Emily Merrell 0:04
Welcome to the sixth degree Podcast, the podcast where we grill our guests about the things that make them tick and find out how human connection plays a role in their life. I’m your host, Emily Merrill.
I’m your host, Emily Merrill. And today I’m thrilled to have Antoinette Elson, founder, designer and coach of happier space on the podcast. Internet. Welcome to the show.
Antoinette Belson 0:31
Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to have you. I had the great pleasure of being on your amazing podcast. This gets with the boss. That’s right. How does it feel to be interviewed not asking questions. Well, I have not had too many. So it still feels very fresh. On the other side as host I’ve done like over 22 episodes, so I feel very competent. But being in the hot seat. It’s it’s a different sensation. Yeah, it is i i feel like I’m a backseat driver. Sometimes when I’m when I’m being asked questions, like, oh my gosh, I’m so used to asking the questions. And then same thing with events. Whenever I’m at an event that I’m not hosting. I find it really hard not to like tidy after people. Oh my gosh, well, we could go into that whole shenanigans. But when you attend an event that you are not hosting specifically six degrees, it’s usually a shitshow. So my events are opposite remember the event we went to together? Oh other community. And I was like, Emily, they need your help. What is happening? This is crazy. This is chaos.
Emily Merrell 1:41
Oh, yes. Yes. Oh, I thought you meant like when I have an event host I was like oh, no, I they have your events.
Antoinette Belson 1:47
synced, thoughtful, organized. All of the amazing things.
Emily Merrell 1:51
Thank you. Okay, well, fair.
It’s funny so Antoinette and I just a little backstory on how we know each other. We know each other from college and really, like we connected more after college than in college through. I don’t know why I looked myself into these things, but you do too. But Denison. The college we went to in Ohio would have these Denison alumni events in New York City. So I think I was in it and then lift you into it. And you were my predecessor. What does it predecessor predecessor?
Antoinette Belson 2:23
That’s before you?
Emily Merrell 2:24
It was supposed to assessor?
Antoinette Belson 2:29
Yeah, so I started because of Abby. Right? Actually, that was the connection that loop me in. And so we were in that sort of like a group committee, there was like four or five of you guys. And then slowly throughout the years, everybody just disappeared. And then yeah, it was you and me. And then you left me the reins. And I think there was one other committee member at that point. And I had to do some mad recruitment.
Emily Merrell 2:54
It’s hard. It’s hard to convince people to do free things for your university, where you might still be paying off said here University. And then they’re like, Hey, do you want to give me money? Like, call me and call me in 30 years go and keep calling, but call me later. But so internet, you know, before we dive in properly, can you introduce who you are? We all know that we went to college together. Who are you? Who are you and what do you do?
Antoinette Belson 3:22
So I am a spunky, quirky, funny, smart, and loving person who loves to help people. And ultimately, once we talk about like my business, that has always been my goal. I’ve been called a cruise director. You know, I just want to make sure everybody’s in line organized has what they need. I love schedules. I’m a professional problem solver. I’ve been a worrywart since the age of like, six, and yeah, I just have a passion for design. My dad was an architect. So it’s been in my blood for a long time. And I am currently living in Connecticut, but I’ve lived in four different states. And so that’s been a lot of fun to get different experiences of different places. And yeah, I started my own business in 2020. And took the leap making it my full time job just this year. So in 2022 That’s awesome.
