Saturday, August 6, 2011

Betsy Speert~a chat with the designer

Betsy and Amy
I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing one of my very favorite designers, Betsy Speert in my home.  And do you know how we got together?  She found my blog because I had written about her and how much I liked her as a designer and on google it came right up. She contacted me, and here we sit~so once again, blogging has been great! I had to get a pic, so I set up a goofy photo shoot for us (we shared a chuckle over this).  What a fun afternoon I had with Betsy. She is very down to earth and a lot like me, telling it like it is and still excited about design.  Meeting Betsy was something I had never imagined would happen. For years I have noticed her rooms in magazines, and since she was a hometown decorator it made me feel more connected to her as a fan. Pretty is how Betsy decorates~and I love pretty rooms.
A blue and white bedroom by Betsy Speert, Traditional Home 
What a whirlwind of a time it was, me getting to ask her all kinds of things and
watching how she works, as she dissected my own home decor, at my request.
We went on the antique hunt too and I trailed along beside her finding out what stunk and what was ok....
but first lets get to the interview.
Betsy is also an author of design books.
I asked her why she picked this cover, since it doesn't look like the rooms she is known for. She said she wouldn't have picked that cover and the publisher picked it. Now you know. Interesting.
Whats your favorite color? I don't have one. 
Favorite color group then? A cabbage rose. Red, pink and green.
How can you like both red and pink as favorites? Those colors are both in a cabbage rose....
What is your go to color for a neutral? I don't have a go to neutral. It all depends upon the space. 
What about a favorite white? Benjamin Moore White. Not Decorator White. just White.
Do you rearrange your rooms after you finish decorating? No, I never touch them. There was one room I wish I had done differently, and that is my bedroom. I thought I would like a blue and white bedroom, but I wish now I had done it in a linen cabbage and rose print. 
Betsy's Blue and White Bedroom
I just love this room! Betsy uses a lot of dressmaker details when doing her rooms. This is the prettiest blue color, and I love the bed drapes and crisp white monogrammed pillows. Look at that chair fabric~she picks great fabrics and her rooms are layered with details. Even with all this beauty, she decided she would have preferred a pink, red and green cabbage rose print. That makes total sense, sometimes you have a change of heart about a room you have decorated for yourself, I know most of you design bloggers can relate to that.
Betsy graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts from Hofstra University in New York. Then she went to Georgia State University and studied interior design, transferring to Chamberlain in Boston and got her design degree. She was one of those people who was always rearranging everyone's furniture, and even though design just came naturally to her she says there is a big advantage in going to school to get formal training. Learning how to draft, the use of positive and negative many decorators do not know how to use scale correctly.
She interned at the Bloomingdale's Interior Design Department  assisting  the head of the design department and she made her self invaluable.. That internship lead to a job as the clerical in the design department. However Betsy got fed up for being taking for granted, (as she says the first jobs are sh*t and one is treated like an indentured servant) so she left and went to work as a design associate in Acton.  
  "The bozo I worked for here would make us come in early every Tuesday and make us take a class, like how to measure for wallpaper, how to measure draperies, and we weren't even being paid, and at this point I had 7 years of college and design school and then when this idiot gave us a pop quiz~I quit right then and there!"  In the end, when Betsy finally opened up her own firm,  the time spent there as an associate was invaluable because she ended up taking June, the bozo's secretary, and they ended up essentially becoming a design team. They were inseparable, and even though she is now retired, they remain great friends. After that job Betsy worked as a kitchen designer, which added to her interior architecture knowledge. "There is so much to learn to being a designer, you can't just  to go to school".  After being treated like crap by the kitchen firm,  she finally gave up with working for other people and established her own design firm.  Her big break was about to arrive. First, she got noticed after doing a bathroom in the Junior League Showhouse.  It was done with a lot of tromp l'oeile, a garden inspired theme. Tromp l'oeile was so hot in the '80s~it grabbed a lot of attention, including Estelle Bond Guarlnick, the Traditional home mag regional editor. Next, Boston Magazine was hosting a design challenge for their magazine featuring three new young designers. Boston Magazine called the Boston Design Center to see who they recommended. Betsy got the nod, and the challenge, which was to turn a bare white box into a room under a tight budget and turn it into a great space. She did floor plan, elevations, and a perspective painting and picked out all of the furniture and fabrics.  It was a lot of hardwork, but it got her name out there. 
Her next break was when she did a presentation hosted by Domain and she met Judy George, CEO. Domain was a fabulous upscale furniture company that Judy founded in 1985. I remember it well, and loved that store! It was pretty expensive, but I did buy a chair there that I still have.
Domain chair, now slipcovered and sitting in my living room
Domain wanted to do a story with House Beautiful which was a retail house project.  "We had to go out and find a house and move all the Domain stuff in and use it and do all the decorating. The owners could then purchase the stuff at net price. Being the little terrier that I am, I contacted all the real estate agents to find a great house. I did a tremendous amount of work for those projects." This led to the first national magazine spread for Betsy in 1986. She had finally arrived! It had been a long slow grind up to this point, and continued to be so. She says she can't stress enough how much of a grind interior design is! 
 Betsy got to meet photographers and all the behind the scenes people in the magazine industry. She hired one of the photographers to go do some scouting shots for her cabin she had decorated. When she got them she called Estelle Bond Guarlnick and asked her to view the pics. Estelle is regional editor for Traditional Home and scout for all of the Meredith Publications that publishes the special editions magazines that we love to read. Betsy did all the footwork and Estelle loved it! The next thing she knew she was in the magazine!
 From that cabin she got clients, including the co-founder of Nike as well as Aerosmith's  Steven Tyler and some of the other guys in the band too. 
I asked for advice on how to get my own projects published in magazines. " The first thing is you need to have something worth photographing. Do not waste the editors time~I would only call when it was completely done." Betsy said in the beginning of her career she was obsessed with wanting to be published. She was just driven, and she made sure her projects were done top to bottom. 
Betsy Speert, Traditional Home
 She adds,  "If you want to be in a magazine and keep your client happy, design for camera shots. Every room I design, I think of the camera, always."  She says that's why her rooms look good from all angles.
Betsy Speert ,Traditional Home
I asked her if she had given her style a label. She said, "No, people say I have a good eye, so I just go with what my eye likes and rooms that you don't have to be overly concerned with ruining something...I am not comfortable in a room that is too pared down. I like to do a room that is right down to the accessories, and that is time consuming. It takes a lot of trial and error. I do tablescapes at home with the accessories before I bring them to my client. Tablescapes are very important in the design of a finished room".
After we finished the interview we grabbed our laptops and shared images and how-tos on blogging.
I fed her a big homemade meatball and a salad and before we went antiquing, I  asked her what would she do to my living room if she could do anything. She said, Really? I told her I was a big girl and to have at it!  I will share what Besty Speert did with my living room next time! 
 In the meantime, Betsy has a website that shows an incredible redesign on a West Palm Beach cottage.
Betsy's Bungalow Before 
Bungalow After
Click here to go to Betsy's Badass Bungalow 
You will see the transformation and decoration inside and out!


