In Conversation with Kate Dawson of Decor Whore

Kate Dawson_Blog Header

Describe your business in a few words?

I’m the owner of Decor Whore, an interior decorating and design business that specializes in making homes look like a million bucks, at a fraction of the cost.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Oh boy… this is a can of worms! I’ll try to make it a small can…. 

There are several reasons, although the main catalyst was that my family was going through a devastating financial setback and I had to find a job quickly. I wanted a job where I could make my own hours, and do something creative. I’d always loved decorating as a hobby, but I’d never pursued it as a career. People had told me many times over the years that I should be a decorator, but I had always been so focused on my acting career that I’d never pursued it seriously. After my son was born, I became pretty disenchanted with the acting lifestyle, so when a friend asked me if she could hire me to decorate her office, I said sure! I posted before and after pictures, and people went crazy for them! And it just grew from there!

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Before I started Decor Whore, I was an actor, singer and writer, and I’d produced a few passion projects along the way. I had also had a million other weird jobs (don’t all actors?), like executive assisting in the corporate world, and slinging skincare online.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Noo!!! OMG – Never!!! I was TOTALLY terrified, overwhelmed and intimidated by the idea of running a business. I had always thought, “I don’t have the knowledge or the knowhow to start a business!! I majored in Musical Theatre!!” But it’s amazing how many of my skills from acting prepared me to be a business owner, particularly in a client-facing business. I think a lot of people have the misconception that their skills aren’t transferable – but they are! Which was a surprising, and really awesome discovery to make!

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Hmmm… honestly, my business and my marketing plan have always been about one thing – bringing more beauty, love, and laughter into the world. And what I really wanted people (especially women) to know was that they could have a beautiful home without breaking the bank – and they deserved to have a beautiful home. It’s not selfish, it’s not frivolous, it’s not superficial to want to be surrounded by beauty! Our environment affects our mood, our mental health, everything! Wait… did I get off topic? Sorry!

Back to your actual question… from the beginning, my marketing strategy has always been word of mouth, and showing my before and after pictures on Facebook & Instagram. My goal is always to create a space that my clients love – not a space that I love – but a space that will be a client’s dream come true! And hopefully, they’ll want to share with others, and that has been a successful strategy for me from day one. In many ways, I’m also selling myself – I want to work with people who want to work with me! Projects are most successful when there’s trust between the client and me, so finding clients who vibe with my personality has also been a really important part of my business. 

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

Ooooh… another can of worms! Ya know… I’d probably have to say that my biggest mistake – not only in business, but in life – was that I spent many, many years trying to be the person I thought everyone else wanted me to be. Of course – I didn’t realize I was doing this. I just wanted everyone to like me – and I didn’t want to rock the boat, or be too dramatic, or too sensitive, or “too much” – I just tried to be the cheerful midwestern girl I was raised to be (even when I knew deep down that I was getting the raw end of the stick) and would over apologize (I’m still working on this one!).

For years, I hid my eccentricities (like my love of glitter, sequins, chickens, Star Wars, gaudy earrings, unicorns, cursing, etc) – and hiding all of that shit is exhausting! When I turned 40, I finally got to a point where I thought “you know what, fuck it, I’m going to start doing things that bring me joy!” – even if that means wearing a sequined blouse to the grocery store. And that has served me incredibly well. The more “me” I am, the more success I have. I know that’s been a major factor in the success of my business –my “eccentricities,” the things that make me “too much” for some people are also the things that make me a great, creative designer and a good collaborator.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Dayum! These questions are diggin’ deep! And I love it!! I think what I’m most proud of is that I turned a devastating financial setback — the darkest, most devastating time in my life — into a successful dream-come-true career that brings me incredible joy and creative fulfillment in a way I never knew was possible. Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t frustrations, but overall, I’m proud of my resiliency and I’m proud that I do shit that scares me. Because I’m a mom, and I want to teach my son that life is what you make it. And that we only grow if we do the shit that scares us. It’s up to each of us. And he needs to know that his life is up to him.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

My go-to question is, “What do you want to do long term – like what is your ultimate dream in life?” Because I want to work with people who are passionate, and who have long-term goals, because you can tell so much about a person by their goals and dreams. I want to work with people who want to build something. And who are responsible, who show up, who keep their word. And also… are you silly? ‘Cuz I also wanna have fun!

