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Brynn Olson & Interior Define: A Local Design Partnership

Today we’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look at one of our favorite Chicago design partnerships: Interior Define, Brynn Olson, Coyle & Herr and Wrightwood Furniture.

Here’s how the story goes: Interior Define owners Rob and Steve approached (Nate Berkus alum) Brynn Olson to design their Wicker Park showroom for their new upholstered goods line. But these weren’t just any sofas. Rob and Steve had created an innovative business model whereby homeowners could buy upholstered goods direct from the manufacturer, bypassing middlemen and therefore markups.

But Rob and Steve faced several design challenges. Their line was entirely contemporary and solely upholstery. They knew they needed to help end users visualize the possibilities, but their line didn’t include case goods or accessories of their own, and as a startup they didn’t have a limitless budget. So, at Brynn’s suggestion, a partnership with Coyle & Herr and Wrightwood Furniture was born. Interior Define was able to complete their vignettes and the two other stores were given another space to showcase their product. And, well, we don’t want to ruin any more of the story so...

First we’ll give you a little more background on the story from Rob at Interior Define. Then we asked Brynn for her input on this particular partnership, as well as role local stores and partnerships play in her business. We also got the scoop on Brynn’s thought process and design style, of course. We were smitten with her the second we saw the Interior Define space, and have been shameless fans ever since. Read on and we bet you’ll see why. 

Rob, can you give us a little more background on how this all came to be?

We were introduced to Brynn just after we signed the lease on our showroom space. She met us at the location, which had been sitting empty for almost two years. Given Brynn's portfolio and background (not to mention the condition of our space), our biggest concern was convincing her to work with us! In our first meeting, Brynn sketched out a plan; she had a clear vision for the space, which aligned perfectly with our goals. We were thrilled to work with her.

In addition to the feat of transforming our raw space, Brynn also introduced us to great partners, including Dot and Mary Beth from Coyle & Herr. Given our focus on contemporary upholstered pieces, their unique vintage tables and lighting added a unique counter-balance to our space. Plus they were also a pleasure to work with!

During this showroom project, we also met Michael Cohen from Wrightwood Furniture, who opened his Lakeview store around the time we opened our space. His rustic wooden tables and shelves look amazing next to our sofas, and we've developed a great relationship. Our customers love their pieces, and they help us demonstrate the scale of our sofas. 

Brynn, what role do local design sources play in your design and your businesses? And what role do local partnerships play?

Obviously, the internet has completely changed the whole face of interior design, but what I find is that people still have the urge to want to feel, touch and see things in person. You can’t always do that on the internet. Having your local resources allows your client to be able to feel/touch/see those things that you want to put in their space. Second, supporting local businesses is obviously incredibly important for our community and local economy.

In terms of approaching other local business for partnerships, in my experience I’ve found that the design community is small and people are just so open and willing to collaborate.

Brynn, what interested you about the Interior Define partnership?

I’m just really interested in startups, especially local startups. I’m a startup myself and being a part of an innovative venture in our particular industry I think is incredibly exciting. I met the guys at Interior Define and learned all about the product and it was a no-brainer.

The whole plan was to figure out - because they are a startup - how to create powerful but cost-effective vignettes around their pieces that would apply to more than one style. We also wanted to do it from a local standpoint where we showcase other nearby businesses. Wrightwood Furniture literally came on the scene right at the same time. I went and saw their stuff and knew exactly what pieces I wanted to use. I thought it was an amazing fit for the style and for the same customer that they were all going for.

I’ve known of Coyle & Herr for a while. I think that is another really interesting business. They started their company based on the recommendation from Leslie Hindman as she found their auction house couldn't take all collections presented, but but there was no place to take those less expensive fabulous pieces. That’s where Coyle & Herr comes in. They have such amazing pieces on consignment.

And it all worked because that is the model that I design by: a good mix of new and vintage always is going to make a space that no one else can recreate.

The value to our business from that specific partnership with Interior Define is that we were able to showcase our design in a much more public sphere than a typical residential or commercial space. 

What is the Brynn Olson Design Group business model and typical client?

We offer a range of services from consulting all of the way up to turnkey. Turnkey really is our expertise but not everyone needs it. We’re a boutique firm so we see what the client’s needs are and we mold our service to fit those needs.

Not matter what your price point there is always a budget. I have to understand the priorities; where my client wants to spend their money. I have to know my resources (stores, showrooms, etc.) well enough to be able to execute on that budget.

I find that everyone wants to save money somewhere. Our clients place different value on different items. Therefore, each of them has that one ticket item they'd prefer to save money on so they can splurge elsewhere. Even our clients with gorgeous, sprawling homes have their boundaries and often don't want to spend $5,000 on a sofa in the kids’ loft, for instance. That's where Interior Define comes in with a well-rounded, affordable product that doesn’t sacrifice the quality. 

What is the BODG “signature style”?

We think that a “signature style” pigeon holes you into one particular “look,” but that’s not how we roll. Look through our portfolio of things and you’ll see maybe a common thread but everything is completely tailored to that client’s individual taste. We put processes in place where we get to know our clients well, and we get to understand their likes and dislikes before doing anything else.

The underlying foundation of our design is always going to be timeless, and any trendier aspects we reserve for something that can be turned over without much cost: accessories, pillows, and whatnot. We always, always emphasize a timeless foundation because those are the big ticket items. We want you to buy that piece one time and be able to enjoy it for 10 plus years or even hand it down in the family.

We also like to have at least one “wow” factor in every room. That can be defined by many things: antique doors mounted as artwork, a show-stopping light fixture, or even simple window treatments mounted high that hang to the floor and draw your eye up for that awe factor.

Our signature style is first and foremost inspired on the personalities of our individual clients, and that what makes those spaces unique and of value to them. If we were to define ourselves by only one style we’re never going to grow, and we want to have a business that continues to grow and constantly thinking outside the box.

More by Brynn Olson Design Group:


Are you interested in local design partnerships to help grow your business? Whether you're a showroom/store or an interior designer, Refined Haystack provides virtual tools that make it easy to cross-promote online. Plus find more Chicago interior designers and local sources.

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