Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Lydia Sweetland. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Hi Lydia , thanks for joining us today. We’d love to hear about the things you feel your parents did right and how those things have impacted your career and life.
My parents were both very had workers. My father served in the US Air Force and was always doing artsy side-jobs and remodeling work. He was a talented fine arts artist who taught at TCU after retiring. My mother is German and can do literally anything. I’ve never met a harder working woman than her. We moved a lot, including back and forth to Europe. My parents started buying the ugliest house on the best street they could afford and fixed them up, not knowing how long we’d stay in one place (we actually moved twice while I was in third grade!). My dad did the remodeling and my mom did all the design and finish work, and they put me to work early – I started hanging wallpaper when I was 9! So I guess I learned my trade by osmosis. My mom has an incredible work ethic. She’ll be 82 this year and there’s nothing she won’t do, she’s always on the internet learning how to repair her own pool decking, build a fountain, etc. She’s so amazing! I always considered what I do as my “art” – my dad being an artist, and my mom, a seamstress for many years, taught me so much about design, composition, creativity (on a budget!) and the value of accomplishing something yourself. My parents split when I was very young so I had to learn to help my Mom fix up homes. My mom married my step-dad when I was in my teens and he’s amazing too, but in a different way. He’s a multi-degreed engineer so he taught me how to be detailed and manage projects. I have to admit that I’m better at multi-tasking than him tho, lol.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
The first home I purchased was in a historic neighborhood. It was built in 1951 (my German uncle said he had sweaters older than that, lol). It was badly outdated so I completely re-did it. And I have to admit I’m an old soul, no new houses for me. I love character and charm and have always lived in historic homes, trying my best to honor their history. The neighbors got interested in what I was doing and started having me help them. Next thing you knew I was working on multiple historic homes in Central Phoenix and then things just exploded. I’ve done houses all over the state and have clients fly me to other locations to help when they move. I’m blessed as I’ve never advertised and have been at this for over 25 years.
About 20 years ago I read an article about staging, before it became a household word. I was in CA for 9 months helping family and thought it was something I could do there. I was so successful that most folks decided to keep their houses instead of selling them… the old “why didn’t we do this sooner” thing. So along with interior design and home staging I also help residential and commercial clients with remodeling, kitchen design, color consulting (HOAs are fun – and need the most help!), setting up vacation rental properties, decluttering – I call it “editing” and what I consider to be “ReDesign” where I come into your space and re-use what you have, along with supplementing it with fresh items. This is also something I do for owner/occupied Sellers and have a lot of Realtor clients who roll it into their marketing plans. I’m also a licensed Realtor and love going house shopping with clients as I see things from a different perspective, I was the “property brothers” before they were (missed opportunity there!). I’ve helped friends purchase homes where they say I’m the only Realtor who will stop them from buying houses because I see everything that’s wrong with them, lol.
I love working with design clients from all walks of life, some of the most rewarding projects have been with people who had very small budgets but needed help. Couples can be fun, and challenging, as most don’t have a shared aesthetic. It seems that men have gotten a lot more savvy about design and want to have more input than in past years, which is terrific. I have clients who bought me a t-shirt that read “Interior Designer because my clients couldn’t afford a Marriage Counselor”!
Whether redoing an existing or designing a new home it can be quite stressful for clients. I’m happy that I can help people solve problems and get what they want (it’s not about me, I’m just here to guide you and stop you from making unhappy mistakes), within their budget and expectations and without losing their minds. I love the fact that my clients always become friends, it’s such an intimate process and I think a lot of designers don’t get how sensitive and fragile these relationships can be. I have clients that have flown me to Texas several times to help them with their new home, from house hunting to working with the architects and contractors on remodeling to ordering new furniture. I’m part of the family now! Integrity, honesty, reliability, decisiveness, the ability to listen (and hear) and collaboration/compromise are my absolute strong suits but I think my clients would all agree that my ability to keep things light and stress-free are what keeps them coming back… it has to be fun or else it’s not worth doing. That and the fact that I have amazing vendor partners, I’ve kissed a lot of toads to find the princes I work with now. I am so truly blessed to have found these partners and I’m completely loyal to them.
What’s a lesson you had to unlearn and what’s the backstory?
I had first read about staging homes for sale in a design magazine over 25 years ago(!)… my how time flies! I was staying with relatives in Northern California for several months to support them in a time of crisis. As things settled down I decided to start staging homes up there to keep me busy when not needed. It was a great introduction to the concept of designing real estate projects for marketing, as opposed to creating a personal space. It made me work at creating a timeless look for the masses instead of a client. It was great fun! The interesting outcome of working in Silicon Valley, at that time, was that in creating change to help people sell their houses they all ended up staying put – it was refreshing for them to have a new design without having any input and luckily they were happy enough to keep living in their homes, lol. When I came back to Phoenix I started staging a lot, but I made mistakes. I used to own an art gallery and would use “real art”, antiques, etc. to stage homes for sale. People would come in and ask where they could purchase the product, and not the house. It was a hard lesson. Back then there weren’t resources for renting furniture, etc. to stage homes. It was challenging to create a “model home look” with Seller’s personal items. Now that “staging” is a common term it’s become a lot easier to convince people to depersonalize their homes in order to create mass appeal.
What’s worked well for you in terms of a source for new clients?
Word of mouth. Referrals. I tried advertising and paying for positioning on online resources but that never paid off. I haven’t advertised in years. If you keep your clients happy, deliver on promises, have integrity, honesty and fun, your clients will refer you out. My Realtor book of business is huge, but it’s a small percentage of people who use me consistently; for staging, remodeling, interior design, consultations, etc. It’s all about building relationships, and knowing how to keep them! I’ve had several design clients who have flown me to their new home states to help look for homes, design and/or furnish them. There’s no bigger compliment!
- Website: https://www.houzz.com/pro/lydia-sweetland/__public
- Instagram: ThinkSpaceStagingAZ