How I Did It: An Interview with Lauren Dahl of Dahlhouse Interiors

Happy Tuesday, friends! I've been doing some more interviews with courageous, smart women who are striking out on their own and running live workshops in their communities. Today, I'm interviewing Lauren Dahl of Dahl House Interiors (say it out loud; coolest business name ever!). Lauren is the creative force behind Dahl House Interiors, an interior design business focusing on E-Designs, freelance writing, and artful illustrations. Lauren loves making things, eating fancy & fast food, creating color stories, and following her dreams. I am totally dying over the gorgeous workshops Lauren literally just launched and will be running this spring, so if you're in the Louisville, KY area, go snag a spot before they all sell out!

Introduce yourself! Tell us where you live and what you do!

My name is Lauren Dahl, and I’m an interior decorator and artist living in Louisville, Kentucky. I specialize in E-Designs, and other online creative work like contributing party planning articles for Today’s Woman Magazine, selling my art prints and custom watercolors on Etsy, and spending way too much time stalking celebrities on Instagram.

Tell me a little about Dahl House Interiors and and how it got started.

Starting Dahl House Interiors was a natural, yet slow process. I worked as a middle school art teacher in downtown Louisville, but seven months ago I decided to take a huge risk and quit that job to pursue Dahl House Interiors full time. I’m deep down passionate about art and design, and bringing it to others.

So why a series of workshops? What made you leap from online work and e-design into in-person work?

Workshops encompass all of the things I am passionate about, including list making, highly detailed planning, good vibes, teaching, beautiful spaces, creative communities, and a good balance of long-term and short-term commitments. My workshops are another aspect of Dahl House Interiors. I think it’s important as a brand to offer a variety of services or products to your customers.  It’s not only important to do this for your customers, but for yourself.

Had you done speaking/teaching/in-person workshops and events in the past? What made you feel called to teach in-person?

I spent every single day for three years teaching art and design to middle schoolers. Seriously, middle school aged students are the most judgmental, moody, honest, and wanna-be-grown kind of human there is. I don’t feel called to teach day in and day out as a career, but I absolutely feel called to teach in some way. Yes, called.

I love sharing new ideas with people, and watching them use that information and apply it to their own art piece or project. I also love seeing wheels turning, and having deep conversations about art and design. Teaching to me isn’t about me being in control, but more about me being a facilitator for wonderful creative things to take place. But beyond that, I have worked at local art centers teaching workshops, and art classes since I was 17 years old. The one thing I have very little experience in, is teaching to adults. I mean, I have a little, but not much. That’s the scary part.

When you decided to run Dahl House Workshops, how did you go about finding a space to do it in?

I wanted the space to be unique, and beautiful, yet affordable. It needed to fit within my “venue budget” in order to keep the workshop tickets at a reasonable price. Most venues I called were way out of my price range, so I presented them what I could afford, and asked if I could plan my workshop during a slow time at that price. I didn’t want to settle for just any random building or empty hall. I wanted the space to influence the mood of the workshop, in the best way possible. I used Instagram and Google during this process.

How do you find your caterers or other vendors you’ll be partnering with? Do you ask your audience for referrals?

I actually didn’t ask my intended audience for referrals, but in the future I might. I searched Etsy and Instagram for days and days and days, until I found the most perfect kind of Vendors. I was looking for vendors who had beautiful photos, a cool vibe, a “follow your dreams” attitude, and for the most part, they needed to be local (or just really awesome). “Don’t Forget The Flowers” and “My Modern Cookery” will be my go-to girls. I also have several goody bag sponsors that I am super in love with, including @BethLaird , @BPaperie , @VioletTinder , and @LettersByLinds, and many more to come!

Tell me a little about the structure of Dahl House Workshops. How long are they, what do attendees learn, and what do they walk away with at the end of the day?

My workshops on average are 2.5 hours, some shorter, some longer. All workshops are creative learning experiences, but vary in actual content. I have a lot of painting workshops, some cooking workshops, and workshops for adults, couples, and kids. The attendees will learn a creative skill, and be able to apply it to their own unique piece. This is not a step by step type of workshop, I can’t express that enough. It’s classroom style learning, but up a notch (Oh no, I totally just sounded like Ina Garten when I said that). I share ideas and techniques to the entire class, then work individually with attendees as needed.

