Continuing my interview series, I had the great fortune of interviewing Kelly Maryanski, a Chicago-based artist and illustrator. I met her at my mother’s work event, where she painted small portraits of guests. I found out that not only is she extremely talented and friendly, she is also a fan of Twin Peaks and was heading to a David Lynch Foundation event later that evening (too cool!). In this interview, we cover topics including her work, inspirations, life as an artist, and more. Here is the fabulous watercolor portrait of me and my mom that we were able to take home with us!

Mom and me!

Megan: Kelly, what is your earliest art memory?

Kelly: I remember when I was about 11, I entered an illustration of Sailor Moon into Tokyopop Magazine and it got published! So I guess I have been published since the age of 11. I also recently found a copy of that magazine on eBay and purchased it for my reference.

I also used to draw cats. Cats of all kinds, in pencil and charcoal. That led to me then drawing cats from the musical CATS, which is a whole other obsession and musical theatre gateway show we can talk about later. I also used to sew a lot in elementary school. I remember my first big sewing project was constructing a stuffed Pikachu doll.

M: I was a big musical theatre and Pokemon fan as well growing up! Which artists do you admire or have influenced your work?

K: John Tenniel. Edith Head. Maira Kalman. Michael Jackson. 1950 magazines like LOOK.

M: Is art your full-time job or do you view it more so as a side gig?

K: It is more my full time job. When I am not painting at live events or working on private client commissions I am also an aerialist, dancer, and actor.

M: How have you developed your natural talent in art? Did you go through any formal training?

K: I have always been artistic, drawing since I was very very little. I have a BFA in studio art (and dance) from Denison University where I feel I developed more of a contemporary approach to art in general.

M: What is your artistic process like?

K: It depends what the project is; am I drawing for a client or for me? Am I on a time frame? Am I painting live at an event where, I must paint fairly quickly? Overall, I would say “flowy”.

M: Do you work in other mediums besides watercolor?

K: I used to work a lot in charcoal and large scale charcoal. I once painted an eight foot height Michael Jackson in printing ink. This was prior to me downsizing to a micro studio. I also used to love working with porcelain.

M: What is your favorite thing to paint?

K: Anything in motion. Fabric. Buildings.

M: What’s the most challenging thing to paint?

K: Detailed faces and hands.

M: What do you think people misunderstand about artists?

K: That we all must have had trust funds to afford living. Kidding! But I am sure some people think this way. Also, that it is not possible to live life as an artist. All of you are wrong. We all need art.

M: Name your top three favorite museums.

K: Out of the ones I have been to in person? The Guggenheim. The Art Institute of Chicago. Primitive in the West Loop. Okay, that last one is also an antique store, but it still counts!

M: I love The Guggenheim! I went once for the Picasso black and white exhibit back when I lived in New York. The Art Institute is incredible too, of course. So, where can people find out more about you and/or contact you for a commission?

K: You can check out my website or if you are into instant gratification, my Instagram is @kellypaintswithwater. Feel free to contact me for inquiries at

All photos and artwork courtesy of Kelly Maryanski.

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Last night, my dear friend Sarah and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago’s After Dark event, featuring “Andy Warhol”. Beforehand, we had a delicious dinner at Acanto, a small, welcoming Italian restaurant on Michigan Avenue near the museum. We enjoyed some scallops as an appetizer and I ordered lobster spaghetti for my entrée. Our dessert was truly my kind of dessert: chef’s selection of cheeses with a variety of fruit and jams. So delicious. The wine was as well. I would absolutely recommend Acanto pre-show/event downtown.

The Warhol After Dark was my first AIOC event as a member and oh my goodness, the people watching! You can only imagine. There were those dressed to the nines to those that looked like they rolled in from a frat house. The women tended to dress more creatively and as the theme was “animal”, there was quite a bit of leopard print, though I did see some zebra and snake as well (I wore a dress with butterflies). Two trends I noticed were cocktail dresses with combat boots and pearl embellishments, seen on fishnets, blouses, and accessories.

The exhibit itself was large and set up chronologically. I wasn’t as familiar with Andy’s earlier work in the 1950s and his sketches and paintings were very compelling before he exploded into pop art. Sarah and I remarked on how prolific he was as well, and I immediately thought of the Factory days and how much help he received from those eccentric people that he collected and discarded like beautiful objects with a shelf life.

