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The Buckingham Effect
Today in the Lounge, Nick speaks with Skip Sroka and London Walder, who both have a little something in common… Julia Buckingham! When Julia was on the show she mentioned one of her designers who went on to start her own firm. Later that day London messaged us to say she WAS that designer! So we knew we had to get London on the show! Skip is a friend and fellow designer of Julia’s who impacted her design career along the way.
London is from Wicker Park in Chicago. Her favorite movie is Captain Fantastic. Her favorite childhood memory is from when she was a gymnast. She would travel, stay in hotels, and hang out with her friends before meets and practices. London’s favorite retail store to shop in is in anything vintage because the items are unique and not mass produced. “Beer, wine or cocktail, London?” BEER. All things beer, such as IPAs and the experience of going to breweries to try out new and different beers.
How London got Started in Interior Design
London always had a creative mind and she feels like she’s been interested in interior design forever. As a young child, she would always redesign spaces in her mind. London attended Illinois State University for Interior and Environmental Design. She started out as a liberal arts student and then later applied to the interior design program. She had one internship her junior year doing price checks and organizing which helped her receive a great technical understanding of interior design. She says that school is so different from the real world. In school, you really learn the technical aspects of design such as using computer programs, learning how to finish a space, learning the safety of the materials, and learning how green materials are. Her very first studio design class was residential and then the rest of her classes focused mainly on commercial design. London enjoyed the fact that school focused on becoming a technical designer so that she could then go on to learn about the business side of interior design later.
When London graduated in 2010, there were no design positions available for her. She applied for about 200 jobs and then began working retail at Crate and Barrel. During her time there, London learned from all the designers that came into the store with their clients. She had a friend who knew someone in the lighting store and moved on to a job as a customer service rep for the company. This is where she first started learning more about interior design from a business perspective. London worked her way up to later become Showroom Manager. She says it was an awesome experience which she still applies to her business today. London also worked at a furnishing company and then received her first design job (other than small projects and freelance work) with Julia Buckingham.
“The Buckingham Effect”
London says that working with Julia was an incredible learning experience. She loves Julia’s confidence and how she explains everything to her clients well. London helped to facilitate product development for Julia’s line. She also worked as a designer and helped with the office flow. London says it was the perfect first design job. She tells us that Julia runs a tight ship and has high expectations from everyone who works with her. She loves that Julia is the full package for her clients. London worked with Julia for just over a year and also took another lead design position before she felt like she was at a crossroads in her career.
The Business Today
Today, London is working for herself. She is looking to hire an intern, open up a storefront, and get a team together. She still has a lot of research to do. Right now, London has about 10 clients in progress, a few projects she’s finishing up with, and some in the pipelines. She feels like she is in a good place. London does quite a bit of kitchen and baths due to referrals. She also has a few nurseries in the works. She says that having an understanding of lighting, from her previous position, is absolutely great for her because she has the knowledge of how different lights can work in different spaces. She still keeps up with lighting because it is constantly changing. Without good quality of light, an area can drastically change, look dull and the correct focal points won’t be seen. London hasn’t done any real marketing other than on Houzz. As she said, all of her projects have been referrals. She loves to be considerate and thoughtful in her designs and with her clients, which is how she continues to receive referrals. London’s heard before that getting clients through a referral is the best way to get clients because they trust you before they even meet you. She’s also heard that there are then outlets where you can get big projects. London made her website herself using Wix.
Getting to Know Skip Sroka
Nick was introduced to Skip through Julia who is one of Skip’s favorite people. “She is a force to be reckoned with,” Skip says. Skip lives in both New York City and Washington D.C. but he only works from D.C as that is where his office is located. His favorite piece of architecture is an obscure house in Kalorama with beautiful limestone detailing designed by John Russel Pope. His checkbook is open and ready to buy it as soon as it goes on the market. Skip loves neoclassical and traditional architecture. The last piece of furniture he bought for his own home is a rug he designed with Masland Infinity for his library. You can design a rug on a computer and 6 weeks later it is in your home. There isn’t a single room in his house that Skip wouldn’t put on Instagram because he loves them all. If you really wanted to get down to it though he maybe wouldn’t Instagram his basement because it’s a treasure trove filled with accessories, (chandeliers, pottery, chairs), storage items, and enough Christmas decor to decorate his home in four different ways. Skip’s favorite fashion accessory is pocket squares: for him, you don’t put a jacket on without a pocket square. Skip recommends Nick Graham for menswear. It’s fashion at an affordable price. “Beer, wine or a cocktail?” Cocktail. Skip loves making his own.
