ITC Interview :: Summer Thornton Design {Part 1}

"Girl crush" is an underestimate. This fabulous entrepreneur, mother, and design connoisseur does it all - and then some - with flying colors. Emphasis on the colors.

Summer Thornton started her own interior design firm in 2007. Since then, her designs have been touted in major publications including House BeautifulModern Luxury and Traditional Home. And for good reason. After admiring her for years now, I can say her signature look is colorful, bold, far from ordinary, and always leaves you thinking, "That is such a good idea."

I'm beyond honored to feature her on Isn't That Charming, not just because her advice for design is one of the most-visited pages in my bookmarks, but she is a true inspiration with talent that exceeds the norm. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the fabulous...

ITC: For those who don’t know you, what’s your elevator pitch?
Summer: I’m an interior designer and I’ve been able to work with some really amazing people to help build and design their dream homes or dream retail boutiques.  And thankfully, the media has been very kind to me – the work we’ve created has been featured in many magazines, blogs, and books.  In terms of style – no two projects ever look the same – every project is a representation of the individual I’m working with.  But there are some themes that are consistent in my aesthetic – it always is influenced by traditional design, but we typically give it a strong twist through unusual color combinations, layered patterns, and a strong use of vintage shapes & silhouettes.  Most of our work is in Chicago, but we’re expanding a lot this year – we have projects right now all over the country.  

ITC: Your experience includes working for textile companies and other interior design firms. At what point did you decide to start your own company?  
Summer: I officially took the leap back in 2007, but I had known I wanted to have my own firm since I was in college.  Looking back on it I was probably more na├»ve than brave but I wouldn’t change a thing!

ITC: What was the scariest part of taking that leap?
Summer: Probably being the boss!  I went from working for someone to being in charge.  I was 25 and starting my own business.  Figuring everything out from a legal perspective was the first step and then being able to land clients. I went from a salary with benefits to straight commission.   Not that I was making a fortune as a design assistant or while working at Osborne & Little, but I knew that I was giving up the safety net and was going to have to make it work.  I took a pay cut when I left O&L to become a design assistant, and that was one of the best career moves I ever made.  Scary, risky, but it has paid off in the long run.  No great achievement is ever had without taking a risk, and this was the risk I had to take.

ITC: What has been the most rewarding?
Summer: There are so many rewards it’s hard to put them into words.  Here are a few of the most rewarding things:
- I love the team that works with me at our firm - they have been absolutely critical to our growth & me maintaining my sanity.  They’re both great friends and I appreciate their willingness to ride this roller coaster with me every day.
- Seeing bloggers & our social media fans geek-out over our work. There’s nothing that’s more motivating and encouraging than a total stranger posting “OBSESSED” on Pinterest on one of your designs.  
- Being able to do what I love!  I am completely obsessed with design and have a totally one-track mind.  The fact that I get to do it every day is simply the best.  

ITC: What have you learned most from starting your own business?
Summer: One thing I am still continuing to learn, which is so hard to do in the moment, is to enjoy the ride.  Small businesses are a wild roller coaster – euphoric highs, and terrifying lows.  Bask in the good days, in the fun moments, in the profitable months, in the clients who give you creative freedom, and try not to let the tough times bother you.  You have to have tough skin and be able to roll with the punches.  Don’t freak out if you lose money for one month, just work hard to ensure it doesn’t happen every month.  And frankly, if you’ve got a slow day and its 80 and sunny, go to the beach because in 2 weeks you’ll be so busy you won’t be able to get home before 10pm.

ITC: Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Summer: I’m a huge proponent of small businesses, female entrepreneurs, etc.  And most everyone I know who has taken the plunge has been glad that they did.  That’s not saying that it isn’t risky, that it wont be hard, that you might have to live financially tight (very very tight) for a while, but in the end the rewards are exponentially greater than the temporary pain and frustrations.  My advice – go for it.  What do you have to lose?  Seriously.  If you fail, you try again, or if you decide it wasn’t for you then you go back to your former employer and beg for your job back.

With that said, I’d also say its critical that you put together a strong business plan. Differentiate or die. Be you. Figure out how you’ll make people aware of your business.  My husband did all of my PR & marketing which was absolutely critical.  Run the numbers – how many clients do you need to pay the bills, what should you be charging for your service or good, etc. 

ITC: What has been your favorite interior design project to date? 
Summer: My favorite project to-date I unfortunately can’t share photos of yet because it was just shot by Domino magazine and they’ll be featuring it in their summer issue (be sure to pick-up a copy to check it out).  It’s colorful, daring, sultry and quirky.  The final result was great and the clients were a big part of that – just fun nice people who wanted something different than their friends & neighbors.  They weren’t afraid to stand-out, and that made for a great design.

Another amazing project was a French Tudor remodel that I did.  We literally gutted the entire home keeping only the roof and exterior walls.  Again that was a situation where the client wanted a space that was perfect for him and he didn’t care that it wasn’t what other people had.  We shipped-in antique floors from France, a stunning Le Corneu range, custom designed all the cabinetry, installed steel-paned windows, etc.  Again the client just trusted our vision and let us run with it to make it as amazing as we could. 

