Most designers don’t realize that people who are buying things don’t care that my name is on it or that their name is on it, right? That there’s a designer attached to it. If something works for a project, it works, if it doesn’t work, you’re not going to use it. I wouldn’t buy something with a name on it just because there’s a name on it, I’m going to buy something from such and such manufacturer because that’s a fantastic rug and it’s going to work, that’s it and if there happens to be a name on it, you’d be Skippy.
That’s not the point of licensing branding, what people don’t realize, a lot of designer to realize is that you are just helping getting eyeballs on to this company, I’m hoping to bring eyeballs to the website, I’m helping to bring eyeballs to every other line that they carry. I may happen to have 10 rugs with a line and that’s great because I’m going to promote the hell out of them but I’m also bringing eyeballs to this company and if you don’t understand those principles, I don’t think that you come from the right place and you can’t really speak to it.
A designer friend of mine just pops in my head, great person, sweet personality, fantastic, one on one, truly hates to speak in public, absolutely one of the shyest people in the planet, has a team that designs for them, has a team that markets for them. Everything. They really aren’t even in the mix, I have no idea what’s happening and that shows when they do have to turn around and perform and they do have to go and speak to themselves about themselves and about a product and unfortunately it falls really flat. I think if you’re going to get in this game, you need to at least understand the game that you’re playing.
[0:09:33.2] SE: Right, right? Because all of those people on the team, they take a cut, you know, they take their commission. You’re essentially at the end of the day just the poster child almost but you know, you’re actually out there doing the work and doing it all for yourself which is really awesome and inspiring quite frankly.
You actually have a book too, do I look skinny in this house? Can you tell us a little about that?
[0:09:54.9] KE: Yes, do I look skinny in this house was a kind of an offshoot and the light version of the design psychology course that I have. The design psychology course came up from being surrounded by life coaches and we get a lot of emails oddly from life coaches or any kind of coach really. Trying to help somebody change, right?
They would know about the business part of it, they would know about the psychology part of it but what they couldn’t get was the ability to also change the person’s environment because for most life coaches and frankly, any makeover show that you ever see, even one that’s about a personal makeover, we always have to, or make sense to change the environment as well, right?
If you’re going to help somebody like in their life, business coaching, life coaching and we’re going to get you straightened out, we’re going to get y our books taken care off, we’re going to get your personal life straightened out, we’re going to help you fill in the blank. How can you do that if you don’t at least make a change, even if it’s paint color, to the environment of that person. Do they actually feel like they’ve turned the page? Right? To start a new chapter, like a fresh start just means that.
I would have life coaches call me because they had no idea about design. Like they truly did not know how to do any of it. They didn’t understand anything about color psychology, lighting, furniture placement, anything. I dug really deep into a topic that I think is so fascinating, design psychology and I created the coaching program to be a design psychology coach so that they could take the program and understand all of those things and be able to help their clients but I also found the designers were taking it which was fun.
Because it takes a different stance to interior design, it talks more about the why’s and not really the how to. The book is a light version of the coaching program.
[0:11:57.1] SE: Okay. But you do that course, it is an actual course that people sign up for as well?
[0:12:03.3] KE: Yup, they can sign up through the spencer institute and that’s just spencerinstitute.com and it’s a certified course. I know that interior designers have used it to create a niche in their areas and I particularly know of one entire firm, they have all become certified and they have grown over 200% in their business because they use it as a tool to make themselves different in a very large pond.
They have become big fish calling themselves CDPC’s and really rolling with it because they have a different perspective and they’re actually designing with a different bent which I think we all should anyway. I mean, you should get to know your client clearly. You should understand what makes them tick clearly.
But a lot of designers don’t do that and it’s an interesting way to sort of make yourself stand apart. People are becoming certified every day, it’s really cool.
[0:12:59.8] SE: That’s awesome.
[0:13:01.2] KE: Yeah, I love it.
