Samantha Penner is not only the voice behind The Peak of Tres Chic but a recent transplant in NYC and an interior designer by day. She has a jam-packed resume and a love of style. One look at her blog and that's evident. We sat down with her to gab about blogging, design and her Houston home captured by Molly Winters Photography. It's a spot that's that's so glam and gorgeous and is no stranger to a great coffee table book. Click here for more.
SMP: Some words you live by?
“I believe doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” -Oprah and also, “fortune favors the bold.”
SMP: Any guilty pleasures?
Having lived in Houston, Texas for the past 5 years, my guilty pleasure is always Mexican food- I would devour chips, queso, and a jalapeño margarita for every meal if I didn’t know better!
SMP: What did you think your dream job was before your dream job found you?
I honestly had no idea. Growing up, I loved art and antiques but never really thought of myself as a creative person. I always envied people who knew their calling from an early age- whether it was to become an emergency room doctor, an elementary school teacher or a Peace Corps volunteer- because I never really felt like I had that sort of clarity. I was pretty good at science and math in high school, and being from Oklahoma, most of my family pursued a career in the energy industry. So, when it was time for me to pick a major and venture off to college, I chose to pursue Energy Management, a business degree centered on the oil and gas industry, at the University of Oklahoma. It wasn’t until I had graduated from undergrad, moved to Houston to start a job, and starting decorating my first apartment that I realized how much I loved interior design. I didn’t even really know that one could create a successful career as an interior designer until I got connected to other creative people in the industry through my blog. Even though I didn’t originally major in the field, I’m so thankful to have discovered my love for design early enough to have the courage to leave my job and start over. It’s been an amazingly blissful experience and I haven’t looked back.
SMP: If you could do it all over again, would you change anything?
Not a single thing. The path I took got me to where I am today, and today I am very creatively fulfilled and grateful. I believe the detours or missteps I’ve taken, like not discovering my love of interior design until after college, weren’t really missteps at all. Those experiences introduced me to the right people and exposed me to the right things that eventually led to my design career. If I hadn’t felt creatively unfulfilled in my original oil and gas job, I wouldn’t have started my blog. And if I hadn’t started my blog, I wouldn’t have had the tools to really sit and think each day about what truly interested me. Because I went back to school to pursue my bachelor of fine arts in interior design at night while working as an assistant to a designer, I was often exhausted at the end of the day but never took a single class for granted. I was just so thankful to have a second chance at my dream career, to be there learning and growing as a person.
SMP: What is one piece of advice you would give to a blogger just starting out?
Whenever someone approaches me with a desire to start a blog, I always encourage them to do it. I have only positive things to say about my past 4 years blogging, and the experience has certainly changed my life for the better. I even met one of my best friends through my blog! However, I would advise new bloggers to make sure they are blogging for the right reasons. I see so many people start out just because they want a following or they want to make money. If that is your ultimate goal, you will probably burn out having to develop new content every day and building your readership. For most blogs, gaining readership is a process of being authentic and open about yourself, having your own unique perspective, and producing quality content over a long period of time. It takes work.
SMP: What is your favorite item in your home?
My pink abstract painting “Rhomba” by artist Kelly O’Neal. It is such a bold, happy piece of art that makes an impact and created a focal point in my Houston home. Now, I am having it hung on the wall as you walk in to my room in my NY apartment, so it will be the first thing people see.
SMP: What's your best tip for balancing work and personal life?
I’m not a very regimented person. That’s why I knew to be successful in my life I’d need to really love what I spent my career pursuing. I feel very lucky to have found a career that feels more like a calling than a job. I genuinely love my work and take great pride in it. I find that I approach my personal life with the same vigor. Truman Capote once said, “Friendship is a pretty full-time occupation if you really are friendly with somebody. You can't have too many friends- because then you're just not really friends.” I have a few friends that are my true foundation and know me to my core. Pouring in to them and fostering those relationships are my first priority and where I direct my energy first and foremost when it comes to my social life. However, as a natural extrovert, I feel invigorated and alive when meeting new people and expanding my social circle. When I am inspired in my work, I feel like I have an endless supply of energy for other pursuits, so I don’t have to consciously balance the two. However, I do have to maintain and foster my creativity. That generally means unplugging from email and taking the time to read, visit museums, travel, journal, and reflect.