I loved this early painting by Warhol (around 1948), titled “Living Room”.
In front of the Brillo boxes!

It was a lovely evening and I plan to go back to spend more time in the exhibit. It was very lively last night and some of the people were more interesting to watch at times!

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I’m currently writing this as I’m seated across my date. We are both on our laptops, but chit-chatting as well. It’s pleasant, low pressure, but a bit odd?

Now it’s around 3:45 pm and I’ll tell you more about this date. I’ve never had a date quite like this before. I met him through Hinge, and he lived in the same area as I did growing up for part of the time, so I figured we have some things in common. Before we met, I learned he was in real estate.

He didn’t realize I would be at my Starbucks so early (this is my usual Saturday morning routine. He had told me to take my time in getting there, that he was going to get his work done. When I messaged him to turn around, he looked surprised. I asked him to join my table, and he did, with his laptop still open. I told him if he still needed to get some work done, that was fine and I truly meant it.

He asked what I was doing on my laptop and I told him that I was trying to write a blog post, but had been distracted by looking at apartments and condos on Zillow. I told him how I’ll be moving next year, ideally somewhere in the vicinity of my current apartment building, near this Starbucks. I mentioned this future move was largely inspired by my intention to get a dog. He asked me why. I think I replied something along the lines of, “what do you mean?”.

The back and forth continued and it was evident to me that he felt more at ease with our laptops open. Almost like a crutch. I didn’t mind it too much at first, but his contributions to our conversation mostly centered around how he buys and sells electronics. He asserted his belief that one should never buy electronics or anything else for that matter, at full price. And yet, he was in the middle of returning an iPhone from eBay because it had the wrong cell phone carrier sim card. I suggested that by buying full price through Apple, he could’ve avoided all this hassle. Very scintillating.

After an hour or so and my interest waning, I was ready to go and continue with my personal errands for the day. I asked him what else he had planned, and he mentioned he might stop by Replay, the adult arcade around the corner. When I asked if he’d have a beer while playing arcade games, I learned that he doesn’t drink and doesn’t understand why anyone would. Of course, he asked me why I did:

Me: “Because it can be fun”.

Him: “So you would drink right now?” (it was 11:30 am)

Me: [puts coat on] “Well no, but I think it’s fun sometimes. I think I’ll head home for a nap.” (I’m embarrassed to say I had been yawning frequently)

We walked out and I gave him a polite hug and told him it was nice to meet him. And it kind of was in that he didn’t do or say anything too outrageous, but clearly we are not a match. I am comfortable with and open to someone that has different values, but he seemed very set in his ways and inflexible. Who wants to be questioned on why they do something as normal as having a glass of wine, buying a dog, or paying full price for an iPhone?

Oh well. It was certainly an improvement from my last date, just nothing in common, but coffee.

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Every year, I look forward to the holiday season for many reasons, mainly to have the opportunity to gather and celebrate with loved ones, friends, colleagues, clients, etc. For most, this time of year is full of traditions including annual events. Personally, I have a Friendsgiving, regular Thanksgiving, a museum event, two work-related parties, cookie decorating, Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinners, and probably some brunches scattered in there. It will be busy and I can’t wait!

Part of the fun should be deciding what to wear to these engagements. My closet is solid, but I cringe at wearing the same old little black dress from years past. I wanted to mix it up, without having to spend a fortune buying something I’d wear one time. So this year, I decided to try my luck with Rent The Runway. I had a positive experience years ago for a New Year’s Eve wedding, but for some reason, sort of forgot about RTR. This year is different. Right now, I have three different dresses pre-ordered for upcoming events, but I won’t share them just yet (I want them to be a surprise)!

I did a deep dive on RTR’s website to compile a few ensembles for the different kinds of holiday parties, but truth be told, there are so many options available so I would recommend checking them out yourself. One of my favorite parts of RTR is the fact that you can search with so many filters i.e., availability, size, color, occasion, age range, weather type, and body type. They also have reviews from previous customers, including photos of them wearing the garments, a description of their experience, and a profile that includes their body type, weight, height, etc. This is so helpful in making selections.