What did your planning process look like in terms of writing your content, laying out what you wanted to talk about, preparing presentation materials, etc.? Do you sit around with a journal and just write, then wing it or do you meticulously plan everything out?

Ha, yes! I actually do just sit around all day with a journal, but it’s how I get stuff done. Writing things down is necessary. Planning a workshop, or just planning anything at all is a lot of list making. The first thing is commit to these workshops. Then, comes vague content. For me, I just kind of made a list of workshops I would like to teach, then became more specific. Down to the fact that need to start saving canned good cans now, so that I can use them for water paint cups at all my workshops. You basically need to play the workshop through in your head, and write down all items and specifics that are needed.

Tell me a little about your marketing strategy and how you are getting the word out about your workshops. How early did you start promoting and what were some ways that you spread the word?

Right now I do not have the money to advertise, so I have to rely on word of mouth, and using my existing (free) resources like social media, connections in Louisville, and hanging signs at local coffee shops. If I get really desperate, I might just stop every single person at Kroger and tell them about my workshops. I swear I will.

My workshops went live on December 17th, which was only a month before the workshops began. Ideally, with my workshops being very exclusive, limited, and small, people will purchase right away and possibly even as Christmas gifts. I’ve been genuinely hyping up my workshops by posting about it on social media using #WorkshopsByDahlHouse, and posting pictures of my process.

A lot of people in my community feel like they don’t have a big enough audience to sell their retreat. Did you run into that fear? If so, what did you say to yourself to squash it?

I definitely ran into that fear, but my husband said something once that has stuck with me. He told me that almost two million people live in Louisville, and all I need is one. It was in reference to something else, but I apply it to my workshops. I really only need about 100 people in the entire city to sign up. That’s way less than 1 percent of the entire population here. Not including surrounding areas.

Do you have a number of people you had to hit in order to make it financially feasible?

Yes, and that’s the scariest part of all. I need all of my workshops to sell out, in order for everything to work out, like paying the vendor, buying all materials, etc. Technically, it is possible to do a workshops if close to the max number sign up, it just means I don’t get paid. Which may happen sometimes, but I gotta do what I gotta do for my long term vision.

How do you price your tickets?

I made this huge list (in my notebook that’s basically attached to my hip) of every single thing + cost of those things  I would need to make a workshop happen (including my fee, food, venue, art supplies, goody bag, and florists in some cases, or an outside instructor in some cases) and then divided the total by the amount of people I wanted in the workshop. In some occasions, I added two people to my ideal class size, so I could bring the cost down per person.

What is the most challenging part of doing a live event?

Timing is challenging, but thinking the entire workshop through helps to understand how the timing needs to work. I came up with vague time blocks to keep things on track, but I am “winging” the in between time based on what is needed from my attendees. It’s important that you allow some things to happen organically, so that the experience is genuine.  

What are you most afraid of in teaching in front of a group?

Lacking a lot of experience teaching adult classes, that’s my biggest fear. It’s scary to be in front of peers.

What advice would you give to someone excited to start doing in-person events?

Stop wishing and waiting, and just commit to doing it, if that’s what you really want to do! Then, plan the specifics. If you work hard, and stay organized and enthusiastic, they will come together. Also, keep a notebook with tabs to keep you highly organized, and carry it with you everywhere you go.

What’s in store for Dahl House events/workshops/retreats in the future? Do you ever want to do a big retreat or are you happy with intimate, small workshops?

I’m starting small (only seven-8 workshops for the entire spring season), but will plan for growth. I want to offer more workshops this summer, and even weekly continued classes for people. My biggest idea right now is offering a month long workshop to youth about building a business and brand. A retreat would be awesome, and I think it’s something I could begin thinking about after the spring season.

Thank you so much, Lauren, for spending the time to pull back the curtain behind your Dahl House Workshops!

HOMEWORK

•If you want to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous work Lauren does, go see her on Instagram @dahlhouseinteriors. 

•Tell me! What's your favorite class that Lauren is offering? I'm totally dying over that wreath class. Lauren, will you come to Montana to do a class?