How Houz of Rebel gets things done

(This is part of an occasional series of conversations with interior designers around the country about what’s driving their success, their favorite trick of the trade and what they’d like to be doing more of in the coming year or two.)

In the past couple of years, Lindsay Biondo’s New York-based design firm has expanded from a one-woman operation to a three-person firm, and is poised to add more staff soon. That growth prompted a rebrand from the Get Decorated firm she founded eight years ago to Houz of Rebel — an identity that better reflects the vibe of the interior design business.

As the firm says on its website: “We embrace the unconventional, unorthodox and unexpected. Our vision is simple yet revolutionary — to liberate interior design from the mundane and empower our clients to express their distinct personality through immersive spaces that tell their unique story. Combining bold aesthetics with rebellious creativity, we are committed to setting new trends and breaking design boundaries.”

Biondo majored in art history, worked in museums for a bit and then found her way to an interior design firm in Miami. When she was ready to start her own firm, she returned to New York, with its vast clientele and varied architecture.

After expanding her team to include a lead designer and project manager, she realized the Get Decorated name she’d originally chosen for her business didn’t really fit anymore. It wasn’t evocative of the kind of design work she wanted to do.

“I wanted to create a name that was meaningful to all three of us and I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into the term ‘decorating.’ I didn’t want people to assume that’s all we do. I want our firm to be recognized as a full-service renovation and design firm, as well as, someday, a lifestyle brand. Houz of Rebel is kind of alluring. It sparks curiosity.”

Biondo doesn’t want her firm to be known for a specific look and avoids projects in which a client says, “I saw so-and-so’s home and I want you do to that for us.”

“We’ll tell them, ‘We don’t want to give you the same thing. (Working with an interior designer) is an opportunity to have a home that’s unique to you. We can give you the same vibe, but we want you to have a home that fits you,’” Biondo says “… The ‘rebel’ part is us wanting to embrace creative freedom with our client base.”

The firm specializes in residential design in the greater New York area, from apartments to gut renovations large homes outside the city. It also offers holiday and event decorating — a service that grew out of a request from a client who needed help with a Halloween bash.

“It was really fun, and our client absolutely loved it,” Biondo says. “Afterward, we had people coming up to us asking, ‘Do you do Christmas decorating? Do you do Thanksgiving? So, we thought, maybe we’re onto something so we added it as a service.”

Biondo likes that the work includes shorter time frames than residential projects — and a bit more freedom.

“There’s less back and forth because it’s temporary. We’re not installing a living room someone is going to live with for 10 years. So, we do our design plan and say, ‘This is what it’s going to look like,’ and the client always says, ‘Great! We love it.’”

Here’s more from Biondo about how she runs her business and what’s ahead for Houz of Rebel.

DNN: What are your strengths as a designer? Why do clients choose your firm?

LB: “We’re very personable. When I was recruiting my team, it took me a long time to hire anybody because I wanted to make sure that the people working with me would represent the firm well and build strong relationships with our clients. Basically, I wanted to hire good humans. When you go into somebody’s home, it’s a very personal process. We appreciate and our respectful of that, and we want to give that respect back to our clients. … Communication is another big thing for us. It’s key to make sure clients understand the process, from start to finish. I want my clients to know that we’re always here for them, no matter what.

DNN: How do you establish if a client is a good fit for your firm?

LB: “We have an initial phone call and a questionnaire that I follow. Some specific things I ask prospects about include timeline, project scope, goals, budget, their style. I also ask them if they’ve worked with a previous designer and if they’re interviewing other designers. I just try to have a nice conversation with them and make them feel at ease, comfortable. It’s basically an interview process for both of us, right? We want to make sure they ‘re going to be a good for us, and they want to make sure that we’re going to be a good fit for them. … “(After that call) if their goals align with ours, great! Then I’ll follow up with an email and send the questionnaire again so we can get all their thoughts in writing and in our system and then we’ll do a site visit to have a more in-depth conversation with them.”

DNN: Of the initial questions you ask prospective clients, what answer is most insightful for you?

LB: “Timeline is No. 1. We want to make sure it’s a project we’re going to be able to take on and complete in their time frame. And, of course, budget is important, too.”

DNN: How do you set your fees?

LB: “We do a flat fee based on the number of estimated hours and then include some markup for product.”

DNN: What’s a recent project that you’ve enjoyed?

LB: “(A project in) Pound Ridge, New York, has been super fun because it’s the first full gut renovation we’ve all worked on together. It’s been challenging to stay on top of working with town permitting, making relationships with building inspectors, working with architects, vetting GCs. It’s been a lot of learning, but it’s helped us grow immensely and we’ve put in a lot of new processes. It makes us want to take on bigger and bigger jobs. … We’d actually redecorated their upstairs bedrooms a few years ago and then they came to us and said, ‘We loved what you did for our bedrooms but we’ve lived in this house for 40 years and the kids have all moved out and we’ve updated the whole house and we’re ready. We love what you did before and we trust you to take on the full renovation. That’s obviously one of the best phone calls I’ve gotten.”

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DNN: What are some must-have tools you use?

LB: We use Materio (interior design and project management software). You can track your time, you can takes notes, etc. and everyone on our team can see what’s happening. … We do use PowerPoint slides for our presentations and SketchUp for design — for creating drawings and renderings. I do work in CAD but I have someone who helps us with that.”

DNN: Where do you turn for advice?

LB: I do have a mentor, a woman I worked with in Miami. She actually moved back to New York recently so that’s been great because we’ve been able to have more one-on-one time. She worked in the interior design industry in her early years and now she’s a life coach, so that’s the best of both worlds. If I’m having a bad day or a hard situation, she’s the person I can contact and say, ‘So, this just happened and I reacted this way. Am I overreacting? How should I follow up?’ She’s somebody to bounce ideas off of. I call her my second therapist.”

DNN: Where do you like to shop for products?

LB: “I love going to the Decoration & Design Building. I love when they have any sort of event because they always host in different showrooms so there’s always something new. There are lots of opportunities to meet new people, which is great.”

DNN: Who are some of your favorite home furnishings brands?

LB: “No matter what project we’re doing, CB2 is one of our favorites. And Anthropology is always a favorite, especially now that the vintage style is coming back and people are embracing that. Drop It Modern is a wallpaper vendor that has a really beautiful, special line that we love to use. … We also like to work with local people and to give new, trendy vendors a chance.”

DNN: What do you take with you for every client meeting and site visit?

LB: “We have what we call our job site bag. It has shoe covers, a box cutter and a tape measure. We make sure we have water and hand sanitizer in there. And snacks — snacks are very important!”

DNN: What’s ahead for Houz of Rebel in the next year or two?LB: “I’d like to be able to grow the company and add another creative mind and also another logistical person, a project manager. And I’d like my (existing team) to take on new leadership roles. And, of course, I’d like us to grow our client base and to take on more full renovations.”

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