Reading and following blogs is one of my guilty pleasures. I can do it when I have time to relax and if I need a quick break. It is where I find constant inspiration both personally and professionally. You may remember my trip to The Design Bloggers Conference in Los Angeles. It was there I got to meet one of my favorite bloggers, Lee Prince of Elegant Mayhem. I have been a subscriber to her blog for several years. Her blog is not just about design but offers vision and wisdom in a variety of areas. I am very pleased that she agreed to be interviewed so that I can share her with you. I hope you find her as lovely as I do.
I adore your style and I feel like your blog speaks directly to me. What made you want to start the blog?
I was helping a number of clients with their brand strategy, including blog development, and I realized that there was a lot that I wanted to say in that medium myself! I went to the Alt Design Summit in 2015 and met incredible, smart women, many of whom were entrepreneurs tapping into unoccupied parts of the media landscape. For me, the area I could never find enough content in was accessible, sophisticated & sustainable style choices (home design, fashion, personal collections) that appeal to women 35+ with “real” lives – kids, dogs, jobs, travel, & many other interests! I felt like it was all either popsicle-stick DIY kind of home projects or super high end, multi-million $ interior design and architecture projects. So I waded in with my blog, “Elegant Mayhem,” about 1 year later when I got up the confidence to write from a first-person voice and show things under my own roof.
Where do you get inspiration for your style?
I get inspired in all kinds of places! One place for sure is my “new” neighborhood – we moved from the suburbs of Maryland to Georgetown, a historic neighborhood in downtown Washington DC. The architecture is to die for – much of it going back to the 18th & 19th century. The cool thing is that there is such variety in the architecture – you have Italiannate houses, Federal rowhouses, Victorian-style. It’s like a walking encyclopedia of brilliant architectural choices, and it’s very livable – everyone walks to the market, the dog park, the local pharmacy. So that approach and that lifestyle – melding history, human scale and lots of entertaining at home – really inspires me.
I’m also super inspired in museum shops. They are my guilty pleasure.
What is your favorite project you are working on right now?
I have two:) One is the High Point Market Design Bloggers Fall Tour, which I’ll be covering with 9 other bloggers next month. I’ve never been to High Point and can’t wait to meet all the designers, brands and see the various showrooms! I’m beyond thrilled to have been chosen by the Design Influencers Conference and the High Point Market Authority — and I’ll definitely be going back to the Design Influencers Conference in Atlanta this February. I’ll be putting a lot of pix and observations up on Elegant Mayhem after High Point.
And the second project I’m really excited about is just taking shape — my father, Gayle Asher, is a successful artist in New England and we are going to be making his incredible watercolors (& a few of the oils) available to younger collectors as giclee prints. The technology has advanced so much in recent years that we feel the prints have great integrity and so we’re exploring ways to bring them to a wider audience.
What is your daily schedule?
I actually am a geek because I secretly LOVE having a weekday routine. These days, I wake up about 7:30 am – deal with my dogs & domestic stuff in the AM. Then I get busy with work for Elegant Mayhem, which usually means sitting at the desk in my home office – or going down the street to the beautiful new co-working space for women, The Wing (Audrey Gelman’s creation). I workout either midday (SoulCycle, yoga, or a good long walk to a new neighborhood downtown) or at the end of the day: I know I do my best brain work from breakfast-lunch so that’s my peak time to produce anything.
Afternoons are combo of either what I call my “field trips” – getting out of the house, visiting cool boutiques, antique stores, thrift shops, or just generally walking & people watching (I’m kind of a sponge for all that stimuli – what colors am I seeing more of, what music is playing around me, etc) — OR let’s face it, some really uninspiring but NECESSARY stuff like today – going to the hardware store to get more pegs for my closet, a car key battery replacement, and oh yes, a doctor’s appointment! That is all part of life and I used to think other people didn’t have to deal with that stuff (again because if you read as many magazines as I do, the homeowners in AD or elsewhere apparently don’t have those issues!:)
Most evenings it’s dinner at home or neighborhood bistro with my husband — we are newly empty nesters as both girls are now in college. And then reading, watching a movie or documentary & lights out (I can’t deal with the news as much these days:()
What is the top branding mistake?
Top mistake – easy: people who spend cycles on marketing in any form before they know what makes their brand unique and important. If you haven’t really done the work to understand why your product/service exists, then there’s no amount of effort that can really move the needle. By contrast, the incredible materials of Noble Designs’ business that I first saw at the Design Influencers Conference in LA last year showed a consistent aesthetic style, clear positioning in terms of who you and your team are, what kind of design solutions you tackle…that was marketing gold!