Emily Merrell 4:31
I love like 2020 gave a lot of people permission to start a business and space to think about a business that wasn’t just spent on Metro North or commuting places left and right. Internet when you went to college, did you know you were going to graduate doing architecture and going into design or
Antoinette Belson 4:53
is that though? I have been making five year plans since I was 10 not And so my first five year plan was when I went to elementary school public elementary school to private school, I wanted to go to a single sex private school. Then I decided I wanted to go to a liberal arts school. And then when I was a sophomore at Denison, I decided that I wanted to go into architecture. And Dennis doesn’t have an architecture degree. So I actually did my independently design major program and IDM, which Denison offered, I created my own major worked with four different department heads to make it, which I guess actually is like the spark of entrepreneurship, because I was like, what exists isn’t good enough, I’m gonna make my own thing. And I studied abroad in Denmark in an architecture program offered by the Danish Institute of Design. And then I’m married my high school sweetheart. And we moved to New York, all part of the plan. And then 2019 was the last it was like when my last five year plan expired. And it was to buy a house. And I bought a house in 2019. I checked all my boxes. And then we found out we were pregnant. And I was like, Oh, snap, that wasn’t on the list. It wasn’t on your plan. That was not on my plan. I was, it was not a priority. We had been married for 10 years, I was very focused on my career. And I loved being an ant. And like that was I thought that was going to be enough. And, you know, God had other plans, or whatever the universe had other plans. So I had my son in July of 2020. Obviously, the pandemic hit March 2020. And my whole world changed. And that has been the last. So again, 2019 was my last five year plan. So you asked me did I always know I wanted to go into design? The answer ultimately, is yes. Because I had my dad, I had these dreams and like, I wanted to be involved with design in some capacity. However, it kind of warped throughout my career, because I was never like a starchitect, which is what you call a star architect, I was really great at bringing people together, getting projects done on time and on schedule, and my superpower became project management, actually. So I shot up the career ladder, becoming like my last position was a Senior Project Manager, and then had my son maternity leave. You know, people came to me for help for space planning their home solutions, living with their littles, their husband’s working life, you know, all in one place. Feeling overwhelmed. As I mentioned, I love helping people. I’m a professional problem solver. So I just started offering services and like plans and drawings and ideas. And half my friends were like, I would pay for this. And I was like you would, at that point, I had my son, I was like, I don’t want to ever commute again. I have to figure this out. And so that is sort of how my path has diverged and become this other thing.
Emily Merrell 8:25
I love this story. I love so do you think you’ll create another five year plan?
Antoinette Belson 8:31
You know, I’m kind of loving this flying by the seat of my pants. It motherhood in itself is like F plans because every time I anticipate something like either a milestone is supposed to be, he has like another I forget what they’re called. But it’s like a peak where like you stop sleeping. And then when I’m like oh f like that’s not actually the milestones. So it’s a constant like roller coaster. And then entrepreneurship in itself is a constant roller coaster. Like I have months where I’m like, Well, this is gonna be a billionaire that I like, next week like wall.
Emily Merrell 9:10
You’re struggling indeed.
Antoinette Belson 9:11
I’m just feeling I’m just on here for the ride. And I don’t think it’s my time, I think literally for the next five years. Or if you do like 2019 plus five. So that’s 22,024 My plan is no plan. Like I’m just gonna live in the moment. See what happens. And then check back in with me and 2024
Emily Merrell 9:32
I love that. No, I
think it’s kind of I love plans. I love organization. I love knowing what’s a step ahead. But there is something beautiful also about reading a book and not knowing what’s gonna happen in the next chapter. And seeing the character development happen naturally versus reading the book and then starting at the beginning, so good on you. And I love that, you know, I mean, what a surprise to have J Jamie, right, Jamie’s your son. Yeah, Jamie, and to be able to have Jamie and how I’m sure he totally shook up your life and like, absolutely. Well, in a positive and negative way, there’s always both of those ends of the spectrum if my son has joined, I think every single call with the exception of this one today. So I think again, back to the pandemic pandemic allowed so many rules to kind of be thrown away, and kids to be able to attend meetings and for for you to take a big look at like, what is important about your life? What do you want your life to look like. And I love that your friends had this problem that they were going through. During the time when we were all working from tiny spaces, tiny homes, it felt like, and your, your idea and problem solving brain just went off and launched into your own business? Yeah. So cool. So let’s talk about happier space. What does happier space mean, and what is good designing to you. So
Antoinette Belson 11:02
happier space literally came because when I was brainstorming with one of my business with my business coach at the time, I just kept explaining to her that the reason I’m doing this is because I want people to be happy in their space, people are so frustrated, so overwhelmed, feeling anxious, they are thinking they have to move because they don’t have enough space. And I just want to assure them, there’s always a way to find more usable space, you can better use your own space that you have, there are efficiencies, I just want to happy their space. And she’s like, that’s it. That’s the name, just it’s so anytime I hear you talk about it, I can hear you smile as you say it, anyone who reads it or hears it, they’re just gonna feel your vibe. And so that’s how the name came. It’s sort of a little like cheesy, but it’s literally what I want for people to feel in their space is just to be happy. You can have fancy ass spaces where you feel like you can’t touch things, or you have to be conservative, and you have to, those are not my spaces, I want spaces where you feel comfortable to be comfortable in. That’s beautiful to be in. That is inspiring, that helps, you know, engage all the family members for togetherness, nothing is necessarily off limits. As far as exploration of design strategies and solutions. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as truly wrong design, just design opportunities. And for me, I feel like people get so scared and so nervous about making a decision or doing a commitment because they think there’ll be wrong and really is no wrong, you can always switch it up, you can always change it. For me what is good design, good design works for you. Good design makes you feel comfortable being in the space, good design achieves all your design goals, and good design makes you feel happy in the space.
