'I am a stickler for tending to the business side of this creative field'

  • Susan Brunstrum

    Susan Brunstrum

Updated 9/28/2015 9:38 AM

Q: How would you describe your business?

A: Exciting, all-consuming, challenging. But seriously, during the past dozen years I have been fortunate to assemble an energetic, creative team and together we have turned a small, home-based business into a bustling, full-service interior design studio. We are known for our relaxed yet elegant style, which we call LivableLuxe: "the little black dress of design." LivableLuxe is comfortable and refined, and a perfect fit for any occasion, just like a custom-tailored black sheath!


Q: Who has had the most influence in your life?

A: My Nana, God rest her soul. (A favorite saying of hers.) She was a stay-at-home mom who could diagnose most medical conditions but never ventured far from Illinois. However, her guidance on right and wrong, responsibility, etiquette, loyalty, belief in myself and the importance of family values is ingrained in me. I would not trade the two-plus years I Iived with her and my grandpa in Northfield during grad school at Northwestern.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: I waitressed at Poppin Fresh Pies in Deerfield, now known as Bakers Square. I had just turned 16. I believe every high school kid should be required to work in the food service industry, despite the temptation of all those calories. Both of my children did. You learn how to think on your feet, prioritize and multi-task, but most importantly you learn humility. The customer is always right and deserves the very best service, no matter what. A life lesson of prime importance.

Q: As a local business, what has been your company's biggest obstacle during the recession?

A: We had to change how we collaborated with our clients because our clients needed and asked us to. We started to accept credit card payments. We offered two ways to work together for our design time -- on an hourly basis or a project fee basis. We simplified our ordering and payment procedures. And yet, we more than maintained our service, creativity and vendor relationships. As a team we recognized that change is good and constant. It keeps us on our toes. We are better for the changes we executed.

Q: If you could put your company name on any sports venue which one would you choose?

A: I would have to rename some oceans, but I would definitely choose America's Cup. It's a combination of teamwork and intense competition at its best. I have always dreamed of setting sail and letting the wind blow me where it may. It won't happen, I'm a type A personality.

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Q: What one important tip would you give someone just starting a business?

A: Be ready for a lot of hard work, and always remember that your next best client comes from your last best client. Referrals are crucial to your growth, as is connecting.

Q: How has business been?

A: Fabulous. We continue to grow in the suburban area, and I am now expanding into Chicago where we already have added new clients. Recently I moved my family downtown and I am hoping to open a second studio within the next year.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A: I'm a die-hard fashionista, so I love to go shopping in small boutiques and discover new, local designers. Not everyone knows that I'm a country music fan -- always tuned in to 99.5-FM when I'm in the car -- or that I love cowboy boots.

Of course I enjoy spending time with my children and friends, walking the lake and exploring new neighborhoods and restaurants -- my favorite cocktail is prosecco with a splash of St. Germaine and a lemon twist.


At home I like to relax by the pool, read a good novel and binge on Netflix but I also travel as much as possible so that I accomplish all on my bucket list.

Q: What's the funniest thing that ever happened in your career?

A: I am scared of heights, but during one project I decided to overcome my fear and climb a ladder to the second story of a home under construction. At the top I froze like a cat in a tree. The contractor had to sling me over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes and carry me down the ladder as I could not get down by myself. Of course, I had my eyes closed the whole time and kept whispering, just breathe Susan, just breathe.

Q: What are people in your industry talking about?

A: Product pricing transparency -- in other words, buying and selling a product at the same price.

It would be similar to asking the owner of a boutique to sell you a pair of pants at the same price she paid the manufacturer.

How could she earn a living? I'm not so sure it will gather momentum. In my opinion, it is a Band-Aid fix for an industry without standard pricing procedures, as every design firm charges for the products, service and time differently.

Q: What is the key to your company's success?

A: On the client side it is about quality, creativity, communication, professionalism and friendly, concierge service.

They go a long way toward explaining why 80 percent of our business comes from repeat clients and referrals. Beyond that I am a stickler for tending to the business side of this creative field. Annually I review and update the past year and our goals for the coming year, which I track month by month.

During the year we maintain a lively, fresh presence on social media and I actively pursue media placements. Networking, making connections, marketing and participating in major design events all contribute to a successful studio.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: Two books are always on my nightstand and I have read both too many times to count: "Creative Confidence" by Tom and David Kelley and "Ten Poems to Change your Life" by Roger Housden.

Every morning I read three blogs: Marketing guru SethGodinTypepad.com; TheSkimm.com, a daily email news summary from Huffington Post and ObjectLesson. nyc, which sends me one gorgeous/fascinating object to appreciate every morning. I'm totally addicted.

-- Kim Mikus

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