ITC: In your advice section you note that “Colors don’t clash” and to “Use patterns and colors recklessly.” What is your favorite color combination to use? 
Summer: Which colors are interesting to me is constantly changing.  But I typically like to pull some retro/vintage color that hasn’t been used in years and pair it with something more modern.  Or I’ll take a hue that feels just a little quirky/off and pair it with something more trusted and traditional.  But truly, I don’t believe in color ‘trends’ – sure some things are more/less popular but I don’t think a single color can be ‘out of fashion’ – paired with the right shape, texture, pattern, and other colors and you can make any hue feel cool.  Honestly, once a color combination is popular, I’m over it.  Colors combos I’m loving and using now are powder blue, tangerine and coral; sky blue, pale mint green and acid yellow; and in my daughters room I used aqua, orchid (insert my Mom calling it “mauve”) and lavender. Obviously, you can tell I’m ready for Spring!

Keep up with Summer on Faceook, Twitter & Pinterest. Be sure to check in tomorrow for Part II, when Summer will share advice for decorating on a small budget, key takeaways for designing a room, pet peeves, and what she's loving this Spring!


Raindrops On Roses

April showers bring May...yea, we all know the saying. While flowers on the horizon is an optimistic way to view droplets ruining your hairdo, the reality is that rain can be a drab to step foot into. Especially if you're not prepared with gear that keeps you dry.

Luckily here are some stylish finds that will turn puddles that you dodge into welcomed jumping platforms. (Am I the only one who turns into a splashing 5 year old when I have rain boots on?) The water will come, my dears, and if you can't beat it, I say you join it.

:: Shop The Post ::


3x The Charm

Happy Friday! I'm excited to bring back a little end-of-week link love to this here bloggy blog. 3x The Charm will be filled with snapshots of what's been going on behind the scenes as well as links from the interwebs that made me smile. Let's kick it off, shall we?

:: Lately I've been all about dressing for comfort, and have been throwing on the first things that I grab from my closet in the morning. It's interesting to see your personal style trends emerge when you stop thinking about what to wear and instead go for what you naturally gravitate toward. For me, it's translated to a lot of city-girl-with-a-side-of-hippie, as evidenced by my constant floral and eclectic print rotation (reference images above).  No surprise there.

:: What to do when you're modeling for Rent The Runway live WGN Chicago News: pick a focal point, and perhaps move around a little to show off the dress. I didn't really do either. What can I say, the camera was rightthere and I basically froze because I was so nervous. I honestly didn't hear what was being said while I was up there, all I kept thinking was, "Erh mah gawd I'm on tv! Hi Mom!" Nonetheless, it was a blast, and I have to give a huge thank you to the Chicago Blog Network for the opportunity.

:: For your browsing pleasure :: I need to learn this workout dance. :: Is this girl serious? If so, let's give her a round of applause. :: Man Repeller wrote an awesome post about not wearing makeup. :: On the not-so-pleasureful news front, you must change all your passwords ASAP. (Seriously!) :: In case you missed it, this week I showed you a cute DIY gift for a newborn & chatted about advice for getting things done. :: It's getting real warm around here and I'm giving high-fives out like they're candy.

Have a fabulous, amazing, wonderful weekend!


DIY :: Daughters

What better way to welcome a newborn baby girl into the world than with her first DIY inspired by the lyrics of Daughters? This craft was made for a little gal named Emma, who was born a few months ago and is my cousin's first child. As her "Auntie" (Ok, not biologically, but what do titles mean anyways?) I wanted to do something special and unique, and so I made her a little gift that she can always keep perched on a shelf or wall as a reminder that she is a colorful addition to many people's lives.
Instructions after the jump!


Breathe In, Breathe Out

You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here the past week or so. It's time for a little bit of truth: When life gets a bit crazy, one of the things that slips from me is the drive to write and create. As soon as writing starts to feel like a chore, I know it's time to get things in check. To take a step back, re-prioritize, and get myself to a place where creating evokes feelings of passion, not contempt.

This blog is a huge priority of mine. I love the relationships that it's enabled me to develop, the opportunities it's provided, and the creative outlet it's been. But there's one side of this blog that can be a tough beast to keep up with: it's very time consuming. I work hard at every post and have made it a goal to never throw something up "just because", which has at times lead to mini bursts of quiet time over here. I hate that, but hey, I'm human. I do hope in the midst of those times that my readers know how deeply I care about this internet haven of mine. 

The reality is that between a full-time {+ more} job, planning a wedding, and keeping my relationships a top priority, blogging can be hard to squeeze in when life gets super busy. Most of my posts are done early in the morning (refer to below) or late at night (again, refer to below) and sometimes I'm just tired. Sometimes, I'd rather read a book, take a bath, watch a favorite show, or sleep. So I do. 

All this is being said with a very important message in mind. I've learned a thing or two about juggling a lot, and I'd like to pass along a few thoughts of advice to anyone who can relate. You have to cut yourself some slack. You have to indulge in the little, quiet things that keep your mind at peace. You have to sometimes just accept that things aren't going to be perfect, and that's okay. Sometimes, you have to just be

With all that said, I put together a few of the key things that help me to get back on track when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I know that everyone has times when you feel like you just need a second to catch up. I hope this post can help you get there, and perhaps even inspire you to stop and smell the roses along the way.
Image via my Instagram.