Emily Merrell 13:04
And I have to say I’ve had the opportunity to learn from you and get some good design from you. Antoinette helped us navigate a design challenge in like two minutes, basically do minutes. She’s like, this is a solution. And that’s been the solution ever since. And so you know, you meant and for those that are curious, basically, she like literally had me move a table against a wall and the whole room shifted, like the whole energy of the room shifted. And that’s how simple so having an outside perspective and having an outside person who can see things objectively, I think when you’re stuck in the everyday of your space, like you can’t see the opportunities that that aren’t right in front of you. Yep. So with you and what you’re, you know, one of the things that you’re really focus on as I like to call it the three Ds and living with littles Can you tell us a little bit more about the three days and you’re happy method?
Antoinette Belson 14:03
Yes, so the three Ds are, they roll off the tongue. They are to declutter, to disguise and to display. So the first thing to do is to assess your space. In order to find more usable space, it’s really a good idea to go through and declutter or delete some of the things that you have that could be duplicates that you don’t use anymore, that aren’t doing what you need it to do. Some things I like to say to people who hold on things for just sentimental sake, and then realize it’s really hindering their design is, you know, take a picture of that thing or like if it’s a sofa that your great grandfather had, have a photo of you and your family on the sofa, take a family photo of it, frame it, put it up and then get rid of that thing thing because it’s not doing what it needs to do, but it has this great sense to mental to it to disguise, there will be things that you will have that you cannot get rid of whether it’s, you know, a humidifier to help you breathe easy, whether it’s just the toys that your kids have that you don’t want to see, but you have to have to entertain them. Whether it is an unsightly water heater or whatever. These are things that you cannot delete, but you can disguise. So I recommend they’re clever ways to use large oversized baskets or bins to hide things that still allow the things to function. Like there are great radiator covers out there that hide the unsightly old fashioned like metal, kinky or not kinky, but like clingy radiators. And actually can make it more safe so that if you touch it, you don’t actually get burned. And you’re disguising it. Then for toys, disguising can be putting it in storage or putting it in closed cupboards putting it away. So you still have them but they’re hidden. And the last is to display, find pieces that you use all the time and make it purposeful, put them out for display, make a little vignette, make it so that it’s out there. And it’s you can see that it actually is supposed to be out there and not just by accident, make it purposeful and give everything a home basically homebase.
Emily Merrell 16:27
Okay, so I have a question that design question for you. Can I put you on a on a quick shirt? Sure. Well, it my son uses something a skip hop play center. And it it has it basically looks like his office, you have like all these different little things attached to it. And then he stands in the middle of it. And right now there’s like a bottom base that he put his little feet on. And it’s fine to like put it to the side. But would you ever get like a table to go over it or anything like that? Or what would you do? So
Antoinette Belson 16:58
that’s what I like about that one, I think I have the same one. The foot thing actually go can be put on top and be a table. So it depends on how often he uses it. Like, okay, then I wouldn’t, because I was gonna say if he uses it like once a week or so you could just put it as a table zone and like tuck it in the corner, and you can utilize it when he’s not. But if he’s actively using it, I would suggest Yeah, if it fits underneath your dining table, or it fits like a way out of sight or behind a piece of furniture under the bar. Like that is a clever way to disguise it, but you want to make sure it’s accessible because otherwise it’s inconvenient. So for example, like if you’re having company over and you don’t want to see this thing, if it’s a dinner party, this won’t work. But if it’s cocktail party, it would you literally just tuck it under the table, tuck all the chairs in and it might very well fit underneath the dining room table. Also, I do believe it collapses a little bit but again, not for daily use. There’s things like that and also the baby swing that was another one that just like drove me nutsy cuckoo because I loved having it out for ease. But it was so big. I did get one that folded like went from big to small and I would tuck it behind my sofa when I had company over. But um, yeah, there are a few pieces that are just, you know, gonna be there and you just got to get clever with tucking.