Plus, when you order a garment, you can add in an extra backup size for free. Rental options include 4-days and 8-days. I included pricing for 4-day rentals below, but you can also sign up for their Unlimited membership, which allows you to rent four items at a time. So without further ado, here are my outfit ideas. Enjoy!

Work Party

Night Out

Family Dinner

Holiday Brunching

Date Night

Winter Wedding

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One of the reasons I love the holiday season is because I love shopping and giving gifts to my friends and family. Compiling a gift guide is also one of my favorite kinds of blog posts to create. This year, I decided to make my holiday gift guide one with an altruistic focus. I’ve picked a variety of gifts that give not only to the recipient but to a variety of nonprofits and causes.

Love Your Melon Black Speckled Pom Beanie | $45

Made with organic cotton and a faux fur pom, this beanie is not only cozy and warm, but 50% of the profit goes to the Love Your Melon Fund, which supports nonprofits dedicating to fighting pediatric cancer. Hats not your thing? Fret not! Love Your Melon also has an array of mittens, scarves, pullovers, and other apparel.

Learn more here.

MAC Cosmetics Viva Glam 25 Lipstick | $19.50

The holiday season is the perfect time to wear a classic red lip, and no one does a better red lip than MAC Cosmetics. The original Viva Glam I has just been re-released in very festive, glittery special-edition packaging. Plus, every cent goes towards MAC AIDS Fund, which supports communities and organizations that offer services to people with HIV/AIDS and provides educational and preventative services.

Learn more here.

Ivory Ella Sepia Rose Quarter Zip Sherpa | $79

Sherpa coats and jackets are on-trend anyway, so why not keep warm with this Ivory Ella Quarter Zip in rose? Ivory Ella has committed to donating a minimum of 10% of profits directly to organizations such as Save the Elephants to support their work in sustaining elephant populations, preserving their habitats and fostering a heightened appreciation and visibility for elephants and their often-fragile existence. Over the past four years, they have donated 1.4 million dollars.

Learn more here.

Wahl Lithium-Ion Vacuum Trimmer | $119.99

This 2 in 1 hair Vacuum Trimmer by Wahl will keep you looking polished for all of those holiday parties without the mess, thanks to its powerful vacuum suction. It comes with two heads; a precision trimmer and a nose trimmer., as well as a variety of combs, so that you can get the beard you want. Plus, Wahl Clipper Corporation donates $1 from every Wahl Vacuum Trimmer to the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a non-profit that helps veterans and active duty service members.

Learn more here.

TOMS Bellini Vintage Zeiss Green Polarized Grey Lens | $228.95

The winter sun may be weaker, but it still exists! Plus, you may be heading somewhere tropical to get away from the cold, so eye protection is a must. I love this chic, vintage pair of sunnies and for every pair of TOMS Eyewear purchased, TOMS has vowed to help restore sight to a person in need via their Sight Giving Program in Partnership with Seva Foundation.

Learn more here.

Savannah Bee Company Just Bee Cause Gift Set | $31.50

There’s nothing more delicious than a hot beverage in the winter. Whether you prefer chamomile tea or a Hot Toddy, consider this sweet gift set from Savannah Bee Company for your honey needs! I have personally used this company’s lip balm and it’s the best for avoiding chapped lips. An adorable bee tree ornament is included as well. The Bee Cause Project was founded in 2013 and is a non-profit that installs honeybee hives in school for educational purposes. $3 of this gift set will be donated to The Bee Cause. According to their website, “The Bee Cause Project has provided hives for 330 schools in 50 states and 4 countries around the world.”

Learn more here.

Rockwell Commander Gunmetal Watch | $365

This beautiful stainless steel watch by Rockwell is sleek, yet durable. Plus, for every Rockwell Time AHA bundled watch sold from now until February 2020, 15% of the purchase will be donated to the American Heart Association’s Life Is Why We Give™ Campaign. The American Heart Association is dedicated to funding scientific research to build a world free of heart disease and stroke.

Learn more here.

Merry Mona Lisa Notecards | $19.99

Send your loved ones the season’s greetings with this cheeky stationery depicting the Mona Lisa in Santa garb! Proceeds go towards PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, which provides public programming to educate, inspire, entertain and express a diversity of perspectives. PBS empowers individuals to achieve their potential and strengthen the social, democratic, and cultural health of the U.S. Now that’s something to smile about!