[0:13:04.8] ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to spinning yarns, the interior design podcast brought to you by Rugknots.com. If you’re an interior designer, looking to grow your business by offering discounted hand knotted rugs to your clients so that your trade account today at rugknots.com/trade and get exclusive discounts on all our high quality rugs.
[0:13:25.4] SE: Speaking about designs and colors, a lot of the designs and projects you’ve done are just so unique, when I look at your portfolio, I see a lot of texture and bold colors and tough furniture which is awesome. Where do you get inspiration when you’re sitting down and taking on a project, where do you get inspiration for all of that creativity?
[0:13:47.3] KE: A lot of it does come from my clients you know? I was just meeting with – and perfect case and point. You know, three different clients yesterday and they all have a very different aesthetic but I can tell when I have clients that are really game, you know, for something different and fun and I like a jux position.
I’m a big fan of putting things together that you wouldn’t normally see in a room or put together in a way that is different. Some of my most outrageous projects are the ones that I have, I take the most pride in. I take a lot from the client because you have to, you know, if they came to you and said look, this Ming dynasty vase has to stay in the room, you know, make it work but I want modern mansion or I want a traditional, yet modern, the craziest descriptions you would not even believe.
I do. I was like, okay, we’re going to have to narrow that down but I just think it’s – I like jux position so you know, when I’m putting things together, having a piece of vintage and having something that’s super shiny, mixing up textures in the same space, really speaks to me and I have clients who don’t like that.
So obviously you have to design to your clients but when I do get those clients that let me do it, I am super excited.
[0:15:05.0] SE: Awesome. What advice would you have for people who are not gifted in the interior design aspect of things and maybe can’t afford a designer that are looking for inspiration? What would you tell someone, the average everyday person wanting to redo their bedroom where to find inspiration and ideas?
[0:15:24.8] KE: Pinterest, it’s true. It’s become such a huge platform and we designers use it to create boards with our clients and it has become really a go to spot and what’s really great about a lot of the platforms that designers use to communicate with their clients like I would use my dome as a client management system right? But they also integrate boards and they have boards but you could pull pictures from anywhere and for the layman that has no idea what they’re doing.
But really wants to start doing some design things, I know that Pinterest blew up from just the design platform alone. So for us, I think the citizens go and it could have changed but the last time I checked the majority of images of Pinterest are interior design and it’s great. I mean that’s where you’re going to go get them. Some people like to use house, I’m not a giant fan because they sell product now too. So it seems to be have it a little muddled in my opinion.
I think people do a better job of curating certain topics on Pinterest, you know it could be worst. You were being really specific and you’re like, “Wow I have a wood floor and I have white cabinets in my bathroom” and those two things cannot change. You literary would type in wood for a white cabinet bathroom and you’re going to get pages upon pages upon pages of ideas and I think that is where the homework I give my clients because if they can’t articulate to me what they do like.
Most people are really, really good at telling me what they don’t like so if they can’t really get the words out, if they don’t know the name of the style and they are not sure what something’s called which is understandable then I will literary give them homework. Some people like to look at their magazines and that’s fine. I’ve seen the difference because most of those magazines put their images online eventually anyway but I think Pinterest is really the best easiest resource that designers do use for the everyday basic person that really needs to get a handle on what it is they want to do.
[0:17:24.6] SE: Right, yeah. I love Pinterest personally. You’re right, most of them, almost the images on there are interior design based just kind of awesome. So as a designer when you first got into this, Pinterest wasn’t around at all. So how have you seen just working with clients like your job role changed just because of social media?
[0:17:47.4] KE: A hundred percent has changed. In fact, that is one of the biggest topics that we talked about sort of trade to trade, business to business. We are talking with designers teaching them how to increase their businesses in this changing world and that is what we call fee based designing because you and everyone else that would like to hire a designer really have a pretty good handle on what it is that you like and you can find most of the items that you would like to use.