Emily Merrell 18:29
Okay, yeah, I think that’s a great idea of the table. Usually we just bring it into his room when we have company over or ever it’s outside. We’ll bring it outside with us. And we’ll just put him in it. And he’ll hang out and he’s kind of like hold it’s we pretend he’s the DJ booth.
Antoinette Belson 18:46
But yes, we have that too. We call them DJ drooly has a little piano in it. And it has like a little thing. But then yeah, yeah. Jamie love that.
Emily Merrell 18:54
Yeah, it’s really cute. I’m like, I kind of want it. I would love to just like spend my day pushing lovers moving beads over. But it looks like he’s having a hard day at the office. And it’s, it’s adorable. Okay, thank you. That’s a great one. And then I just invested in rug bubbles. Do you have any other tips? Like is it as kids get older? Should you just continue investing in renewables? Or have you seen those squares is like really pretty squares that go together.
Antoinette Belson 19:25
So I have a rubbish map, which is a play mat that you roll out and one side looks like a rug and the other has like activities on the back, which I think is really great. I would recommend that highly. But yeah, so the tiles I did start out with and this is a user error. They did not work for us. We have a dog and two cats, who would pull at the tiles so that they never aligned quite right again and their claws would get stuck and then it became a tripping hazard. And then they never look clean. So I don’t suggest those if you have a busy home with cats, dogs and babies, if it’s just humans, then you know, they work great. But with pet hair, too, they get in the cracks. It’s just not ideal. Okay, so I love rug bubbles. I have two of them. I have one in Jamie’s room and I have one in the living room. And they are for Jamie’s room, it might last longer. Because it’s such a cute rug, it’s like a large jungle palm print that will like he could have until he’s like 1415. The living room one, I will probably switch out because one of the things I teach is practical over precious, which irrigable is right, it’s easily washable and stuff like that. But I am a designer and I have these beautiful rugs from traveling that are like silk and wool. And once the baby gets not to be a baby, or once my little is no longer that little and can understand carefulness and things like that. You have every right to switch out and take back your space. But my focus is that when you have littles like 10, and under, it should be a family friendly space so that you’re not getting upset with them. Because you have to spend time protecting or preserving something. Rather check on them, make sure they’re okay. Teach them a lesson. Like that’s not good to do. But you’re not dwelling on the problem. And you’re actually just doing a quick solution, like throwing it in the wash. But there’s a time and a place for everything. So you know, in a few years, ya know, you take back that space and you get your fancy rug in and you show off your beautiful things and stuff like that.
Emily Merrell 21:58
I babysat when I’m back in the day with four more families that had like her perfect, white fluffy carpet. Perfect. Wait couches. I’m like, Are these normal children? Are these children that are scared of everything? Like how do they
Antoinette Belson 22:14
surprise that like some rooms are just off limits. And that I think is really not cool. Especially I love small spaces, I have a 1400 square foot house and I chose it. We had an option of buying a 2300 square foot and I said no, I want the smaller one. Because I think excess is unnecessary. And there are always opportunities to create usable space and multipurpose space. So for me, no house can be off notice part of this small house can be off limits, because then we wouldn’t have enough space. So you just activate different spaces and different zones for everybody. Well, like through design, and then it can evolve and adapt throughout the ages of your little.
Emily Merrell 23:04
I love that. I think that’s a great, great, great solution. So, Antoinette, how can people work with you? And how can people find out more on how to work with you.
Antoinette Belson 23:17
So I do one on one design consults I do, they can be hourly, they can be project based. My goal truly is to help you from design inspiration to design implementation. Sometimes it’s just having a short call, which is as Emily mentioned, more like working out a design problem. Those are my one hour consults. And it’s like no commitment, just this one off. But I’ve been really excited because I’ve had three clients follow up with me to do multiple of those. So they’ve enjoyed working with me. I also have a free newsletter, weekly newsletter where I drop a lot of design tips and some fun things throughout the week. And design reads. And then I have my podcast biscuits with a boss, which is really for empowering women who are interested in starting their own thing, whether it’s a hobby or a new business, becoming a coach or just making a change in their life as a community to lean on and learn from.