Make To-Do Lists
Write down categories of your life (i.e. "Work", "Wedding planning", or "Home") and jot down the tasks associated with each one. Sometimes the complete list can be shocking, which to me is a big driver for getting things done, but it can also be overwhelming. If you start with the easy, less time consuming things first, you'll find that those check marks will start to roll off and make your list a lot less daunting.

Break Time-Consuming Tasks Up
Sometimes, the hardest part about checking something off your list is the fact that you know it will take hours to do, so you wait for the opportune time. News flash: It will never come. The solve? Make a game plan, segment things off, and start to tackle it little by little. A prime example of a time-consuming to-do on my end recently was writing thank you notes after my first bridal shower. At first, I looked at the pile of notes waiting to be written, stamped, addressed and mailed and thought, "How am I going to get this all done in a timely manner?" The answer was making it manageable. I broke up my note list into groups of 10, and tackled one group a night. Before I knew it, all my thank you notes were out the door, and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

If your list is long, all the items can't be labeled "ASAP". It's just not humanly possible. Begin by asking yourself what's a true necessity to get done, and what's a "nice to have". The necessities are the most likely culprits to give you anxiety, so focus on getting those done first, and your mind frame will be a lot less frazzled. 
:: Forget not that the earth longs to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair. ::
Be Active
This is so underrated in keeping a calm mind. Being active, whether it's going on a walk or going to the gym, truly helps to alleviate stress. It boosts your energy and keeps both your body and mind in tip-top shape. There's really no other way around it. 

Ask For Help
One of the things that I've personally been working on lately is asking for help. Delegating has never been a strong suit of mine. I always think, "It's easier if I just do it. Asking for help will take too long to explain and manage." The thing about this mentality is that A. It's not sustainable if you have a lot on your plate, B. It doesn't let the people around you participate in things that they may want to, and C. It's quite frankly a bit controlling. I've been asking for more help lately with wedding planning, and I've been trying to delegate more things at work, and honestly I can feel the difference in my mentality. It's a calmer state over here. And guess what? Things are still getting done, even if I'm not the one personally doing it. (Shocking, I know.)

Stay Up Late. Wake Up Early. 
Do what works for your schedule. Sometimes staying up late to get things checked off is best for me, and sometimes waking up early is what I need to do. There's only 24 hours in a day, and if you've got back-to-back things planned throughout the bulk of it, the key times to optimize are your nights and mornings. Sometimes, if you need more time, you just have to make it. Remember, you have as many hours in a day as Beyonce. Thanks for the anxiety, B. (JK, I love you.)

Just Breathe
Yeah, it's cliche. But it's true. Take a moment, hour, or day - whatever you need - and let yourself relax. It can be driving the car while listening to the music loudly, yoga, cooking, reading, watching tv, enjoying a glass of wine, or even doing laundry. Whatever it is that turns your brain off and lets you chill out a little, do it. Do it without remorse or hesitation, and do it often. 

Drink Coffee.
Ha! But, seriously. 

Do you have other pieces of advice for managing time and maintaining a busy schedule? Do share! 


Babys Breath

Just like the flower, this post is quite simple. 

My love for babys breath started years ago, somewhat by accident. An impromptu decision to add flowers to my grocery store purchase left me disappointed because there were only wilted options available. With the exception of babys breath, of course. "These will do," I thought, and threw them into my basket. 

They lasted weeks. As in 2 - 3 weeks. For those that frequently purchase flowers, you know that this is a tough feat to accomplish. Another bonus? They filled every room with a sweet, light, delicate scent. Again, for weeks. Plus, they required minimal maintenance. No switching out water every other day, no gooey substance when cleaning out the vases that held them. Just easy, tender, pretty touches that added a little charm to every room they were in. 

Since that serendipitous first meeting, they've my go to flower of choice for decor. They're great as filler flowers or on their own - versatility at its finest. Which is always a breath of fresh air. 


Goodbye, March.

March, it's been real. 

{Clockwise from top} In the drudges of one of the coldest winters in history, I didn't think I'd ever see the sunshine again, but lately it's been out and about, proving that objects in mirror are closer than they appear. A major bonus is that the flowers have been out, if even in just a pretty little corner of my world. Work has been a bit nutty {Our team was written up in AdWeek!} and I've admittedly fallen behind on my personal emails and to-do's. Ug. This week I'm dedicated to catching up with one key all-star mantra in mind. Of course, among all the craziness there's always room for a little fun, as evidenced by a little Abe masterpiece that I whipped up thanks to the Windy City Bloggers. A bit of rain has fallen a bit, but on the upside, at least it's warm enough to do so. Besides, rainy days make the perfect opportunities to have a wedding invitation assembly line - ours are finally out the door! 

Be sure to follow along on InstagramApril has a lot of goodness on the horizon {Spoiler alert - today I get to see a private performance of Bastille - eek!} and I'll be taking snapshots along the way. xo
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