The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News
Sophia Brush Warren has a vision, and it has little to do with your living room.
Of course, as COO and Creative Director of Vineyard Decorators, the island’s largest furniture and décor supplier, Sophia spends a lot of time thinking about couches, managing inventory and maintaining the ship-like showroom while overseeing the new, expanded interior design studio.
But beyond the latest trends in interior design or the evolution of the tastes and styles of the islanders, Sophia is especially interested in the development of a more precious asset: her staff. And she is not alone. Across the island, interior design firms – from small independent studios to large corporations – have become big employers, taking a particular interest in recruiting and nurturing young talent.
For Sophia, the decision to focus on employee development was a personal one. Born on the island, she came to Vineyard Decorators through the fashion industry; after working for eight seasons at Pandora’s Box in Menemsha, she moved to Boston and took a retail position with denim start-up True Religion. Progressing quickly to the executive level and eventually landing in Los Angeles, Sophia loved her job; by the end of her tenure, she was managing 4,000 employees and overseeing the brand’s direct retail operations for North America and Europe. Still, the experience of having to leave the island to grow professionally stayed with her.
So when her brother, Whitney Brush, owner of Vineyard Decorators, asked her to come back to the Vineyard and help with the “people management” side of operations, she jumped at the chance. Her first task, she said, was to help Whitney create a “corporate culture based on education with an emphasis on peer mentorship.” In other words, she hoped to create the opportunities for young Islanders she was looking for in her early days.
This dream became a reality through thoughtful restructuring and creative hiring practices. Because of the large showroom, Sophia is able to get a sense of people’s abilities in a retail environment. “What sets us apart from other places is that we have the ability to bring in people without formal design training,” Sophia said. Many of her employees come to her with a resume in retail or fashion, which she considers a natural choice. “If you can put an outfit together and you like to style it, that translates to putting together a living room.”
She also hired, with great success, former bartenders and servers. “Some of my favorite people to hire are restaurateurs,” she said. “The restlessness you get from a restaurant worker – their ability to multi-task under pressure – is amazing.” Sophia often finds herself advocating for young workers to leave seasonal employment and enjoy a more stable income all year round. Its employees earn a competitive salary, with full benefits. “It’s the perfect place for someone trying to make the transition from seasonal change to a career. And it’s the perfect place for someone who works in retail and doesn’t see not much room to grow Growth at Vineyard Decorators comes in the form of peer mentorship opportunities as well as frequent training Sophia invests heavily in her staff with the understanding that they will invest in themselves , in return.”It’s work,” she admits. “I’m going to give you an amazing opportunity, but you have to work for it and you have to want it. You have to show up.”
Like Sophia, Elizabeth Stiving-Nichols, owner of Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design (MVID) and sister boutique Bespoke Abode since 2010, is constantly on the lookout for new talent.
Since MVID is a small company, Liz says she needs a certain level of experience and familiarity with design programs and software. This often means young designers joining its team fresh out of design school or with a few years of off-island work experience. For many years, Liz has witnessed the struggle of young recruits to settle on the island and find stable housing. To help meet this challenge, she recently purchased a five-bedroom home in West Chop that she hopes will ease the transition for new designers as they become familiar with island life. “It will allow our team members to have a sense of security and not have to worry about where they will live next,” she says.
Because many of her designers are young adults, Liz finds herself guiding them through the stages of adulthood that go beyond project proposals and working with clients. “I’m dedicated to my team,” she says, “which creates a dedicated team. »
As the company has grown, she has been able to offer a strong benefits package and she makes sure to explain all options to team members. “Recently, I sat down with one of the younger women and we talked about the 401K plan and savings,” she said. “I gave him the snowball analogy – how if you start saving and investing at age 25, you’ll get that much, but if you wait until age 35, your snowball grows less.”
MVID’s chief interior designer, Hala Zohbi, took a job with Liz four years ago. Originally from Canada, Hala was an established designer, looking for a life change and a new professional direction. Knowing next to nothing about the island, she arrived at Vineyard Haven and walked the few blocks to MVID’s main street office for an interview. “I took the job seeing only this little strip of the island,” she said. “I moved here to take the job and haven’t left since.”
Hala is now working with Liz to hire new designers and bring new talent to their small, growing team. Currently recruiting for two design assistant positions and two junior designers, Hala says she is looking for people with a certain level of experience but not necessarily a certain style or taste. “We look at how they communicate, how they present themselves,” she says. “Attention to detail is everything.”
Liz agrees. “We’re a small, collaborative office, and I believe in promoting from within,” she says. “People don’t always come with all the skills, but they have to have that something. Everything else I can teach.
design a life
When Hutker Architect designer Sarah Shriber Ives was little, growing up between Mamaronek, New York and her family’s summer home in Aquinnah, she always imagined she would work in a big-city office, doing something related to design. “But I also always wanted to live in the vineyard,” she said.
After earning a graduate degree in interior design from Suffolk University, Sarah landed a dream job working in commercial design at a large Boston firm. Her big office dreams were coming true and she loved it. But by then she had reconnected with her childhood friend and island builder Taylor Ives, and the two began planning a life together on the vineyard.
“There was a culture shock at first,” she admits of the transition to island life. Luckily, she landed at Hutker, one of the biggest companies on the island, where she started as “designer 1” and worked her way up to senior interior designer.
Between its architecture and design departments, Hutker recruits many talented young professionals to work in its island office (they also have outposts in Falmouth and Plymouth) and experience island life. “There’s so much learning going on all the time at Hutker,” says Sarah. “In a large company, everyone has their own expertise, so there are always lunchtime meetings, design reviews…it’s just a constantly exciting learning environment.”
Hutker also invests in up-and-coming architects and designers by building relationships at th
e Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, through which they offer internship programs and occasional classes. For anyone potentially interested in studying design at university or beyond, Sarah recommends reaching out to her or other designers. “Just ask questions,” she says. “We love what we do and are happy to talk to anyone about how to get started.”
For Sarah, living on the island and working at Hutker is the perfect balance between a fulfilling career and the Vineyard life she’s always dreamed of. Like Sophia and Hala, Sarah enjoys the stability of a 9 to 5 design job, as well as all the excitement of a creative profession. And the views of the construction sites don’t hurt. “I work a lot,” she says. “I still have late nights, but it’s so exciting. It fills my soul. And the fact that I can balance it with a walk on the beach is perfect.
Alex Bullen Coutts is a writer living in West Tisbury and editor of The Oyster.