Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Heather Clawson
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Heather Clawson is proof you can make money with an art history degree. Interior designer and author of the design blog Habitually Chic, she recently published her first book, "Creativity at Work." The Penn State grad and Greensburg native makes her home in New York City, where she juggles work on her popular blog, design clients and a personal life.
Congrats on the book, but how did you find the time to write it?
You know, I'm really lucky that I work from home and for myself and can go out and photograph and interview all these amazing people. I have access to them from the blog, but it was definitely a juggling act. The book itself wasn't as hard as the editing process. It's very time-consuming going back and forth and making sure everything is perfect before it goes to print.
I'd read you started the blog as a kind of resume to help get clients.
When I first started it, really, I didn't know what it was. It was just a place to, it was almost like a visual online scrap board or scrapbook. I was working for another designer and reading blogs. At that time, which was more than five years ago, there weren't that many in New York. A lot of them [bloggers] just liked design, but they weren't working in design. So I thought, well, I can talk about going to installations or working on projects. I can talk about what's going on in New York with art and fashion.
When I was laid off in 2008, I had already been working on some projects myself and getting clients. So when that happened I really was able to go out on my own. It was really a resume. When you started a blog years ago, you really had no idea what it was going to turn into. I think nowadays people have a better idea what can happen from it.
So how did you decide on Habitually Chic for the name?
Well, this is a good story: I was working for another designer, and I wasn't sure he'd look upon this fondly. So I didn't want to get in trouble, and I wanted to keep it anonymous. I had seen the Sartorialist, and he would sign off on things with an S. The blog initial and his initial were the same, and it got me thinking. What phrase could be a style statement that worked with HC, my initials? The C would be easy, chic. For the H, I really looked in the English and French dictionary and started playing around with words. I asked my friends which one sounded the best, and "Habitually Chic" was born. I knew enough about marketing and branding to know that I should name it something unique that would come up in a Google search and not get confused with something else. People should think about that when they name their blogs.
Where did you learn about marketing and branding?
I think there are two types of creative people. One who is in it from the beginning and knows what they want to do and just get there. There are some of us who get sidetracked and do other things. I have a degree in art history and did not know what to do with it. I landed in commercial real estate, but luckily it was in marketing and a little bit of the creative side. I worked on an online newsletter. Some things kind of rubbed off from that.
Did you move to New York right after you graduated?
I grew up wanting to live in New York, I think because of the proximity to Pittsburgh and Andy Warhol and hearing these amazing stories of Studio 54. New York for me was just a mecca, but after college I moved to Boston with my college boyfriend. He was going to law school there. It was pretty much just a stepping stone. Finally in 2001 I needed to make the move.
How has blogging changed your social life?
What's really funny is that in the beginning no one emails you. You don't get invited anywhere. You are just sort of putting things out in the void. Now it's like -- I hate to even complain, it's a good problem to have -- I get so many emails and so many invitations. It's great going to events. I think that's where things really started to pick up and people met me in person, and it's nice to put a name to a face. That helped to get some magazine mentions and things like that. Now I'll be doing the book tour.
Are you coming to Pittsburgh for a book signing?
I'm hoping. I started with places that I have a relationship with. I would love to do a signing at Toad Flax, an amazing place in Shadyside I love. So, absolutely, I would love to do something. I need interns to help me with all this planning.
You are doing it on your own?
Well, I have some help from the publishers, but it is me. A lot of it is so personal it is hard to figure out how someone could help me. But I think going forward it is impossible to really move forward without some help.
Heather, are you a little bit of a perfectionist?
Yes [laughing], and I'm an only child, so it's sort of hard to let people touch, you know have hands on things. I work out of my apartment, so that's a little weird to have somebody here, but I just have to get over it all and get some help.
You are building a brand. Do you have concerns about success?
What's really funny is it did occur to me at some point that it was becoming a brand. Even the name was a brand. Someone had bought my domain name HabituallyChic.com three months after I started my blog. This was 2007, so they clearly saw something or knew something I didn't. It didn't even occur to me to do that. I had to trademark the name. People thought it was audacious of me to do that, but you really have to think of your blog as a business, a brand, an extension of you. Everything you put out reflects back on you.
Occasionally I make funny comments, but it's all positive. I'm not someone who puts out negative posts because I know how hard all of these people work, whether it's fashion or design or art, and really celebrating that.
I was just in High Point, and I'm thinking about products. It's something down the road that I always wanted to do. You have to be everything, a photographer, a writer, editor. You really have to be able to do it all.
As a veteran blogger, what would you warn newcomer to the medium about?
I think they all expect overnight success. This was five plus years in the making. So that's number one -- Don't expect overnight success. Also, find your voice and try to be as original as possible. It will be interesting to see how the fashion bloggers who take pictures of themselves, how they will evolve. There are so many of them doing that. I've heard that's sort of the future of blogging, and it will be really interesting to see where things go.
With Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr, it's so much. I mean, you really have to kind of have all these layers to whatever you're doing.
Because you work at home and your work is always with you, do you ever feel you can't just step away?
It's really interesting. There are sometimes on the weekends where I've just been trying not to look at it and not do as much with it because you do need the down time. You need to just get out there and do other things. Go to a museum for yourself, but even to do that is really for the blog. I am invited places essentially because I have so many followers. The last line in the book is: Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life.
I'm very lucky to do something that is not drudgery. It's just a part of my life now. I really enjoy it.
First Published October 29, 2012 12:00 am