SMP: What was the tipping point in your business that made you feel like your blog was going to thrive?
Starting my blog in 2011, I honestly didn’t have any expectations or aspirations for it. I just wanted a place for me to go every day to explore interior design and fashion and document pieces of my own life. Over time, however, the blog grew and I began to realize that my mom and I weren’t the only ones reading it anymore. A few people began to reach out and ask for design help, and soon I began to think- could this be my new career path? It was exciting and frightening at the same time, but I haven’t looked back. My blog hasn’t ever really been “huge”, but it’s been my own special place to journal and create, and was the catalyst for my career change, and I’ve never lost sight of that.
SMP: What is the hardest lesson in business you've ever learned?
When you’re young, full of energy, and just starting out, there can be others in your industry who want to take advantage of that. Whether it be trying to kill your joy or motivation, attempting to mold you in a way that suits them, or just by giving you unwarranted advice that might not be the most sound- I’ve had to learn the hard way who to trust and look to as a mentor and who to be polite and friendly to but ignore when it comes to making decisions. Truly confident people will never be afraid of your success. Instead, they’ll want to foster it. At the end of the day, the hardest lesson I’ve learned for me was to always trust my gut, no matter what.
SMP: Stranded on a desert island question... what's the one cocktail you would take with you?
A dirty martini with Ketel One vodka and lots of olives- no question!
SMP: What color do you think will stand the test of trend time?
I am a big fan of the color blue. I love to see varying shades of blue used together in the same space.
SMP: One thing every style savvy homeowner should have?
Proper layers of light and custom drapery. I’m a stickler for these 2 elements. If possible, always put light switches on a dimmer to set the mood.
SMP: If you could buy yourself a single gift of any cost, what would it be?
An airline ticket to St. Tropez. To me, travel is the greatest luxury.
SMP: Three things every home should have?
Lots of natural light, a few interesting conversation pieces, like a bold piece of art or a funky wallpaper, and fresh flowers.
SMP: Your most prized possession?
My coffee table book collection. With my new job, I’ve obviously been pouring over Amanda Nisbet’s Dazzling Design.
SMP: One thing you can’t live without?
High thread-count bed linens. I’m a big fan of Matouk’s Bryant Line. We spend half our lives in bed, so to me- it’s worth the splurge!
SMP: Your secret to success?
The tried and true advice to never, ever give up and look at every failure as a learning opportunity.
My first design job was assisting a residential designer in Houston, and having gone from being in a high power energy position to returning fabric samples for half the salary, it was a humbling experience. There were many scary moments of making ends meet and having to really trust myself and my ability. But there honestly hasn’t been a moment where I’ve regretted my decision. I’ve made mistakes in my career but used them as a learning experience. I also tend to be an optimist, and try to put an upbeat, can-do attitude in to everything I do. People typically respond well to that.
SMP: What design trend do you think will stand the test of time?
Good animal print fabrics/textiles/and motifs. They are truly timeless. Billy Baldwin decorated with them in the 60s, and we’re still decorating with them today.
And, as Billy said, “Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style.”
SMP: One small design change that can make a big impact?
Using the correct size floor rugs really grounds a space and creates a sense of balance. Ideally, all furniture in a room setting should be on the rug. I often see these tiny rugs in a room where some of the furniture is on the rug, and some is off- and that’s a pet peeve of mine.
SMP: One place everyone must visit in their lifetime?
Barcelona. Seeing Gaudi’s Park Guell and the Art Noveau architecture throughout the city is so inspiring. It’s honestly like nothing we have in the U.S., so it’s a bit of a mind trip. I studied abroad in Madrid and we spent a bit of time in Barcelona, and one of my favorite memories is watching the sun rise over the beach.