Emily Merrell 24:26
I love that and people can work with you also as a coach to
Antoinette Belson 24:30
yes so I do right now it’s like a design coach in the sense that what I found is a lot of people that struggle with design are struggling with more than just design and it’s about inspiring confidence working through potential relationship issues that you have with compromising with a spouse or significant other when you move in together. Or if you’re making a big leap or consideration about you know, buying a house and you’re not sure how working with me He will help guide and inspire you to make the decisions that are best for you. Again, there’s no right answer. It’s literally what works best for you. And, yeah, that’s what I do.
Emily Merrell 25:13
I love it. I love it so many great ways to work with you. So we’re gonna switch gears a little bit and we’re gonna go into six fast questions. Are you ready? Okay. Okay. So first one is tell us an unknown fun fact.
Antoinette Belson 25:29
An unknown fun fact. Well, it’s not been unknown, but I married my high school sweetheart, but I think I even already mentioned that. So my unknown fun fact I’d have to say is that I have size 10 men’s shoe. Wow. And I was extremely popular with the fraternity boys in college because I guess for a lot of the like, initiation stuff, they had to dress like girls, and so they borrowed my shoes all the time. I’m not kidding. Yeah, it would be I have heels that were like made for me. And they would just come and borrow them to dress and drag. I’m sorry, what fraternity was this? I honestly don’t even think he made it in. But it was a swimmer that was rushing. And they had to do this. And there were four of them that came to my room. Or maybe there was a swim party. I don’t even know they said it was fraternity but now thinking about it. Maybe it was just like a fun swim party.
Emily Merrell 26:28
Maybe you just want to go out on the town. And yeah, I’m rushing a fraternity. Yeah, yeah. This is what I need. And he’s actually like a now a dragster. You know, a queen in Columbus. That’s so funny. Were you on this one team?
Antoinette Belson 26:41
No track. I was tracking for all four years. Yeah. varsity track. I was a field leader. I did discus javelin and attempted shotput. But was not very good. That’s awesome. I
Emily Merrell 26:55
had no idea. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a fun fact. Oh, both of those are great fun facts. I’ll take it. Internet who would be a dream person to be connected with.
Antoinette Belson 27:08
So my phys bestie Rachel is going to tease me because she’s going to be like, This is so attainable. But I am currently very much excited by HGTV. And there are two people that I would love to connect with the twins on on syllables in Seattle. They I just love their vibe, their sister vibe. I just love the design strategies like they’re perfect half Problem Solver half design aesthetic and like magic. And then the other one, I would love to meet Joanna Gaines to see how, like, I’ve read a lot of her books and stuff. And I just would love to have a real sit with her to figure out how she made you know, her multi billionaire. You know, Empire world. Yeah. Oh, those
Emily Merrell 27:59
are great. one’s definitely attainable. You can forget that. In the next in the next plan, you put you put them in your next plan. I mean, so. Yeah, so it’s there. We have a box to check. What show are you currently watching or obsessing over?
Antoinette Belson 28:20
So having a baby, I have not been able to watch live TV because like when he goes to bed and when I go to bed and then I fall asleep. So I’m not very good at watching things like binging when things come out that I love, I do prioritize it. So bridgerton was a big one for me. And I’m home at it. Mm hmm. Currently, my husband is trying to catch me up with all of the Marvel things on Disney plus, but there’s so many that it’s hard to keep track of. So I would say my safety is like basically anything on Discovery plus, I love to TV. Yeah.
Emily Merrell 29:02
Good safe ones. What book are you currently reading or have read recently? So
Antoinette Belson 29:07
I it’s taking me longer to read books than I used to. I used to go through like every night and would love to read like for an hour and a half every night. The book I just finished was beats peace of extraordinary circumstance. And that is actually from written by one of my friends, Ruth, and she has a new book coming out. So I love that book. I highly recommend that. But my my husband just bought me a book by who is the woman who did this show? It’s called like, my ex my crazy ex girlfriend. Yes, this is Rachel bloom. Yes. So she just got a new book out that’s something about like normal people like what is it like to be a normal person? Isn’t it like a Judy Blume kind of cover? Like? Yes, yeah. So that’s my next book. And I’m very excited about that. And I’m going to actually just cut up real quick, Rachel bloom book so that everybody knows what I’m talking about. I want to be where the normal people are.