Learn more here.

Rescue Chocolate The All Dark Collection | $45

This is the perfect gift for animal lovers with a sweet tooth! Rescue Chocolate donates 100% of net profits to animal rescue organizations around the country. This gift set of vegan, fairly traded, and organic chocolate includes mouth-watering flavors including “Peanut Butter Pit Bull”, “Foster-iffic Peppermint”, “The Fix”, “Mission Feral Fig”, and “Forever Mocha”.

Learn more here.

Everlane The 100% Human French Terry Hoodie in Small Print | $55

Everlane donates $5 towards the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) for every 100% Human item purchased. The mission of the ACLU is to protect human rights for all no matter one’s color, creed, sexual orientation, gender, etc. This minimalist hoodie is perfect for keeping cozy during your Hallmark Holiday movie marathon watching. You can feel good about dressing down.

Learn more here.

Staglin Family Vineyard Salus Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 | $115

What’s the holiday season without a delicious Cabernet? The Staglin Family Vineyard produces a Cab and a Chardonnay under their Salus label, all proceeds of which are donated to fundraising for mental health research. “Great wines for great causes” is their motto and according to their website, they’ve donated and raised more than $920 million since 1985 to support charities, including their main cause, the Music Festival for Brain Health.

Learn more here.

Oceana Dolphin Plush Adoption | $55

Give the kiddos in your life an adorable dolphin plush toy and the joy of adopting a real-life dolphin, certificate included! Proceeds help protect these amazing creatures from dangerous fishing practices and pollution. Founded in 2001, Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation and we are seeing more and more how important this is for future generations.

Learn more here.

Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream | $68

I use this lovely cream, packed with antioxidants from the Japanese purple rice. It smells lovely and is rich and hydrating, which is especially important in colder weather. Also, Tatcha’s Beautiful Faces, Beautiful Futures program in partnership with Room to Read has helped to fund three million days of school for girls in both Asia and Africa. Every single purchase at Tatcha contributes to this effort.

Learn more here.

Walk Mobile Device Charger | $13.99

Traveling for the holidays? Make sure your phone stays charged even if you can’t find a convenient outlet on the airplane. This petite mobile charger by the Alzheimer’s Association for their Walk to End Alzheimer’s campaign is light-weight and easily fits in your pocket. 77% of their funds are allocated towards research to eliminate the disease as well as for the provision of care and support by those affected.

Learn more here.

Warhol Banana Socks | $16

Socks are a warm and easy way to dress festively during the holidays. These Warhol-inspired banana socks offer a fun “pop” of color to any outfit and the revenue generated helps support the Art Institute of Chicago’s many programs within the museum. The Art Institute is a world-renowned museum committed to lifelong connections to art through its exhibitions, scholarship, and public programming.

Learn more here.

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It’s been an odd week for me, especially in the dream department. I dream vividly once in a while, but typically, I don’t. This week was different. I dreamed intensely every single night. The worst of it was Monday night. In my dream, I was diagnosed with a terminal illness and woke up crying. I went back to sleep and overslept until 7:45 am, which is normally when I’m arriving at my office. But this day, I rushed to work, feeling disoriented by the dream and the confusion. The next day I had a dream where my tongue swelled to the point where I couldn’t breathe. In another dream, my job was in jeopardy.

These dreams were so strong that they trickled into my waking consciousness. Inevitably, they started me out on weird footing for the day ahead and as a result, I’ve felt more irritable, sad, and/or confused. It doesn’t help that it’s pitch black in the morning and the sun is going down earlier and earlier. Part of the culprit has to be re-watching The Haunting of Hill House, which is choc-full of gruesome imagery and gut-wrenching drama.

Between the dreams, the diminishing sunlight, and the onset of colder weather, I’m feeling a little bit funky. A little blue, a little grouchy. If you have any recommendations on how to deal with this that doesn’t include oversleeping, overeating, and being alone (trust me, I’ve tried), let me know. My dreams are at least improving now that I’m done with Hill House. Last night, I was at a tropical resort with friends and Tom Brady and Gisele were hanging at the bar. Vivid. Weird. But not so dark!

