What were you doing when you were eight years old? Playing with your favorite doll, while your mom was cleaning your room? Tyler Karu was decorating her room! The one-time English major is the CEO of her own interior decorating design firm, Landing Design & Development, and she’s known to turn a house or two into dream homes.
Do your friends ever call you TK or RuLer for fun?
I don’t really have a nickname. Tyler as a girls name isn’t very common, so I rarely get confused with anyone.
You decorated your first room when you were just eight years old. Even at that tender age, did you have this premonition that this would be a big part of your life later on?
My mother did allow me to have free reign on my bedroom (I went with the 80’s Laura Ashley scheme- totally hideous), but I realized even then that I really enjoyed the process of making a space my own and creating a room where I felt like I wanted to spend a lot of time. There was another nook space under the eaves of the house that was so small we could barely stand up, but we were allowed to draw on the walls and it was filled with bean bags. To this day, that might be the coolest room I’ve ever “done”. Me and my friends drew a lot of Bart Simpson portraits on those walls.
But you went on to major in English. English majors—are known for having analytical minds. The major has been called the multipurpose major. How has the coursework for that major prepared you for life and for entrepreneurship?
The multipurpose major is a great name for it. I studied English because I thought it was important to read classic literature. I suppose the coursework prepared me for life in the sense that I am well read and able to articulate my ideas in a way that is effective and productive. This helps my communication with clients and contractors. Reading and writing consistently, especially in high school and college, will go a long way towards building solid communication skills as an adult and especially as an entrepreneur.
I came across this book on Amazon. Its copyright date is 2000 and it’s illustrated by a Tyler Karu. Is that you, that Tyler Karu?
I did write and illustrate the book with my brother when we were in high school. It’s called Henry and the White Wolf and it’s a book for children dealing with life threatening illnesses. The project came about because of our land standing relationship with The Maine Children’s Cancer Program. I wrote the book when I was 17 and had very little perspective on the world outside my safe Maine bubble. We did hospital tours and the kids I met who were living with cancer changed my life. I’m so grateful for that experience and I try not to take my health and happiness for granted.
What colors would you never, ever use together?
I’m not a huge fan of the red and black combination.
You run Landing Design & Development, your very own interior design company. What goes into running such a venture?
The two elements of the business require different levels of attention. The design end of things allows me to work with clients and execute my creativity. I have to stay organized on both sides of the business, something I’m really trying to work on. The development side of the business is more formulaic. I love flipping homes and learning more and more about construction, but it’s not as much of a creative process. I have great people that work with me on both ends, thus allowing me to do my job as best I can.
What should those who are wanting to become entrepreneurs know?
Being an entrepreneur is a struggle. You will not find success over night. Or maybe you will but the following year will prove not to be profitable. There will be some variation of hardship and there are so many ups and downs. I find that being your own boss is more stressful than working for someone else. Roll with the punches, do your best and be nice, because so much is out of your control.
Your career launched off with you flipping off houses at a time when some weren’t too optimistic about the economy. You had a lot of nerves, girl. Did you have any initial fears about entering that business? If so, how did you ward them off?
I was very fearful about buying property at a time when very little property was selling. I think my youth and lack of experience was honestly how I overcame these fears. I just really lucked out my first year. I knew the First Time Homebuyers Tax Credit was available and that is the reason I was able to sell homes.
In a past interview, you’ve said that you are highly influenced by American History. Which period do you find most fascinating? And why?
There are so many style evolutions that occurred throughout the 20th century until now, so I would say that I find the past 114 years most fascinating. There are elements from every period that I love, such as the lines and use of materials in Art Deco design, the functionality of decoration during the Arts and Crafts period, the clean, streamlined look of Mid Century design, the list goes on.
Let’s say you’re the last keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony for a tent full of about 250 graduates from an interior design school and have heard all the typical things said by all the previous speakers…what would you say when it was your turn?
Your work means something and your impact is more than superficial. Designed spaces are where we live, eat, work, and play. Work hard to get to the point where your creativity and ideas influence all of our surroundings.
What would you say to someone who’s just turned twenty-five and who’s purchased their very first home, doesn’t have a huge budget, but wants to have an expensive look for their new dig?
1) Take your time and buy pieces that will stay with you for a long time. It’s ok if the look of the home doesn’t come together overnight. It sounds cliche, but it’s a good rule to stick to. Stop into flea markets, antique stores, Goodwills, and Salvation Armys when you see them. You never know what you will find.
2) Paint will always clean up a space. If you don’t trust yourself to pick colors, consult someone you do trust. Often it takes an experienced hand to choose the right colors. The colors I pick for clients are rarely ones they would have picked based on a tiny swatch.
3) Built-in architectural details are the most important elements in good design, in my opinion. If your home lacks them, add them over time. Sturdy hardwood floors, classic millwork, natural stone tile, built-in storage and lighting, among other elements, allow the focus to be less on decoration and more on the thoughtful design of the space.
Have you ever given a client an interior design scheme or decorating idea that you had privately been savoring for yourself? If so, what was it?
I design a lot of custom furniture and art, most of which I would love to use myself. Most of the schemes and spaces I design for clients are spaces I would love to live in.
Are there times when you wish you weren’t running the show in your life?
I like running the show for the most part.
What’s your ideal working space?
I have an office in downtown Portland, Maine., but I am rarely there. I am usually on a job site, in meetings or running errands for my jobs. When there is work that needs to get done at a desk, I am grateful for my office downtown. It’s centrally located and I have friends who work in the office as well and it’s nice to interact with friends during the work day. An isolated office wouldn’t work for me.
Are there some tools and resources that you feel are indispensable to your life as an entrepreneur and interior decorator?
My relationship with the ladies who run Portland Architectural Salvage is my most valued design resource. My design aesthetic leans towards a lived-in, yet clean space. The lived-in architectural elements are usually created with salvaged materials and fixtures. They always have or can find what I am looking for. I love those girls and we are great friends. Finding the right trade accounts for my business took a while, but those are indispensable as well. My relationships with my contractors, craftsmen, and realtors are all invaluable to my development business. Also, knowing the inventory in terms of fixtures and finishes, as well as labor costs is huge part of my job when I flip a house. This knowledge is imperative when it comes to turning a profit on a flip.
What’s next for you and LDD?
I am supposing that a book about interior décor is among the plans! I hadn’t yet thought about a book, but that’s a great idea! I have more large scale design projects on the books for 2014 and I will be developing more property as well, focusing on less conventional rehab projects, and tackling more land development and multi-family properties. There is always a niche to tap into and I am always looking out for my next creative opportunity.
Photo Credit: Justin Levesque