It’s been a crazy busy summer for every single person I know. Me, too — so much so that it’s taken me a solid month to get coverage of my recent trip to see the HGTV Home Shaw Floors lineup onto the blog. This is the second blogger event I’ve been to. It was held over the course of three days in Asheville and High Point, North Carolina.
Disclosure: Shaw Floors paid my airfare, hotel, meals and other transportation — all part of hosting 10 design bloggers to showcase their new collaboration with HGTV. No specific news coverage was promised. Opinions are my own..
Right off the top I need to say: It was one of the funnest (is that a word?) experiences of my life. The event was constructed like Design Star — the bloggers were paired off, and each team had two days to design and decorate a room using flooring from the new collection as the starting point. Seriously, I have new respect for those Design Star contestants – it was hard.
Today’s story — a whopper, 2,700 words! — is all about the event, and meant to give you insight into what it’s like to go on these things. I get a particular kick because in an old life, I used to host these for journalists — now I’m on the other side. I will do a follow up story with more detail, research and impressions of the extended product line.
But to set the scene: The new HGTV Home Flooring by Shaw — which started to hit retailers in full last month — consists of carpet, area rugs, hardwood and laminate styles. These are Shaw Floors — they manufacture (in the U.S.!) and distribute the products, licensed with HGTV to carry the relatively new “HGTV Home” brand name. Clearly, HGTV is now working to extend its television programming brand to the marketing of products. The network’s first partnership was with Bed, Bath & Beyond, and they also have launched paint colors with Sherwin-Williams that, alas, knocked our beloved Suburban Modern paint line color-cards off the shelves. HGTV indicates that they also could expand into areas such as furniture, lighting and cabinetry.
Shaw Floors, I quickly learned at the event, is a U.S. market leader in flooring today, with more than $4 billion in annual sales and 25,000 employees. It’s also a Berkshire Hathaway company — a Warren Buffet pick, which is a pretty stellar vote of confidence from America’s most amazing IMHO investor. Not surprisingly — like so many of the companies we talk about here on the blog — Shaw got its start immediately after World War II. The company originated in 1946 as Star Dye Company, a small business that dyed tufted scatter rugs. Pretty cool, eh? It grew from there.
We had lots of time to speak with the Shaw marketing team at the North Carolina event. They explained that the reason they love the HGTV collaboration is that their recent history has been more as a “manufacturing” company than as a “marketing” company. Meaning: The company has been very focused on the features of its products and continuously improving how they are made, rather than on how the products are presented out into the marketplace. I see their point — to me, carpet and other flooring today seems to be sold pretty much like a “commodity”. We kinda sorta might recognize some big name brands — Shaw and Mohawk, I learned, are the biggies — but we consumers don’t really know much about how to differentiate the products. The flooring products in this new Shaw line — the design of the area rugs, in particular — were influenced by HGTV’s bedding line with Bed, Bath & Beyond — but the big story is the association with HGTV overall. It’s TV-celebrity-sex-appeal married to residential flooring. Seems like a pretty smart move to me.
The event to introduce bloggers to the product line seemed like a pretty smart move, too. It started in Asheville, North Carolina. 10 bloggers from around the country arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, and that evening we were hosted on a private tour of The Biltmore Estate. No photos were allowed inside, but here’s the complete group — including the Shaw marketing team — in front of the home after our tour. That’s me far right — I wore a vintage dress I picked up at an estate sale for $1.
Of course, the house is majestic — built by George Vanderbilt, 250 rooms (we did not see them all!), and run for-profit today. Have I ever mentioned that I worked at an historic estate — Edith Wharton’s estate and gardens, The Mount, here in Lenox, Mass. — for two-and-a-half years? I directed PR and Marketing in the early 1990s. So it’s always interesting for me to see these other historic homes.
Dinner was outdoors. Rachael Powell and Ashley Walters, who work for Empower Media Marketing, the group hired by Shaw to organize the event, also have a flair for decor. They also know how to show off the brand — using flooring from the new line — like this area rug — in spots here and there.