  1. Very fun! ;) I cant wait to see what she suggested for your room~ xo Rachel

  2. Awesome! I have the Color and Pattern book. One of my faves!

  3. Love the interview. You had quite the day! Can't wait to hear what she said about your living room.

  4. What fun! I cannot wait to see what she did in your living room.


  5. Wow Amy, what a wonderful post! She is amazingly talented, but so are you! I cannot wait to see what she suggested for your livingroom. I can't imagine changing anything!


  6. Haha! I did laugh at the first picture of the two of you on laptops! Love her rooms and her bungalow looks like the perfect vacation spot. You are brave, Amy! I think I would have wanted Betsy's opinion but also would have been nervous. I love the blue and white bedroom ~ I think it is just the right about of blue and white and comes off "light", which I like in my own home.

  7. Amy this was fantastic! Think of of your favorite designers and you actually get to meet and swap ideas all because of your world never ceases to amaze me, you just never know what opportunities will come knocking on your door!! Fantastic interview, her projects really run the gaumt, which makes it more interesting, that cabin and lake Her own bedroom is so charming and inviting. I am going to go check out her site now. Thanks for the introduction and I am curious to hear/see what she said!

  8. OMGosh- I got so busy visiting her blog that I almost forgot to come back and say Thank you! She is a fantastic designer and I have admired her work in Traditional Home for a long time-How exciting that she came to your house. I can't wait to see the tips she gave you- xo Diana

  9. How Cool! Sounds like you two were totally on the same wavelength and were easy together. I bet it was so fun to get her ideas about your house, i can't wait to see what you two came up with!


  10. Ok, I just went through her bungalow. How darling! Is it in Florida? It's perfection. I love the use of vintage fabrics and painted furniture. Really darling. I could so live there.

  11. What a great day for you! I am anxious to hear what she said about your room. I am off to check out her bungalow!~Hugs, Patti

  12. What a great Post!! I have enjoyed getting to know your guest and can't wait to see what she did to your living room, that I already adored.

  13. I had to laugh at her answer "Not Decorator White." I've said the same thing (ie., badmouthed Decorator White) all over every blog I can. Our builder put it up all over and it is TERRIBLE. Great interview!!!

  14. I cannot freakin' believe this! You got to spend the whole day with one of my favorite designers of all time! I am GREEN GREEN GREEN!! (And definitely not designer green *winks*) Seriously I've never heard the like before! I already LOVED Betsy but it's now bordering on adoration ....Not creepy stalker-ish adoration *winks* but close! Lol! Vanna

  15. Love her style and so good to find out more about her. Traditional Home magazine is my favorite to receive each month. I recognize the photos of her work above and have that book, too. Fun to find out she went to Ga.State University. My daughter went there, too but not for design. Lucky you!

  16. Oh Amy...this was so fun!

    You are truly a brave soul having her critique your space. Not that you have anything to worry about, your home is lovely, but I would still be nervous to hear her opinion.

    I really love her decorating pretty. Comfortable rooms to dream away in.

    Looking forward to her decorating advice for you.

    Janet xox

  17. Hello,
    This is Betsy's niece. I loved reading this! I only hear bits and pieces from her.
    Thanks for the great story!


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