And or think that you might want in the space say a particular self-bought or a particular chair or table, you can look it up, you’ve got the way fairs of the world, you’ve got all of the sale sites overstocked, you can find them and so, designers are no longer stores. You know 15, 20 years ago we used to walk around as a mobile store. I’m Keli Ellis and you’re going to but everything through me and designers went hog wild doing mark-up score and you can’t do that anymore.
Because the worst thing as a designer is getting shopped, having a client go, “Wait I found that same cell phone here and it’s $250 cheaper than what you charged me” the worst thing in the planet right? Now your credibility and everything is gone out the window. So what we try to teach now is that you are being chosen for your design ideas, period. You are a source of inspiration on how to put things together that’s it because people can go out and buy a sofa and a chair and a table and a lot of times they still cannot put it together.
Well designers can and so once we understood in this day and age how to market ourselves as a designer with a great aesthetic that you particularly like, you’re going to hire me to just come up with designs, come up with drawings and communicate with the installers, that’s it and if I have to buy something for you because you can’t find it great. I’ll buy it, at my design discount, you get my discount plus maybe a three percent procurement fee which basically will cover any freights or shipping anything I have to do that’s extra.
But if you can buy it on your own and it’s floating around there on way fair how about it because here it is, it fits right into our space plan and that is how design has changed in a huge way and what does that mean for designers? Does it mean that you are going to still charge your $40 an hour? You’re going to charge your $300 an hour or you are going to charge buyer square footage or there’s different ways to do flat B designing but I do it that way because I like to have fun with my clients.
And I don’t want to worry about getting shopped, worry about there being a price difference online, worry about any of it and I am here to design and have fun and do the pretty stuff and I think most designers want to get their head wrapped around that idea are moving forward in that way too. You know gone are the days where we just have to pick up a magazine to hopefully get an inspiration. Now you can go online and it’s everywhere.
It’s in commercials TV shows, obviously we have entire networks dedicated to it. We have everyone who is on the design game and if they are not designers, they like doing it and they’re working at it. So design bloggers are a perfect example. We have people making money and career out of talking about interior design and they’re not designers and those are smart people, they’ve got blogs, they’ve got fantastic websites and they become affiliates of all the brands.
And now they are making what I call mailbox money smart. That’s smart money and they’re not even designers they’re just showing you what’s cool, influencers. So the game has changed 100% and I think there is a lot of designers embracing it and a lot of them who have not which is why they are struggling. It’s unfortunate but it’s true
[0:21:39.4] SE: Right, inevitably eventually they’ll all kind of have to change to this method though right?
[0:21:45.7] KE: I think so. There’s a lot of designers out there who say no. They spend a lot of time water marking their stuff. Removing labels to changing the names of product, that’s way too much work for me. I would rather get qualified clients who know what I charge, totally cool with it and we just move on. That’s what I want. I don’t want to try to mess around and change the image and make it different and change the name of it, no.
It’s not for me and those designers still do it and they’ll be fine but they do hit this wall, all of them inevitably hit the wall of, “Wow I just had my client go out and buy everything without me. Wow, I just got fired because they found this business online” and I think obviously with the way the things are going and with the online movement, you can either join it or you can be slapped in the face by it if you don’t learn how to rule out the punches.
[0:22:42.3] SE: Right and I think that is probably true. I think a lot of different career fields have been vastly affected by social media and just taken a complete 180 because of different platforms now.
[0:22:51.9] KE: Yeah, I agree.
[0:22:54.0] SE: So to shift gears a little bit right now you have a show on Design Network called Design Therapy.
[0:22:59.9] KE: I do.
[0:23:01.5] SE: Yeah, you want to talk about that a little bit?
[0:23:03.6] KE: Yeah, it’s so fun. So again, that’s a really great example of the different platforms. It’s a web series and it was really small, bite size, we call it appetizer episodes. We take one person, one online influencer and speaking of online influencers and transform a couple of spaces for that celebrity and the first season is Kandee Johnson who is a YouTube makeup sensation. She’s phenomenal, she’s stunning and is also talented.