How Skip Got His Start
Skip grew up in the midwest where he never even knew interior design existed. What he did have in the midwest was car design. Skip participated in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild and then went to art school where he began sketching and drawing homes and interiors. He would ask himself how he could redesign old homes to make them look current. As he went on he discovered interior designers could actually be a profession and he jumped on board. The ability to sculpt an environment and make it exactly what you want it to look like is what inspired Skip most about interior design starting out. He took two years of fine art and three years of industrial design at the Cleveland Institue of Art and design. The most difficult part of school was that he realized early on, he wasn’t a great artist. He was good, but not great, so his talents took him to interior design.
Skip was fortunate because when he was in school at the Phillidephia College of Art for their interior design program he got a job with one of the trustees of the school at her interior design firm. When he went back Cleveland, he got a job designing stage sets and then out of school worked for a large firm doing office design. After that, he worked as an architect and then moved to Washington D.C to work for another firm. It was at that point he felt he was ready to go off on his own. Skip was able to watch other people make mistakes and then had the opportunity to make all the same mistakes on his own.
For Skip, the best part about working for somebody else is that you can leave at 5 o’clock. Additionally, that you are able to concentrate on the one thing YOU are in charge of rather than having to focus on everything all at once. What he liked least about working for other people is when he felt like there could be better solutions presented than what they decided on. When Skip worked for other people though, he was learning so much and he was loving it. He saw things he liked and things that could be improved upon, which helped him create the process to make his firm successful. He has now been running Sroka Design for 30 years. To start, Skip hired an assistant and a bookkeeper. They figured out their process and how to work together, and as they grew, they kept adding to it and reworking it. Skip now has an employee manual. He has put systems in place so that if anyone is sick or on vacation, there will always be someone to cover their emails or phone calls.
Skip has 9 staff members: a personal assistant that helps him both with the business and his private life, an office coordinator expeditor who takes care of orders and installations, a senior designer, two designers, two junior designers, a bookkeeper and a coordinator who helps with samples, company atmosphere and making sure everything is up to date. His office is really made up of 60% design and 40% service.
Keep trying and keep doing. If you act on something you will learn so much, even if you make a mistake. You learn more from your failures than your successes. The only people who don’t learn don’t try.
Porcelanosa-Nick will be hanging out with them at BDNY. The next time you’re in New York, go to the flagship store for Porcelanosa. They have five floors with a ton of products like tile stone, kitchen and bath vignettes. They offer more than just porcelain tile. Gamadecor line a beautiful European Style Cabinet.
Benjamin Moore-Nick speaks highly of Benjamin Moore because they really are great a really helping out their clients and being more helpful than other paint companies. Find your A&D Rep or contact Nick and he can help you find out who that is for you!
Chaise Lounge Updates
Keep an eye out for The Chaise Lounge Thirty Under Thirty!!! Starting 2018 we will identify up and coming designers under 30. You will be able to nominate designers via social media for various categories and then our celebrity panel of designers will judge 30 winners! Keep a lookout for all the details coming soon 🙂
- Upcoming Events
KBIS – Jan 9 – 11
Atlanta Market – Jan 9 – 16
Dallas Market – Jan 17 – 23
Las Vegas Market – Jan 28 – Feb 1
Modernism Week – Feb 15 – 25
Design Bloggers Conference – March 4 – 6
BD West – April 4 – 5
High Point Market – April 14 – 18
HD Expo – May 2 – 4
ICFF – May 20 – 23
NeoCon – June 11 – 13
If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!