Sharing small businesses dedicated to making life more beautiful.
Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of meeting Abigail Shea, a newly married interior designer just back from her honeymoon. She and her husband were out picking here in New Hampshire and scheduled to come by our studio to shop. She has this great energy - very warm and friendly with humble confidence. In my professional life, I recognize that most people I meet are "good" people. People who have jobs to do, clients please, are respectful, and kind. However, once in a while, I meet really good people. People who (on top of the aforementioned attributes) get vulnerable, provide insight, ask deeper questions, and support collaborative business endeavors. It is for that very reason that we are featuring Studio Eastman this month. Her designs have a natural tonal quality, feel rich yet laid back, and feature vintage furnishings in the very best ways. I had the pleasure of interviewing Abigail to share more about herself and her business. More about Studio Eastman below.
SRV: How did you become interested in design?
AS: I have always been interested in interior and fashion design, but I wasn’t sure it could be a “real job” so I went to school and studied neuropsychology. I worked in the field for a few years and had the best job, some great opportunities, fantastic coworkers, etc. and I just felt so empty. I had this nagging anxiety that I really wasn’t supposed to be a scientist, and that I needed to be a designer, but it took a long time and a lot of courage to make the jump. But in May 2020 we moved to Portland, Maine and I got a job at a local furniture store while I built the first version of my interior design firm, Abigail Shea Interiors. It was a crazy hustle for a while – I had 4 jobs at one point. Now we’re about 3 years in and the firm has been really successful! We are diversifying, just got an office in Bath, added some vintage retail to our mix (helllloo @Aattic!), and rebranded to the beautiful new Studio Eastman.
SRV: Did you study your trade through traditional routes of education, or did you feel your way around the industry in a more organic way?
AS: Organic is a really nice way of putting it! I have no education in design. I have taught myself a lot of the critical design programs (SketchUp and some CAD, though I mostly hire out for that) and have learned business management as I go. It’s been hard but I don’t think a traditional design degree would have been right for me.
SRV: Where do you draw inspiration from?
AS: All over, but mostly a home’s architecture and natural surroundings. We mostly do remodels so I am constantly talking to my clients about pulling references, however small, from the original home and the geography around it. If we are on the coast, our project subtly reflects that. It doesn’t mean we do themed, nautical design (heckkk no), but we’ll use materials, colors, and styles that feel right for a rocky Maine coast. I also get a ton of my inspiration from other designers in all fields – interiors, furniture, and fashion. Right now, I am really drawn to Phoebe Nicol, Augusta Hoffman, and Vincent Van Duysen.
SRV: How does your brand show up aesthetically in your projects?
AS: Studio Eastman is really about spaces that feel as good, if not better, than they look. It’s about comfortable pieces with layers of texture and a warm, collected feeling. We also always say that nothing we do will ever be as beautiful as what’s often outside our client’s windows (lucky them), so we use really neutral, earthy color palettes to enhance vs. distract from the outside. You’ll never see a bold, distracting pop of color from us! I love to mix eras so that our projects don’t feel too one-note, so you’ll often see a super traditional table paired with mid-century chairs, for example. And lots of vintage, always!
SRV: What are some of the challenges associated with owning a creative business?
AS: How much time do you have? ;) I think the biggest challenge for me in the last few years has been trusting the process. Nobody is paying my salary anymore and in fact, people are starting to rely on me for income. It’s been hard not having really any stability. And in this creative world, there are huge ups and downs. We were just in Remodelista, which was so exciting, but a few weeks before that a huge project we were expecting to land fell through. So, I would say that the instability and constant uncertainty is really hard. But I guess that’s what keeps it fun?
SRV: Are you a team of one, or do you lean on internal teammates and outside consultants? Tell us more about how you deliver projects.
AS: I am the only full-time Studio E employee, but I lean heavily on a few consistent freelancers. They’ll be my first hires, for sure. All of our construction drawings are done by other team members, and I also outsource lots of bookkeeping, procurement help, and often use them to bounce ideas off too.
SRV: How do you kick off a new project with your clients?
AS: Our first step is a free consultation call and then usually a site visit. If the project is close-enough, I will do this visit before anything is formalized. I think it’s super important for both the client and I to get a sense of each other before we commit to anything. Then once we hear about the project, propose a scope of work and our fees, and sign a contract we’ll dig into the inspiration phase. This includes a client questionnaire, a “brain dump” mood board from me, and then what I call an “Initial Concept Direction.” Basically, this short presentation allows us to show the clients where we think they’re wanting to take things before we dive too deep into designing the space. This has been hugely helpful in making sure we hit our marks. After more design development, we’ll put together a huge proposal. This big meeting happens in person and typically takes about 8 weeks to prepare. We’ll have samples, drawings, renderings, material and color palettes, furniture sources, budget documents etc. Once the clients make some revisions and ultimately approve, we jump into procurement and construction management! A typical job for us these days takes about 18-24 months.
SRV: How would your clients describe your personality?
AS: I think (/ hope!) they’d say I am quite lighthearted and positive. I do not think design should be taken too seriously. Of course, we take our jobs and our clients’ budgets + time very seriously, but we really want this to be a fun process. It is such a privilege to renovate or redecorate a home, and I think I bring a happy and upbeat energy to work. I also hope they’d say I’m pretty hard-working, because I am definitely pouring all of myself (and then some) into this.
SRV: Do you have a favorite project or success story you can share?
AS: Our very first project is such a fun story. I was brand new and trying to find clients, so I decided to reach out to people with cool homes on Airbnb and VRBO. One couple responded and said they were renovating their kitchen and 2 bathrooms and could use help. I did the project for cents on the hour and worked my butt off to figure it out, and we ended up shooting with Erin Little and landed on the cover of Decor Maine! It was pretty wild and definitely launched my career. Since then, I have worked on two more projects with these clients, one that just went in Remodelista and another in Boston that we are installing next week.
SRV: What is your favorite part about what you do?
AS: I love the thought that what we are doing is really about creating space for the best moments in life to happen. It’s so cheesy, but this is really not about pretty things for me – it’s about where a young couple will raise their kids, where the Christmas tree will go, where they’ll have morning coffee or a sweet summer cocktail, etc. From the very beginning of the design process, we are thinking about those things, and I just feel so incredibly humbled that we get to have a hand in creating some really special moments for people.
SRV: What’s the best way for potential clients to contact you to discuss a project?
AS: Our website! There is a contact form there, or you can reach out to email@example.com
SRV: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you and/or your business?
AS: Studio Eastman is really all about our clients. We love making these connections – so many of which become friendships – and helping people create space and function and beauty for their everyday lives. We pride ourselves on a really solid client process, from super clear expectations and documentation to constant troubleshooting to keep the process as stress-free as possible. At the end of the day, this line of work is about enhancing our clients lives, through a renovation and after, and I’m really proud of how well we do that!
STUDIO EASTMAN - FIND THEM HERE