The drinks were even designed after the carpets. I like this wall-to-wall design very much, by the way. And that was my drink. An “In the Know” Mojito. Rachael and Ashley have just the right touch. But, I am a former PR person myself. And I suggest they keep their day jobs. There is a bigger future than ever for effective PR people, I think.
So enough with the formalities. What did we do for the next two days — the main program? Early Wednesday morning, we boarded a bus that took us from Asheville to High Point. During the ride, we made mood boards for our rooms. In a little under three hours, we were delivered unto Tribuzio-Hilliard Studio. You know all the room shots in catalogs you see? These are taken at places like Tribuzio-Hilliard:
Our 110,000 square foot studio facility was built and designed specifically as a commercial photography studio. We have 36 custom photography bays that are 1600 square feet each. They all have unique architecture along with complete floors and ceilings. These bays are constantly being updated by our full-time interior design and carpentry staff.
My design partner was Jill Seidner of the Material Girls blog. The evening before, during the Mojito, we were were first asked to “draw” as in pull our selection “out of hat” our room and the flooring types we would use. We then chose our flooring specifically: A dark hardwood and the Mod Links area rug.
This is one of my favorite parts of the story: By about 9 p.m. the Shaw folks called all the exact blogger flooring orders into their warehouse in Dalton, Georgia. The orders were pulled, and shortly after midnight, the loaded truck left Dalton. The installers — which included Shaw employees from Dalton as well as some retailer-teams in High Point — were in High Point by about 7 a.m. They installed all the hardwood, laminate, wall-to-wall and area rugs in five big rooms within about 2 hours. People were HUSTLING to make this program happen!
Oh, and there was a celebrity host awaiting us at the design studio, too. This being an HGTV collaboration, you know there had to be an HGTV star involved: And we lucked out in getting Lisa LaPorta. I’ll also do a separate story about hanging with Lisa, but in a nutshell: This woman knows her stuff. She has a degree in interior design from UCLA, and she worked as a contractor before becoming involved with HGTV. In fact, her first job with the network was behind the scenes getting installation work done. It’s only later she got in front of the camera. Not only that, she is NICE, Not a Diva. She also was HUSTLING, running around helping all of us out all the time. When you see all the chartreuse pillows in our room — Lisa found those in the way back somewhere. I have become a big Lisa LaPorta fan.
By around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jill and I got to work creating our room — a mid century modern-inspired living room, with some glamour, but for a real family — with our flooring as the foundation. Overall, we would have about nine hours to work on the room — about four hours on the first day, about five on the second.
This for sure is one of my favorite photos. Dawn — the blonde in the center — was the Tribuzio-Hillard interior designer assigned to help Jill and me find our way around the huge warehouse full of stuff to put in our rooms. It seems the way it works with the catalog photo shoots is: The catalog companies bring the main stuff they want to feature in their ads with them (shipping the stuff ahead of time). But when they go to pull together the complete room shot, they often or usually need supplemental stuff to complete the room — from big pieces of furniture to lamps to window treatments to all kinds of accessories. Tribuzio-Hilliard has a big warehouse of stuff to choose from, and that was our candy store.
The thing was, though, that Jill and I wanted to do a mid century modern style room. Honestly, we were stressed by the limited selection of major furniture pieces that fit our bill — the majority of pieces were what I would call “contemporary” — the wrong scale, shape or fabric. And, we were being very particular — we searched every gosh darn corner of the place, we were the last ones done every day, no question.
It was like working an estate sale. We looked on top of, behind, and underneath everything. Which has its great moments: Like going up on the cherry picker with Dawn to look for more possible furniture pieces upon the third floor of the racks — way fun! Photo credit: Jill Seidner of Material Girls.
We also wanted our room to “be about the floor” and in particular, about the area rug. This Mod Links area rug in beige really grew on me over the course of the event. Both the color and the design are pretty darn versatile — which I think is important for an area rug. If you spend a lot of money on a large area rug like this, you want to live with it for a long long time — you want to be able to move it to other rooms if you change houses — expect to have a rug like this your entire lifetime, choose carefully!