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*Spoiler alert*

The 2018 novel, Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for 20 non-consecutive weeks and was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club. When I posted it on my Instagram story as my current reading project, I received numerous positive comments from friends, so I was quite excited. And in the beginning, I really was.

The story oscillates between two timelines in North Carolina. In the first timeline, we are introduced to Catherine “Kya” Clark, a little girl living in a marsh shack with her four older siblings, her beloved mother, and her abusive, alcoholic father in the early 1950s. One by one, they all leave and this young child is forced to survive alone. She becomes highly suspicious of other people and most comfortable surrounded by seagulls and sand crabs. Her sole human friend is Jumpin’, an African American man that runs a gas station. He and his wife offer Kya help when the rest of the town scorns her as “swamp trash”.

The second timeline occurs in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Chase Andrews, a handsome womanizer from a wealthy family, and formerly the local high school football star, is found dead beneath a fire tower under suspicious circumstances. The town’s sheriff investigates. Slowly, but surely, these two timelines converge.

As Kya grows older, a local boy named Tate a few years older somehow breaks down her barrier and teaches her to read. They fall in love but then he leaves for college, an option that not possible for Kya. This is where things began to turn for me.

Up until this point, the writing in the first part of the book was very strong. Owens potently conjures the shack in the marsh, Kya barefoot in her dirty overalls hiding from her father, her mother walking away forever, unsteadily in her fake crocodile boots. I could smell the grits cooking in the dingy kitchen. I felt the pangs of abandonment and the desperation young Kya felt in trying to find her next meal. I was very excited about this book.

But as soon as Tate leaves for college and betrays his promise to return to her, I became leery. Kya subsequently begins a tumultuous affair with Chase that ends in another abandonment. All the while, she becomes a published author and scholar despite having attended school for one day, she and Tate reconnect, there’s a murder trial with predictable results, and a lot of invasive, pretentious poetic insertions.

This novel started as a deep, visceral story of loss and survival and fizzled out into a predictable Nicholas Sparks trope. Kya, a fiercely independent woman becomes the misunderstood heroine struggling with two archetypal romantic partners. This diminished and contradicted her character. This is a woman who lived by herself in the marsh; loneliness aside, she was suspicious of Chase Andrews but because he was the hot, charismatic football star, she couldn’t help herself? Why would she have risked her privacy and safety for one of the town’s most well-known womanizers? For these reasons, the intrigue around the death of Chase petered out for me very quickly.

This book is mildly entertaining, but it’s the kind of book that would serve well as a beach vacation read. I finished it but felt disengaged and disappointed by the end. Inevitably, there will be a film. I’ll pass.

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*Spoiler Warning*

In the last week, I listened to an 18-episode podcast, called Cold. It’s about the 2009 disappearance of 38-year-old mother and wife, Susan Powell. I remembered this case. The shifty husband, Josh Powell, putting on an unconvincing act for the media and an implausible alibi of camping in the middle of the night with his two young sons, Charlie and Braden. I also remembered when, in 2012, Josh murdered his sons and took his own life, exploding his rental house in a devastating fire.

A seemingly perfect family.

Horrible, of course. What I didn’t know was that the salaciousness of this family’s tragedy ran far deeper than I could have ever imagined. Through these well-researched episodes that include audio recordings, interviews with the family, detectives, and the community, we learn how Josh’s dysfunctional family and his perverted father, Steven, helped destroy his son’s marriage with Susan, a devout Latter-Day Saint.

Josh playing the “concerned” husband for the media after Susan’s 2009 disappearance.

Not only did Steven encourage Josh to eschew and demonize the Mormon faith, but he had a horrifying obsession with Susan herself. He filmed her inappropriately and without her knowledge, wrote about his undying love for her in his journal, stole her undergarments in addition to hoarding her trash in plastic bags. After Josh’s parents divorced and he elected to live with Steven, it’s very clear that he influenced Josh’s perspective on women and only increased his narcissism.

While Susan’s body has never been recovered, to me it’s very clear that Josh was responsible for her disappearance. I believe he murdered her disposed of her body somewhere in Utah. But that was hardly the end of the story. The subsequent investigation and the fact that Josh was never charged is truly shocking.

Steven Powell, a truly demented pervert, and Susan’s obsessed father-in-law had a heavy influence on his son Josh. He was convicted of voyeurism and producing child pornography when he videotaped his young neighbors.