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, I don’t want to make light of this worldwide crisis, because the truth is that this pandemic has changed the world in ways that we can’t even fully comprehend yet. And it has been a roller coaster to say the least. But I think it’s great that people are really seeing the value and the impact their home has on their wellbeing. We were all just so busy before – just running and racing to get to the next meeting, or music class, or swim lesson. Before COVID, it was easier to not love your home since we spent such little time there!

Now, people are seeing that being surrounded by beauty brings joy, and literally changes the way you experience life, which changes the way you show up in the world. People are spending less money traveling, and eating out, and so they’re saying, “you know what? I’d like to have a beautiful bedroom!” Or, “The kids are home, they need a bedroom that can be a place to relax, and a place to study” – not to mention all the people who now work from home. So I think in a strange way, the pandemic and all the time people are spending inside has given people permission to spend money on their homes, and to value putting time and effort into making their homes beautiful. And once we do start leaving our houses again, coming home shouldn’t be stressful! It should be like walking into a warm cloud. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

This year I want to really focus on video content (because my ultimate dream is to have a TV show!), and collaborations with other entrepreneurs/istas, kickass companies and small businesses. I have a few things percolating and can’t wait to reveal them! 

And of course, lots more “TransWHOREmations” too! (That’s what I call my reveal days!) and sharing those on my Instagram (@katethedecorwhore). I really want people to see first-hand the JOY that comes from loving your home. Oh! And let me say one important thing that I probably should’ve mentioned above – I like to work one room at a time, because it’s quicker, it’s more manageable, it’s more cost effective and you’re going to feel the difference it makes in your life that much faster!! I think a lot of people have this assumption that if they hire a decorator it’s for the whole house, but it doesn’t have to be! 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

To let go. To slow down. To be present. And I know that sounds so cliché… but it took a pandemic to really make me understand the importance of those things.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to do it all on my own. I have many strengths that make my business unique and successful. But in areas that aren’t my expertise that often make starting a business feel overwhelming (like accounting and bookkeeping!), there are people who can help. Once I realized that, it felt a lot less overwhelming and a lot more manageable.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Meditation. I started meditating daily about 2.5 years ago, and it has truly changed my life. It’s given me space between what happens, and what my reaction is. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s brought a calmness to me that I really never had before. And that’s all thanks to my meditation teacher Anne Sussman.  I also think regularly listening to inspiring podcasts and audible books has kept me focused – I try to be very careful and selective with what I allow into my brain. ‘Cuz all that stuff stays… there’s no delete button!

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Do I believe in it? Well sure! But do I practice it?!… I try!! Because let’s be honest, it’s an ongoing challenge to keep everything balanced. I do have certain things that I know I MUST do to keep sane. One of those is daily meditation; another is time with my family – with NO PHONES (but omg that is so hard!). But none of that would work without making time to figure out how to make time for everything (that sounded redundant, but you know what I mean, right?). My best tip is weekly meetings with your family. I KNOW I KNOW that sounds so anal, but several months ago my husband and I started having a weekly family meeting on Thursday nights to figure out what we both needed over the weekend and for the start of the week. We always know it might have to be changed, but once we have a plan, it takes a lot of the stress away, and we always make sure family time is scheduled in there. And I have my husband to thank for that! He’s an Operations guy, so we started thinking of our family life in terms of running a business. So what do you do to set up a business for success? We’ve tried to do that at home too, and while that probably sounds super “Type A,” it’s been a game changer for us. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

Ummm… that I absolutely LOVE Legos!! It’s a family obsession! My husband and I started giving each other LEGO sets when we first started dating, and it hasn’t stopped!

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Meditate 
  • Meditate
  • Eat chocolate, and Meditate

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Wait… am I officially an “Entreprenista” now? Do I get a sash?? Please??? 😉 The first time I heard that word – which I LOVE btw – it immediately conjured up an image of Oprah & Beyonce. Both are women who play by their own rules, they live by their intuition, and they’re unapologetically themselves. The fact that they both have fabulous style, and appear to have a wicked sense of humor is just the icing on the cake. 

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2 Comments

  1. Judy on January 27, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    Love this article. I follow Decor Whore and appreciate her love of color and unexpected touches!
    Can’t wait to see what comes next … a tv show is well-deserved … she is so funny and could sing her way to and from projects!

  2. Jane Green on January 28, 2021 at 12:18 am

    Kate has always been creative and full of color!! It is exciting to see her room transformations from afar!! I would to see her get her own show!!

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