If you’ve ever hung out at places like the Publishing House [108 N. May], Celeste [111 W. Hubbard], and Pink Squirrel [2414 N. Milwaukee], you may have noticed some unmistakable design details — or, as Nicole Alexander calls them, “the story.”
Through Siren Betty (sirenbetty.com) Alexander turns each space into a visual adventure, thanks to her eye for vintage, one-of-a-kind finds and love for 1960s adornment. Plus, she’s got a talented all-female design team at her side. With projects underway while she raises two young daughters, Alexander notes her other artistic ambitions and encourages lots of color this year.
Would you rather work in a new space you can mold into your own or adapt to a historical, older space? Historical all the way. Existing details can inspire a specific style. We slowly peel back the plaster to dig deeper and expose what was covered up over time. I love getting in the U-Haul and [hunting] for pieces … [while] the client educates me on what story they’re trying to tell.
What does your home look like? [My husband and I] have very large, bold artwork, and a lot of found pieces mixed in with new things. In a residential space, it’s about trying to be thoughtful. Everybody wants that nice, beautiful, pristine, clean house. But in reality, when you’re running around chasing kids with jam hands, it’s just not going to happen. So make sure you’re not selecting things that you’re going to have a heart attack about if something happens to them.
How do you make sure you’re evolving as a designer? I travel quite a bit. We were just in Paris a couple weeks ago and noticed in a lot of the older restaurants that the design has carried over and is still relevant today. I love inspiration from places that have been around for a hundred years. Those are the places that are going to last.
How can people take practical risks with their home design? I think you can take risks with so many things that are temporary, like wallpaper. People are gravitating toward maximalism with more layering, and rich colors. Try incorporating your own personal touch, whether it’s books or trinkets or that ceramic cat your grandmother gave you. And remember: You can always repaint something.
How do you channel your creativity outside of interior design? I went to school for 3D studio art and art history and then went for fashion. I used to paint quite a bit when I was younger and want to get back to that and create large-scale pieces. Everything is part of the creative process. Painting is my outlet.
Aside from the final product, what do you appreciate in the day-to-day design process? The relationships I’ve made along the way with my employees, who are all amazing women. They’re so unique and, in them, I see pieces of myself [along with] things I’ve always wanted to be. They’re my rocks.
Photo by Richard Shilkus