Nyla Free is a designer who gets the details right. When you look at her work there is a sense of nothing being left to be done. Her mastery of finishing touches combines with a sense of balance and a love of light that make her designs sparkle with life.
Nyla has worked her way up through the interior design industry. She started at age 17 by attending a local college. From there she joined a local retail store as a design assistant. The store offered an interior design service to its clients some of whom remained loyal to Nyla when, while expecting her first child, she set up her own business from home.
She tells us that her hometown of Calgary, weathered the recession well. She describes it as – “very sophisticated and quite modern – full of well traveled people – a good source of clients”.
When I tell her that her work betrays a photo stylists sense of detail and wonder if this is something from her background she tells me that I am wrong. Rather, it is a new aspect of her work, something she found herself enjoying while building her portfolio. And then we are back to talking about detail again.
“I do think’, says Nyla, “that often people get rooms to a point where they are happy but there is something missing. All of the furniture is there. But it lacks finishing touches, it needs something to make the room more intimate. People look through magazines and want rooms to look that way. But it requires details that can be missed sometimes.” As Nyla says , “completion is so important”.
I ask Nyla about ‘Design in a Box’ her web based, fixed price service.
“I introduced it in 2007’, she says, “as business began to slow down – it was a good service to add.” She tells me that the idea got a lot of compliments but that the service has always been a relatively small part of the business. In fact, it seems to have a greater benefit than being an affordable alternative. Nyla tells me it attracts attention but people then tend to go for full one-on-one service.
One of the questions on the ‘Design in a Box’ questionnaire asks clients to name their favorite clothing store. Unsurprisingly, Nyla loves fashion and she is very clear about the connections with interior design. “One used to follow the other with something like a two year lag,’ she says, ” but now it is a lot closer. Like many astute designers she uses clients dress sense and choices to sense their comfort zone in interior design. “If people like a lot of jewelry’, she tells me,” they are likely to be attuned to the finer details, and if they shop at certain stores, well that gives you a certain price point.”
Nyla has an interesting way of explaining how she approaches a space. She tells me she can take a selfish approach to achieve something unexpected or stylish but, at the end of the day, she says “its what the client wants that is most important, the design needs to reflect their lifestyle, to make them happy.” Nyla is proud of the fact that there is no single style in her portfolio, as different as her clients. That maybe true but there is clearly something that unites them, be it a sensitivity to light, a sense of balance or Nyla’s trademark finishing touches and completion.
A quick Google search for ‘Nyla Free’ reveals a healthy on-line and print presence, including a regular column in online magazine Dabble. Nyla met Editor Kimberley Seldon on her three day design course – they had previously connected on Twitter. Now she contributes ‘Reality Check’ which she described as “a step inside the shoes of an interior designer”.
Nyla also writes a thoroughly enjoyable blog. She tells me that she started it two years ago and regrets not starting sooner. She took the plunge when she launched ‘Design in a Box’ after a marketing consultant convinced her of the need to create and manage her on-line presence. Now she clearly loves writing and confides that she will sometimes spend more time on her blog than paid work.
“I try to keep the blog very personal” she says. She uses original material, text and images “I don’t want people to log on and think ‘oh – been there, done that’.” She also tells me that she rejected the oft-advised discipline of regular blogging as being too restrictive. “You have to find what works for you”, she says, “some weeks I blog three times a week, sometimes I don’t blog all week”.
Back to design and we talk about what would make the ideal client. “Complete trust” says Nyla, “trust in me, in my sense of space; trust with their budget; trust when I step outside the box. If you don’t have the client’s trust you can’t fullfil their vision.” And clearly Nyla delights in that moment when a client gasps with delight at a completed dream, an achieved vision. As she says “that’s what makes every designer happy, a happy client means I’m happy – it’s a big responsibility.”