Josh engages in a custody battle with Susan’s parents, but many that knew Charlie and Braden saw an increase in inappropriate behavior once Susan was gone. Chuck Cox, Susan’s father, talks about how he and his wife had to teach the boys basic principles, such as sharing and taking turns. Josh didn’t care to parent; he just wanted to win custody. The boys had to fend for themselves in his care. Once Josh learned that the Coxes were to maintain custody, he went ballistic.

On February 5, 2012, a social worker brought the boys to Josh’s home for a supervised visit. Josh opened the door to let them in, claiming he had a surprise for them in the house. He then slammed and locked the door in the social worker’s face. She could not get in and called 911, her panic rising as she began to smell gasoline. The house soon exploded into flames. Josh, Charlie (aged 7), and Braden (aged 5) were dead.

Even then, the podcast doesn’t end. There are four more episodes. The host Dave Crawley walks us through the aftermath, the subsequent investigation, the case becoming cold, and what happened to the remaining Powell and Cox family members. Most importantly, he concludes the podcast with a call to action for victims, particularly women, of domestic abuse and their loved ones. The warning signs were there for Susan. She felt she had no way out of her declining marriage and would make statements such as, “If something happens to me, look at Josh.” No one should be in that position. We have to listen to our gut instincts.

Susan with her beloved sons, Charlie and Braden.

This is a sordid, fascinating story, but this podcast still manages to impart an important message. For those reasons, I highly recommend listening.

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As I’ve gotten older, inevitably my style has changed. Matured, really. It used to be all about the skin-tight American Apparel dresses, spaghetti-strapped tank tops, juicy couture tracksuits, low-rise denim, flashy handbags; the list goes on. I have noticed that when I shop now, my focus tends to be on more conservative, higher quality, and timeless pieces than ever before. It makes sense; if you want to be taken more seriously, you should look the part. As a woman in business, and especially recruiting, my candidates and clients shouldn’t have to wonder if I take pride in my professionalism, which extends to personal presentation.

These days, I find myself looking to the Royals, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, and other businesswomen like Amal Clooney, for style inspiration. In doing my research, this naturally extended to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, the quintessential master of what is termed, “Minimalist Chic”. She and the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. ruled New York City in the nineties as one of the most desirable couples; beautiful, dramatic, and impeccably dressed. Whether for a black-tie event, running errands to Duane Reade, or at her wedding, Carolyn embodied an almost daringly pared-down elegance that included exceptional tailoring, solid colors, minimal if non-existent jewelry, and an occasional red lip. She did also carry a Birkin bag, but otherwise, she refrained from the flash that she certainly would have had the means to afford. She always looked polished, sleek, and effortlessly luxurious.

Carolyn in her iconic silk crepe wedding dress designed by the then relatively unknown Narcisco Rodriguez.

While I do enjoy wearing patterns, embellishments, baubles, and bright colors, there is something very alluring about the minimalist way that Carolyn dressed. Her style is the kind that makes one more interested in the person. Carolyn was an ambitious and bright young woman who captured the heart of a Kennedy and New York’s most eligible bachelor. In my research, it seemed like her strong-willed demeanor is what set her apart from John’s past girlfriends. I think that is why she has endured as a major style icon since her untimely and tragic death in 1999. She represents a woman of agency, an enigma. Her style remains classic and truly timeless.

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Everyone wants a beautiful home that is welcoming, conveys their style, and increases curb appeal. This undoubtedly extends to landscaping, but for many people, myself included, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and at a loss for where to start. Enter Tilly, an innovative online platform that makes professional landscape design more accessible to homeowners. Four long-time friends (Sarah Finazzo, Heather Hoeppner, Alexis Sutton, and Blythe Yost) combined their professional strengths to create a way for people to achieve the landscaping of their dreams and what sets them apart is the fact that it can be done all online!

Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing two of Tilly’s four co-founders, Alexis and Blythe, to get a better understanding of the amazing services offered by Tilly, but also to gain greater insight into their inspiration, what it’s like to be female entrepreneurs, working with your friends, and more!

Megan: How did you conceive of Tilly?