What is your latest favorite read?
Oh boy, hard to say – the books piled beside my bed are quite high. I got a book called “Everything in Its Place” by Dan Charnas (now retitiled on Amazon: “Working Clean”) and it is kind of a business book that studies the methods used by busy chefs called “mise en place,” which is a French system for ordering not just your cooking process but your whole life. It sounds kitschy I know but it’s a really thoughtful look at how having some structure and discipline and boundaries in all facets of your life can be really helpful, especially for creative people.
What design staples do you recommend? If a fairy godmother could grant you one talent, what would it be?
I think rattan is kind of an unsung hero — it can go high or low depending on the scene. I’m thinking of like India Hicks’ British Raj kind of style in her house in the Bahamas….you can really dress it up with a velvet, or make it go very casual with a striped hemp cushion. Rattan is lightweight too so you move a little bench or chair around easily for entertaining. And they’re super affordable at thrift shops!
I think every house or apartment can use at least 1 modern parsons table – I’ve got a bajillion, I think from West Elm. I like to see them layered with something NOT new – an old gilded mirror hung above it, or a big Pewter bowl on top….trying to kind of balance shiny/patina, white/dark.
If a fairy godmother could grant me one talent it would be to have my sister Carole’s magical design style. She makes the most incredible, handsome, almost European, sort of spare design in her rooms – whether in downtown NYC apartment or in their country house in Guilford Connecticut — that don’t feel at all cold. Her rooms and tablescapes are so timeless & serene yet comfortable — I’ve tried to analyze it but I can never quite pull it off! She takes so many disparate things and whips them up into something cool.
What do you always have in your fridge?
Ugh, you found my blind spot – I’m a terrible cook! You’ll find take out boxes – usually quite healthy. A few things from the Farmer’s Market maybe on a good day. But no one comes over to my house for the food. Drinks and appetizers, yes!
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Truly, my greatest accomplishment to date was beating breast cancer in 2016-17 and redefining some priorities thereafter. It was a super scary ordeal but I learned a lot about what I wanted to do more of, what I was less willing to do & how important it is to Carpe Diem. I was always a “no, YOU go first” kind of person – my parents raised me to be polite and realize the great needs of other people around you. And while I agree with the tremendous need for graciousness in the world – today more than ever! — I realized that I was not using all my talents as fully as I could. So the blog, Elegant Mayhem, became a really important tool for me to put a spotlight on things and people I think are extraordinary: women entrepreneurs creating brands that help women live better…..tips and tools that help women get going….moms and creators who are willing to talk about the very real tradeoffs and hustle necessary to achieve some of our goals.
If you could invite any 2 people, alive or deceased, to dinner who would they be?
That’s easy – my mom and her mom. I was incredibly close to both of them and we had so many fun dinners — at my grandmother’s super stylish and elegant Georgian brick house in Rye New York (she was an international antiques dealer & had a business called Ambiance that showed at the New York Winter Antiques Show for 30 years) or at my parents’ houses in Connecticut which were always filled with paintings by my dad and very Billy Baldwin-style decorating by my mom. My mom was friendly with Albert Hadley (I got to meet him once with her!) and she always said her design style was “more Albert” than Mrs. Parrish, meaning she had a very spare, handsome, almost Swedish style. The conversation would be epic – usually centered on politics, travel, trends & “what’s next.” The food? Meh. Super WASPy.
Latest favorite hostess gift?
I got these amazing little sachets filled with lavender seeds when we were together at Hollywood at Home, Peter Dunham’s shop in LA. He makes them out of tiny scraps of his incredible textiles, so as not to throw anything away (so very English of him!). I love to wrap those up with beautiful soaps or a hand cream.
What is a favorite gift you have received?
I’ve been giving some lovely and very generous things by my husband, but there’s something about receiving something from someone that they MADE which is indescribable. My parents gave me lots of my dad’s paintings, and my daughters both made incredible fashion-y collages for me which I framed & hang proudly in my office. I’m just kind of obsessed with anything original that you can’t buy in a store.
What was the best party you attended and why?
I’ll go with the Vanity Fair party for the White House Correspondents Dinner — it was a long time ago, I had just had my first baby & it was my first adult, working mom Big Night Out with my husband – I remember I had my hair in a chignon & a long satin ballgown. I got to mingle with JFK Jr. & Carolyn Bessette, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, Claire Danes, on and on…incredible crowd. Then into the ballroom where we were serenaded by Aretha Franklin! I mean, c’mon – it doesn’t get any better than that!!