Have you ever wondered what it takes to do this crazy job? I mean, besides buckets of booze and patience? Today I'm going to give you the low down from the perspective of someone who has built a business from scratch, because sharing is caring. I started out as an artist and teacher, and slowly built a scaffolding of interior design knowledge and best practices through trial and error, meeting other design professionals, and most importantly busting my ass for nearly a decade. Here are a few shortcuts and hacks I can't live without. 

1) Olioboard

There are a lot of design programs out there and this one isn't perfect, but it allows me to to build a virtual finish board that is linked to every product, and I have thousands of products in my "warehouse." This is typically my first step in seeing things together before I order 8000 samples to look at in person. As the job evolves, I update the board to reflect current process.

erin williamson design

Here's a snapshot of how we arrived at the final living room design for our Mid Century project.

erin williamson design

And the fully realized plan. Ta da! 

2) Floorplanner

Once again, this is not a flawless program. In fact, I have spent many a day shaking my fist at the sky in agony. But if you are not a computer wizard and you just want a simple floorplan, this will do the trick. Also it will scale imported images of cad plans, which is SUPER HELPFUL. I typically use this to create a preliminary plan before our talented project manager Lindsay renders more complicated spaces in the dreaded Sketch Up (she's amazing at it, I despise it) or we have cad documents made.


It will also create basic 3D renderings of the space, like my kitchen that I have been threatening to remodel for the last three years but can't find the time to actually blow into smithereens via sledgehammer.

erin williamson

For comparison, here is a sketch up drawing from a job in progress:

erin williamson design

Sketch up is much more flexible in terms of materials you can apply and granularity of component sizes. If you're a smarty pants computer savant, start there. Otherwise join me at the Floorplanner meet up (should we start a support group???)

3) Farrow and Ball Color Card

I feel naked without this handy compact card. We have suit cases upon binder files of color charts and giant swatch decks from every paint brand, but I bring this with me to every job site. It helps me narrow down initial color options quickly and efficiently, then I refine my choices with either large FB swatches or Benjamin Moore full size swatches. The other set that lives in my bag is the very tidy Benjamin Moore whites deck. 

farrow and ball

Farrow and Ball Hague Blue and Pointing, from a recently completed project I will be shooting soon:

erin williamson design

4) Math

Who knew that high school calculus would come in handy? KIDDING. Except for tipsy party tricks, it totally didn't. But I use simple math all day every day. There are lots of "rules" related to standard dimensions like seating space, walkway allowances, chandelier size, curtain height, etc., and by now I have 100s of them memorized. Also I can divide and multiply by 12 and 2.54 like nobody's business.

house beautiful secrets

I prefer a clearance of about 18" between coffee tables and sofas, but it's good to know the minimums. That House Beautiful slide show is chock full of great tips and measurements. 

erin williamson design

Design often comes down to scale, and proper proportions and ergonomics are critical to the success of an architectural space.

5) Ikea


If I had a nickel for every email I received asking about the vanity from our Travis Heights project, I would be filthy rich. Ironically it's probably the least expensive thing in the room -- Ikea's Godmorgon wall hung vanity. But the drawer fronts are outfitted with SemiHandmade's walnut drawer fronts and it takes things from big box level to custom on a dime. 

6) Ebay

I should be the Ebay brand ambassador. I have had an account since 1999. I also just bought two yards of Clarence House's discontinued Velours Klee and I'm high on picker fumes.

nick olsen

I have been hunting for this pillow fabric, seen in Nick Olsen's dreamily designed bedroom, for THREE YEARS. And thanks to Ebay I found it.

erin williamson design

And remember when I bought this giant Victorian photo backdrop off Ebay at 4am?

Some things will never change. I use Chairish, Dibs and Etsy too, but Ebay will always be my first love. 

There's definitely more to the job than a few computer programs and swatch books.  On the other hand, it's not magic. It's a ton of hard work and math checking and tire kicking and spreadsheeting and vendor quoting and waaaaay too many hours looking for unique stuff until your eyes melt down into a puddle of ooze. It's also being open to the goodness when it happens.

If you're in the biz, thinking about getting into the biz, or just like all things design related, I hope this was helpful. And if you're in Austin (or Switzerland... or Maui) and need professional services you can always contact us HERE.