It was such a treat to chat with Amy Purcell, co-founder of Fifty Two Rooms. She is clearly a woman who trusts her own gut and is not afraid of risk. I find the way that she embraces the process super inspiring. The story of Fifty Two Rooms reflects her (and her co-founder’s) creativity, integrity, and positivity … and after learning what I did from this interview, I’ll never start from scratch on designing a room without the power of mindful interior design/intention again! Enjoy! -Alicia
Tell us about your career trajectory pre-Fifty Two Rooms.
I studied at Parsons and worked as an interior designer at a firm in NYC many years, with primary training in restaurants and hotels. I loved creating experiences, so over time I branched out on my own and founded ASI Design Studio, which was focused on residential and hotel experiences.
Being on my own was wonderful for many years. However, after I got married and had kids, it became more challenging to take on private clients in NYC … I just wasn’t able to give them as much time as they were seeking. I had two little babies that were 13 months apart, was overwhelmed, and felt a little lost in my career. My love for design was unchanged. However, I’m a pleaser and wanted to make my clients happy… and I felt I just wasn’t able to work at the speed and with the responsiveness I did pre-kids.
Luckily, right around that time I ran into Jennifer (a fellow designer whose talent I had always admired) at a party. She shared an idea: limited edition, designer-curated rooms launched once per week online. I loved it! And I was ready for another shift. We decided to partner.
I can 100% empathize with the difficulty of balancing home & work! How did the initial launch of Fifty Two Rooms go?
Well it’s a story with a few twists and turns to be honest! Initially, we focused on trying to help people pull rooms together based on their unique tastes. Given this, we provided tons of options to accommodate different aesthetic preferences. Everything we offered was limited-run and only sold to the design trade, so that our customers wouldn’t have to worry about seeing the same thing at a friend’s house.
Although the rooms were beautiful and sales were strong, over time we both felt a little empty. It felt like design for design’s sake. We started wondering, where’s the meat? Where’s the meaning beyond the fluff of the design? We wanted to create something meaningful. Given these feelings, we went back to the drawing board, starting with our strongest, most fundamental belief: Your home is the most powerful tool you have to create a life you love. Over time, we shifted directions and grounded our business in mindful interior design. Now I can say from the heart that I love what Jen and I are doing.
Today, 52 Rooms creates influencer-curated rooms focused on mindful design. Rooms that invite wellness into your space because they were designed against an intention – and because every product in them has meaning. We’re doing this because we want to make a difference. Everyone should live in a home they love! Everyone should wake up in the morning and think “my house makes me so happy.”
So powerful! Can you tell us more how mindful interior design works… Eg what is the process?
1: Ask the right questions
Basically it’s just about forcing people to think through deeper questions in the initial phase. First, we work with our clients to create a real intention for the room. What is important for you? What does home mean for you? Which pieces can you not live without in your space? How do you relax in your current space? We need something concrete to envision and design against. Although a lot of our influencers are connected to the wellness industry, all of our influencers have a unique story to tell and their own personal needs that come out.
2: Create relaxing environments
Accessories like candles, room sprays etc. play a big role in relaxation. Our Living Well series contains pieces that literally help you live well in a room, eg the things that make you feel happy and calm. For example, we carry a Water Bottle that has a crystal container in the bottom and the energy of the crystals infuses into the water and has healing properties. Many of our mindful interior design products are not just about the home itself anymore — they are about your experience in it. Many of the objects in this collection were created by female artisans, because knowing that your purchase has power and that you’re making a difference in a human being’s life is energizing. Doing that line revitalized us!
3: Environmental consciousness
Beyond that line, we’ve become very conscious about where all of the pieces are made – and how. Our upholstery is made in the USA and contains environmentally conscious construction. I have been LEED certified since 2007 and am super passionate about it. We are not interested in creating any products you will toss away – we don’t believe in throwaway furniture. Instead of getting rid of things to create a new look, we want to educate people on how they can change things up with pillows/wall colors.
4: Collaboration and wider perspective
Finally, we started collaborating with guest designers and influencers beyond ourselves in order to tell their stories and create a movement toward wellness & mindful design. We first collaborated with Raegan Moya-Jones, CEO of Aden & Anais. What she created with us was a totally different look for us, and so well received!
Can you share an example or two?
Sure! It’s so fun to share stories about people’s different needs, to tell their stories through their rooms.
Upper East Side home
This woman had a gorgeous home and a Living Room. However, she couldn’t get her family to hang out there, or in any one room, together. We decided to redesign the space to make it a gathering place. She had a laundry list of functions for this new room: a table for homework, a desk + file space, tv, and fireplace. Although it is easy to get lost in the functionality of a room when designing, I focused on her intention– bringing her family together in a tangible way. A few weeks after we finished the installation, she called me, sobbing. I worried something was wrong… but she said “My dream came true – my entire family is in there right now doing exactly what I dreamed they would be doing!” This is an example of the power of mindful interior design vs design for the sake of aesthetic. It’s emotional!
Influencer Joy Dushey
Another example was with Joy Dushey of The Joyful Approach. We did a living room for her, and it has been so fun. Her intention is to host meditations in her space, so we designed it to be modular so that she can host events and gatherings. We ensured she had enough open space. She also needed a spot for a gong in that space – so I learned why. Now I’m inspired by this! And I can educate other people on it, too. Many of our customers look at an existing room; if they identify with the values, they’ll buy what’s in it or use it as inspiration for their own lives.
My own apartment
I even did it for myself, in my own apartment in NYC. We had a big open area in our living room… I sat and really thought about what my intention was for it. I knew it would make me happiest if we had a place to sit with our kids and read stories together. From there, mindful selection of the pieces flowed… and I created a double day bed! Perhaps unconventional for the space, but worked like magic (pictured), and my dream of a cuddle spot for our family was realized.
Examples of influencer rooms?
Any advice on partnership, or advice on navigating social media for other budding online entrepreneurs out there?
Our mentality is that nobody is our competition – we’re all in this together. Let’s lift each other up. We are all meant to do different things!
My simple advice for online entrepreneurship would be don’t give up, especially if it’s a new medium for you. We’re kind of in the Wild Wild West of Instagram. Just know what you wanna do and stick to it; then you’ll tell a story that’s different than everybody else out there. Put your head down, trust in what you’re doing, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s changing everyday, and it’s so overwhelming.
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