Meet Gretchen Hansen, Founder and CEO of Decorist

Meet Gretchen Hansen, Founder and CEO of Decorist

Hiring an interior designer is something that probably hasn’t even entered the minds of most working moms. It’s tough to get a personal recommendation for someone to work with if no one you know has hired one, and even if you find the right person, you might be too busy to find times to meet. Add in the typical high cost of design services, and getting help from a professional can seem out of reach.

That’s why Gretchen Hansen founded her online interior design company, Decorist, in 2012. To help homeowners save time and money, the site offers professional design services for a flat fee (rather than billing by the hour, which is more common) and provides a platform that allows clients to compete projects entirely online. “We also give you access to an incredible array of designers all over the country, just in your style—and budget,” says Hansen.

Hansen lives in San Francisco with her husband and their three kids, ages 8, 12, and 13. She talked to us about the pair of vintage chairs that led her to create Decorist, her SoulCycle lunch breaks, and the positive ways her role as working mom has affected her children.  

What inspired you to start Decorist?

Like most women, I had for the most part always been my own interior designer. I knew what I liked and didn’t in my home, and usually had a vision for what I wanted it to look like. The trouble was, it was hard to make all of that a reality on my own.

A few years back, we were remodeling our home in San Francisco and I was decorating my new office. I found a pair of perfect 1970s Milo Baughman pink velvet chairs in one of my favorite vintage stores and bought them on the spot. I knew they would be the perfect centerpiece for my new office. When I got them home, however, they looked all wrong in my office—wrong style, wrong scale, wrong everything.

Disheartened, I called a friend who was a designer. She said, “Send me photos!” so I sent her photos of my room and the chairs, and a few days later she showed up at my house with a rug, table, and some accessories. Instantly, my room was transformed and the chairs looked fabulous. Amazed, I asked her if she could design rooms for others using just photos. She said “Absolutely!” and two weeks later we were building the beta for Decorist. I knew in my heart that millions of women would love to use a service like this!

What’s been the most challenging part of launching your own company?

Everything! It was just much harder than I ever imagined. It’s a pretty long road from the point where you have an idea to actually having a product that customers want to buy on a regular basis, so you have to be incredibly persistent and resilient. Lots of people will say it won’t work, it’s not great, you’re crazy, etc., and lots of things you do along the way will feel like it’s the end of it all, but amazingly, if you stay the course, things usually fall into place.

I think now that we have the early days behind us, the biggest challenge is focus—focusing on the few things that will really drive the business to scale and be successful for the long term. That’s what I spend a lot of my time on now.

Describe a typical day in your life, if there is one. What is your daily routine?

I get up and check emails for about 30 minutes in case there are any big issues to deal with while the kids get ready for school. Then I drive my daughter and my husband drives our sons to school, and afterwards, I head down to the office. My day at the office consists of a number of internal meetings and conference calls, usually focused on moving our key projects forward. There are usually one or two fires to fight, and in between, my job is to help the team keep focused and on track. A couple of times a week, I duck out to go to SoulCycle for lunch, and I encourage our team to do the same. Startups are really stressful, and I’ve learned that the best way to deal with the stress is to take care of yourself. Regular exercise keeps me grounded, focused, and full of energy so I can then give to others—it’s a must.

I leave at a reasonable time so I can have dinner with my family every night by 6:30 or 7. Dinner is really our key family time and I rarely miss it. As a founder/CEO, I’m basically always “on,” but I can be “on” at home after dinner or when needed. It’s important to achieve some work/life balance because building a business really is a marathon. I also don’t think longer hours at the office necessarily lead to better results. We try to be really efficient and focused! I go to bed early so I get enough sleep, another key to winning the marathon of a startup.

What’s the toughest part about juggling work and three kids?

Trying to stay organized and on top of all of the zillion activities and places the kids need to be—to be honest, it’s not my best talent. Luckily, we have an amazing sitter who helps keep it all together, but as all working parents know, you can’t just check out [because] things always come up during the day—the call from school, the form that was due, the field trip clothes needed, etc. My husband and I share a lot of the childcare responsibilities, and I really couldn’t do it without him and our great partnership. I also have a good support network of friends so they are there to help out too.

What’s the most rewarding part about being a working mother?

Going to a calm office? Just kidding. Really, it has been the impact on my kids. While there have been some tough moments along the way (like when my then 5-year-old cut my computer cord in half not once, but twice, because I was working too much), my kids see what I am doing and have become responsible young people as a result. I don’t hover over them checking homework; they are expected to get it done or handle the consequences. I also think they are much more of self-starters, and they believe they can do anything. I can’t wait to see what they end up doing!

How has being a mom made you better at your job?

Kids, like most people, respond well when you treat them with respect and show you care about them. While I can’t say I am always the model of a calm mom, my kids know I respect their opinion and care for their wellbeing. Work teams, and really all relationships, thrive on these two tenets. I try to bring that to work every day.

What are your top three design trends right now?

One of the things I love about the intersection of technology and design is that there is so much more access to great design ideas and products than ever before. This access also means that there is more diversity in design, and that there aren’t necessarily a few trends to follow. You can find beautiful, stylish homes in nearly every design style on Instagram, Pinterest, and more. Design is really about what you love and what makes you happy. Having said all of that, at the moment I am pretty obsessed with hand-thrown pottery, ’70s Big Sur California style, and ethnic prints, any and all!

What’s the best way for a mom on a budget to freshen up her home or home office?

The first step in freshening up a room is decluttering—we are all guilty of collecting clutter and it’s important to purge whatever you can and start with a clean slate. Then it’s all about the three Ps—paint, pillows, and plants. A crisp white paint brightens any room [and so do] new pillows (a mix of ethnic prints are our favorites) and new plants. Make sure to put the plants in beautiful, unexpected containers. Do those three things and your room will have a whole new lease on life!

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