So there’s episodes there that you can see of me and Kandee going through and redoing a new makeup room kind of a studio for her and her bedroom but it comes from the design psychology beds. We’re talking about the real issues of the space for people which you’ll see clients. They’ll come and say, “I love” usually it’s “I love” or “I want to feel” right? So we are coming from emotion, they want to feel a certain way in a room and that’s what design psychology really stems on.
The three F’s, function, flow and feel. So if you don’t have those three things in a room, your room doesn’t work period and so that’s what I’ve come up with. That’s my mantra with the three F’s, function, flow, feel. If you don’t have those, you don’t use, waste of square footage and so we do that using those principles all through design therapy and it’s been a blast to watch it evolve and see the response and see how people are loving the formats.
It’s so easy to take in, you know that’s not a super long show. It’s very easy to watch on a break just grabbing a cup of coffee and watch two to three minutes and it’s a lot packed into the three minutes believe me but it’s fun. It’s a really fun light show.
[0:24:55.3] SE: Great and it really is therapy, I mean you’re incorporating your color psychology and all of that so it really is therapy through design that’s awesome.
[0:25:02.4] KE: I am trying the same thing with I am currently filming HGTV’s House Hunters Renovation and I still do that. I love to step in, pop myself on HGTV every so often and we are trying to use the same principles in that show as well because again, people are just coming from this real reaction to a room and they want to feel a certain way. So it’s not really crazy no matter what the show is called or what format or platform it’s on. It’s got that same basic need from everybody.
[0:25:35.3] SE: Right, I mean it sounds like you’ve worked on a lot of fun projects and also with a lot of big names, notable clients. What are some of the favorite projects you’ve done or what comes to mind?
[0:25:45.6] KE: It’s funny, I really became close to the cast of Dancing with the Stars and Shark Tank as a spin off. It’s just by happen chance that I rolled in from one client to the next and they are all the pros that are the stars on there and they are also sweet and young and have this money and they want to start their lives and they are buying houses and then they come to me and it’s been really fun to work with them. So Sasha Farber and Emma Slater are some of my favorite clients ever.
They’re adorable and they’re both pros on the show and Emma won last season which was great and as a result of that, then I work with Kym Johnson and then Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank. They were delightful. They met Dancing with the Stars, met on the show together and then are now married of course and so I got to redesign Kim’s Hollywood dance studio. So she bought the old Richard Simmons Studio right in the middle of Beverly Hills and I got to redesign that for her and Robert which was a lot of fun. That was just a blast and now she’s going gangsters with it which is so fun to see.
[0:26:59.5] SE: That is awesome. Okay so just before we wrap up here, if people wanted to find out more about you where do they go online?
[0:27:09.4] KE: keliellis.com, so it’s lots of E’s and L’s and I’s, it’s going to look weird when you are typing it in but it’s a K on one end and S on the other, Keli with I, Ellis.com.
[0:27:21.3] SE: Okay and if they want to watch Design Therapy that’s on designnetwork.com.
[0:27:26.1] KE: It is, designnetwork.com and I have links to it as well on my website, you can see past episodes on my website and you can also download the book.
[0:27:35.5] SE: Oh yes.
[0:27:36.8] KE: Yeah, I made it available. It’s available on Amazon if you want a hard copy. Some people like to have it in their hot little hands but if you like to download it, you can do that too.
[0:27:45.9] SE: Okay, awesome. Well thank you so much Keli. This has been great picking your brain about all of this.
[0:27:51.9] KE: Yeah, of course. Thank you so much for having me.
[0:27:54.1] SE: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:27:56.0] ANNOUNCER: You’ve been listening to Spinning Yarns, the interior design podcast brought to you by RugKnots.com, suppliers of the finest quality oriental rugs. To open your trade account today, simply visit RugKnots.com/trade.
Until next time, thanks for listening.