I also show you this photo, because I learned from a Shaw marketing exec that when you do commercial photography for flooring, you set up the furnishings and accessories to “draw the viewer into” the room from the front of the photo to the back. Kind of like, make it as two dimensional as possible, with visuals in the foreground. We were trying to incorporate this idea in our design… I found these antique cars and oversized jack bookend to help add immediate visual interest at the front of the rug.
How did the room turn out? Here is an “after” photo. We were pretty happy with our room. We wanted it to be a bit glamorous — but also homey. Some design lessons:
- If you look closely, you can see that we tried to repeat the geometry of the rug — the squares — in other places throughout the room. We have a lot of pure circles and squares — this trick helps create harmony and to minimize chaos. Jill was very keen on this — I learned a lot from her.
- Another trick, learned from Dawn: Don’t have all our side tables at the same height. Have variety, so that your eye keeps dancing across the room.
- Third: We punctuated with orange — aimed for not too much, not too little, just right — again, to keep your eye moving through the room.
We also were trying hard bring in the eclectic here and there. Jill is a professional interior designer with tons of experience, so on many of the furniture choices, she took the lead. I was super proud when I made a big contribution like finding this animal print chair, which was also super comfy. I also found the lamps… accessories like the birdhouse, the globe, and at the very last minute, the football trophies…
Jill “let me have” the six doggie paintings above the bar. I was obsessed with these from pretty much the moment I saw them. I am big on not taking everything in a room too seriously — gotta camp it up in a few corners! Jill gets credit for thinking of the bar — brilliant. I found the bling. Tribuzio Hilliard even stocks fake ice cubes, can you believe it!
When we went to find a fireplace, I didn’t think for a millisecond that Jill would “let me have” the old skool brick — but she suggested it! She agreed, we wanted this room to look like it was a “today” interpretation of midcentury modern in a real 1960s house. Hence, we also painted out all the molding — as that would not have been common back in the day.
Alas, in that vein, the one thing I would change — and it’s a biggie — is the paint color in our room. We had to choose from the HGTV Home Sherwin Williams line, which had plenty of choices, but we could not test big swatches or anything first. We were pickin’ off a chip. We wanted to match the rug — again: the rug was the star — so we ended up rolling our dice on a color called “Whole Wheat.” We also took a chance and painted the entire ceiling. Everything was painted overnight. It is not working for me. The effect is to flat… too drab… the green in this particular shade of beige (Yes: I was part of a duo that chose Beige!) has too much green in it… the walls do not do justice to what I think is a very pleasing, livable room design. Drats! That said, I’m still not sure what color I would choose. In real life, I would have to put up about eight different colors and keep pestering DH for his opinion and look at it 16 times a day in all different light and then think about it some more.
I am not really cut out for 16-hour design challenges, I think. About half the time I can make decisions IN A HEARTBEAT (animal print chair, doggie prints, cars and jack, lamps). But the other half of the time — I am a muller. Also, I have not created hundreds of rooms in my lifetime, like a real interior designer — the best learning comes from experiences, including your successes but even more so, your mistakes. Even though this challenge was ‘easier’ in that we weren’t spending any real money, we still were working very conscientiously. I can see why the Design Stars to things “wrong”. There ain’t time to second guess or rework.
All in: This was immense fun, and I really enjoyed working with my partner Jill Seidner of Material Girls — you can read her story here. She tended toward the glamour, I tended toward the kitsch — and I think we found a very happy middle ground with great rapport.
Meanwhile — the rooms created by the other bloggers were terrific — and it was great fun to meet and get to know them, too:
What’s next for our rooms?
In September, Shaw Floors will feature a full month of promotions and features to spotlight this new line of floors. The five rooms created by the blogger teams will be in a competition. You will be able to vote every day for your favorite on Shaw’s Facebook page — and every time you vote, you will be entered to win a daily giveaway there for an area rug. Pretty sweet! The bloggers whose room wins the most votes will get to travel, with a guest, to Chicago to participate in an HGTV Dream Home event. In conjunction, I’ll also be running a competition for a second HGTV Home Shaw Floors area rug — any color, any style — just for Retro Renovation readers.
Also watch for a follow-up story soon with more info about the new flooring line, that will include digging deeper into pros and cons of the features and benefits of each of the different styles.