10 Questions with Interior Designer Erin Gates

Gates talks about her road to success, her obsession with leopard print, and her new book due out this fall.

A view of an Erin Gates living room design.

A view of an Erin Gates living room design.
Photo by Michael J. Lee Photography

With a determined spirit and eye for aesthetics, interior designer Erin Gates creates unique, personal spaces for her clients. Her blog, Elements of Style, has been her claim to fame and the designer opens up to us about her career, her blog, and what’s led to her success.

1. Your blog focuses on interior design, fashion, and pop culture. What came first and how did it lead to the other areas?

It started as a design blog, specifically. I was working in another industry, and blogging was my means of filling a creative void. It started as a way for me to bookmark stuff and have a bit of a discussion. I never expected more than a handful of readers. Then I started wanting to talk about things in my life, fashion, celebrity stuff. I thought I should try to focus on one topic. But then I thought, why? It’s very of-the-moment for me. If a red carpet show happens and I want to talk about the dresses, I’m not going to write about a bathroom—I’m going to talk about the dresses. But I never stray too far from interior design.

2. Was interior design always a passion?

My dad was an architectural designer, so I grew up around blueprints and swatches and samples. I spent a lot of time looking at homes. My former babysitter was an interior designer. And my family owned a women’s fashion store. I had a foot in each world. I knew I wanted to work with homes or fashion. I tried fashion in New York, but didn’t have the killer instincts like the designers there. I later got a job with an art gallery on Newbury Street, then I interned in the South End and found it more my speed. I discovered a love of writing, and now, I get the best of what I grew up loving: fashion, writing, interiors.

3. How would you say you fit into or stand out from the design world?

My specific style stands out in that I don’t have one signature style. I like to help a client make the best version of their home. You won’t go into a space I’ve created and automatically know I have done it. In my portfolio, every space is different. I like to talk to clients, look through their closet with them, talk about their kids, and about what they love. I want my clients to feel like they are looking at their house, not like they are looking at mine.

4. How did you become so self-made—what inspires that drive?

I was super shy and not confident growing up. I wanted more to be on a team, not the leader. Then I transferred to an all-girls boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut, and that changed my outlook on being a leader and taking charge. It was very girl power. My husband also pushed me. He is an entrepreneur, and when my blog started getting attention, he encouraged me to give it a year and see where it went. That way I would have no regrets about not trying, and if it did work out, awesome! I took that year, quit my job, and never looked back.

5. What words of wisdom do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Internships are super important! They are hard to come by in this industry, but they make all the difference. Networking is important. Look up events happening in the industry you are interested in—make business cards, and be brave, and go there. And blogging, you can’t ignore blogging. Even if no one reads, keep at it. It’s the best form of marketing. It shows potential employers what you can do.

6. What tips do you have for getting a fun, sophisticated look that won’t break the bank?

Definitely do not do all your shopping in one store or catalog. Don’t order a couch, coffee table, and bookshelf all from one place. Have patience. Take your time, and look at different sources like flea markets and antique shops. You can’t do it all in one day if you want the space to look like you and reflect your life. Move slow—wait for what you love. People rush, then feel uninspired and wonder why. That’s why.

7. When should someone DIY, and when should they seek a professional?

“Do it yourself” is good for smaller decorative projects like sewing a throw pillow or painting a picture frame gold. Bigger projects, especially structural, should be left to the professionals. I’m not a big DIY person. People tend to get frustrated and start rushing and make mistakes. If it’s not expert, it will show, and it will be a bummer.

8. Do you have any quick design tricks that change a space but don’t involve completely redoing a room?

Paint is the easiest and biggest change you can make. If you paint a room black, then hate it, you can change it, and it won’t break the bank. (You’ll just be tired because it will take like six coats to cover.) Rugs also make a difference. You can put down something made of seagrass in the summer, and in the winter, more of a wool, Persian rug.

9. What is one design element you can’t live without?

I have a really ridiculous obsession with leopard. It’s kind of my signature by default. In clothing and in home, I use it all the time!

10. What’s up next for you?

I have my first book coming out in October with Simon & Schuster. It’s a new hybrid—memoir meets design bible. It’s set to be released October 1.