SMP: Best moment of your career so far?
Probably landing a position with Amanda Nisbet. In the back of my mind, I’ve always thought it would be an incredible experience to move to New York City and train under a residential designer here. The design landscape is so competitive and fast-paced in NY, and I knew it would be an incredible learning experience and heighten my own ability as a designer. I sent out a few emails to some of my “dream” firms to work for with a quick introduction and my resume attached, completely expecting to never hear back from any of them. To my surprise, a few responded and Amanda in particular needing someone immediately. She wanted to interview me that next Wednesday (it was a Friday when I got the email), so I flew up for the day and met with her. I felt an instant connection with her, but because I lived in Houston and she needed someone very quickly, I felt like I probably wasn’t going to land the job. Imagine my surprise when I got word later the next week that I had the position! A week later I was a NYC resident.
SMP: Advice you’d give to your younger self?
Don’t be in such a rush to have everything figured out. Be in the moment and enjoy each and every day without the need for certainty. And also, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are doing the best you can and you’ll make mistakes, but they will be opportunities for change, self-reflection, and growth.
SMP: Your favourite instagrammer?
Because who doesn’t love a sexy dude reading?
SMP: Your go-to recipe?
I don’t cook. It’s quite embarrassing, but I’ve just never had the interest or desire. Luckily, I’ve lived most of my adult life with people who were excellent chefs, so I’ve enjoyed the fruits of their labor.
SMP: What’s one thing you really want to do, but have never done?
Travel to Peru and visit Machu Picchu. I’ve had a lot of friends and family do it and say it’s an incredible experience. It’s definitely on my bucket list!
SMP: The best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve had two really wonderful professors in my life who I’ve gotten to know well (shout out to Dr. Chatelain and Mrs. Card). They both essentially said the same thing that really stuck with me, which was: Don’t be afraid to go your own way, because you’ll find it’s the only way you can truly be happy.
SMP: One tip for bloggers hoping to monetize their blogs?
As I mentioned above, try to be authentic and real and never promote a product you wouldn’t actually use or wear in real life. Readers should feel like they can trust you and the things you love.
SMP: What’s a typical work day for you like?
I wake up around 8, take a quick shower and get dressed (flats are a must these days), and then hop on the Lexington subway a few stops north to our office off Madison Avenue. Because the elevator in our building is being repaired for the next 2 months, we have to climb the 6 flights of stairs to our office. When I get in, I check emails and answer any things I can quickly take care of first thing. Then, I help our senior designers with preparing client presentations, which could include sourcing furniture and lighting, meeting a contractor at a job site, running to the D&D or Fine Arts building to search for fabric, wallpaper or trim, or meeting with a client in the office. Amanda also has a textile line, and I am in charge of sending out any sample requests we get for that and processing orders that come in. Things move at full speed and most days we are in the office til around 6 pm, but we have a lot of fun.
SMP: Do you have any secret talents?
Well, it isn’t really a secret talent, but I can get as little as 4 hours of sleep or as much as 10, and I still feel like I have an incredible amount of energy either way. I can run on empty for awhile and not have it effect my mood or productivity, which has been particularly helpful in college and now in the fast-paced NY design industry.
SMP: If you could dine with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Maya Angelou. She’s one of my favorite authors and has such a lovely, vibrant spirit. I’d love to share a meal with her!
SMP: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to still be here in New York City working in the interior design industry, doing what I love. Hopefully I’ll be in a slightly larger apartment by then!
SMP: Why do you think your blog has done so well?
One thing that is important to me when it comes to my blog is to try and be as authentic as possible, while still respecting the privacy of myself and my loved ones. Scrolling through instagram and seeing the perfectly arranged photos of people’s lives can sometimes make me crave honesty and transparency. I love pretty vignettes as much as the next gal, but I think sharing your life with an audience should include sharing the not so great times too. People respond well to that and it helps you not feel so alone when you go through a hard time. I want people to love my interiors but also know that behind every pretty room there’s a struggle and a lot of sweat.