Alexis: We [our four co-founders] were all together in our favorite summer vacation spot, Montauk, New York, in Sarah’s backyard interrogating Blythe for landscape advice when we thought, “We are so lucky to have a ‘Blythe’ in our lives; what the heck does everyone else do who can’t afford a pricy landscape architect or designer?’ Then we just kind of ran with it and have spent the last 13 months trying to fill that gap for homeowners.

Blythe: For me, after 15 years serving New York area’s most affluent, I had been thinking a lot about this idea of bringing landscape design to your average homeowner; it just didn’t seem fair that the entire industry is so cost-prohibitive. So the stars definitely aligned that day. And of course, it’s way more fun to launch something like this along with three trusted (and brilliant!) friends.

M: What are the benefits and challenges of being in business with long-time, close friends?

A: Speaking for myself, the benefits have far outweighed the challenges! It’s really rare to have this kind of relationship with your lifelong best friends and to have found a passion we all share. Of course, there have been some tough conversations, but I’ve been so impressed and inspired by what these women are capable of, not to mention that we’re all moms with 10 kids between us! It’s allowed us to build the type of company we want to work for, and we’d want our children to work for; flexible, inclusive, environmentally conscious, authentic and one that contributes real value.

Sarah, Heather, Blythe, and Alexis

M: Tilly is women-owned and operated. Are there any female entrepreneurs that inspire you?

A: Absolutely! There are many amazing female entrepreneurs who, against all odds, have built billion-dollar empires within the traditionally female-unfriendly venture capital construct. They are absolute rock stars and one I’m keeping a close eye on is Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix. I’m super interested in how they use data to improve an experience that I personally love/hate: clothes shopping! And I’m even finding myself more inspired by those who have taken another path and are building a business on their own terms. I just read about Jessica Rovello who is buying her company back from the VCs who were running her life; that takes guts!

M: I love your style quiz! What landscaping style(s) resonate the most for you personally?

A: Thank you! We love it too. It’s a super fun way to engage with Tilly and start brainstorming on your yard before taking the plunge on a design. Even before moving to Colorado earlier this year, I was always drawn to the Naturalistic style and now I can’t wait for Tilly to design my new front yard!

B: This is a tough one for someone who designs landscapes for a living because I am always trying to get a feel for other people’s styles and then blend that with their built and natural surroundings. So there’s not much room for my personal style to come through, which is how I think it should be. But every time I take our style quiz I get Eclectic, so maybe there’s your answer!

M: What are the economic benefits of good curb appeal?

A: Great question! There are quite a few. We most commonly cite research that has shown a 6-13% increase in home value with professional front foundation design. Similarly, there is a reported 200-275% return on investment for landscape design projects. But another I hadn’t thought of until really digging in is that it’s one of the few home improvements you can make that will increase in value over time. A landscape is only considered “mature” after about three years, whereas a kitchen renovation starts to lose value the day it’s completed; similar to driving a brand new car off the lot.

M: What makes Tilly stand out is the fact that customers can get beautiful landscape designs all online. What happens after? Does Tilly stay in touch? Do you recommend landscapers?

B: We are looking at a number of different models for bringing our designs to life. Ultimately, landscaping can be very different from region to region and we are looking for ways to bring the best possible service to each area. Right now we offer direct Tilly installation in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, partnerships with local landscapers in Denver and Chicago, and are exploring other avenues such as plant delivery and contractor directories in other places.

M: Tilly has had press coverage in prestigious publications such as Real Simple, Parents Magazine, Apartment Therapy, and New York Cottages & Gardens! How do generate buzz about Tilly?

A: It helps to have a badass publicist on your founding team (Sarah), and at the same time, there’s a great story to tell. Editors love being able to share something new and practical with their readers. I also think it’s well overdue that Blythe gets the recognition she deserves, so it’s been really fun to watch her get out there and share her expertise to a much broader base! That’s what Tilly’s all about, making this information available and accessible to more people.

M: Where do you see Tilly in the future?

B: We really see Tilly as becoming the go-to outdoor resource for today’s homeowners. Landscaping and gardening can be a bit intimidating at the start, and while design is our entry point, there are a lot of exciting directions we can take it! So stay tuned.

M: Where can we find out more about Tilly?

A: Well, we just launched our new website, so I would absolutely start there!  (  And for more frequent updates, news articles, design samples, etc. follow us on Instagram: @tilly_design.

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