Danielle Rollins is a 50 year young designer from Atlanta and Palm Beach. Her interior and garden design firm is the foundation of her iconic all-American lifestyle brand that she calls Gracious Living and Stylish Entertaining. Danielle’s first book Soirée Entertaining with Style, will soon be followed with a second sure to be bestseller. We had so much fun with Danielle during our lunch at In The Groove and want to share some of her story, here.
Give us an overview of your career.
I haven’t had an exactly normal trajectory. I was a stay at home mother, corporate wife and community volunteer for 17 years and following my divorce in 2011, I launched my own lifestyle brand.
Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now.
I have an interior & garden design firm, am about to launch my first licensed curated collaboration (it’s art!) and putting the finishing touches on my next book which will be released next year. I have a capsule clothing collection that is sold online and through select pop up shops. This month we will be at Saks Fifth Avenue and 344 Worth Avenue in Palm Beach! Sharon Osborne is a fan and has been seen wearing my designs on The View recently. Yes, I do sleep.
Well, I see that you are celebrating 50K followers for your beautiful Instagram. Whoo Hoo! Was it harder than anticipated?
I did not set out to be an Instagram sensation. I started using IG when I purchased my then ugly duckling worst house on a great street a few years ago and didn’t have enough memory on my iPhone to take photos, but my kids taught me that you can always take photos on Instagram. I started as a way to create inspiration mood boards and chart renovation processes. I soon discovered that I enjoyed the freedom to share the things I like with others and discovering a virtual neighborhood of like-minded others. I am still sort of dismayed that people follow me, truthfully, but I’ve connected with so many wonderful people!
How does someone become a lifestyle brand? Did you always have that goal in mind?
Let me pick myself up off the floor and wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes! I am like the spectator that got up during a gymnastics competition, tripped on the way to get popcorn and suddenly found themselves doing loopety loops on the uneven bars only to stick the landing to cheering crowds. The real story is that my awful divorce which, resulted in losing almost everything, coincided with the release of my book Soiree Entertaining with Style. I had to do something. I have always known I was creative, I just didn’t know that I was talented. Today, I do, and it has been such a wonderful discovery to realize and develop my potential doing something that I absolutely love.
Do you have a mentor? Someone you can go to for business advice and support?
The design industry is very supportive. I’m in the Design Leadership Network which has given me the ability to connect with others in the industry and gain valuable advice and support. But I will say, I’ve made every mistake in the book and experience really is the best teacher.
Long skirts are your signature. What is it you love about them? Is it possibly the “never shave your legs again factor”?
Actually, I’m a bit of a fanatic about grooming and that kind of stuff because I think no matter what you have on, being well groomed, with a good haircut and light makeup will always make you look chic. Or perhaps I’m just a control freak and it makes me feel like I have things together! I’m a pants girl because I am constantly in and out of a car and up and down a ladder or scrambling around on the floor so I need to be doing things without worrying about my bits showing. I love wearing a long skirt because it is an all-American classic that has my version of easy-breezy style that can go with flats or heels, and with a classic white shirt, T-shirt or turtleneck.
I think of your decorating style as bold—not always what I think of a southern woman but still quite feminine and lively. Have you been faced with any design challenges that weren’t in your wheelhouse? What do you do when someone wants an all grey living room?
I think people are afraid of color because they’ve been brainwashed to design for resale but that mentality blocks a person from living for today and puts an emphasis on what might or might not happen in the future. I think a well -designed space inherently makes people happy because beauty is a joy marker in our lives. I do a lot of design projects for men and they all start off thinking they only want grey or beige, and I love working with them because it’s a teaching opportunity. After a bit, I can show them how having nice things isn’t a girly thing and that comfortable doesn’t have to be unfashionable.
I like the “not in my wheelhouse” challenges, like a 300’ super yacht based in Europe, which was a learning curve, but so much fun. Every project is different but that’s what makes them rewarding and it’s really about interpreting the wishes and wants of clients. I think when things are done well it shouldn’t look like I’ve had a hand in it, but that it’s the best self-version of the occupants. I’ve had the honor of being selected for the prestigious Palm Beach Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Show House this year and I am really excited about that out of the ordinary space!
Color and flowers and modern art, clothing design and entertaining– you make it all look so easy. When do you sweat? Is it perhaps the details?
I am a functioning perfectionist and strive for 80%. If you can get to that percentage, the rest will work. I have a more Monet than Renoir outlook on life. I’ve learned that if I can just keep going and doing what I can, it gets done and looks good enough. Nothing looks good when it’s all perfect, we all know those “too, too ” people where there’s not a hair out of place, the clothes, makeup, and jewelry might be beautiful but all together looks contrived or stiff. A little imperfection is actually what makes things look great, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
You’ve been very open about your difficult divorce; did renovation really help you through the process?
I was a lot like that house, well built, with a solid foundation and good bones, but terribly neglected, run down, unloved and unappreciated. I think immersing myself into redoing the house became my therapy. The process allowed me to create a design laboratory that led to opening my own design firm. I think this journey made me a better designer because I really approach my work from a therapeutic, insightful way of looking at design that can impact living in a positive way.
You live with your children and your parents, how is that? Do you ever struggle with role reversals?
My parents moved in with me following my divorce to help with the children. I felt very guilty about needing the support, like I was less of a person. But I will never apologize for giving my children more people to love them and stability. Many cultures have had multi-generational households forever, and it’s a blessing. My parents have more patience, my children have kept them young and when I look at the close relationships they have I am so very grateful. I’m sure I annoy my parents, but we have a mutual respect pact and I know I couldn’t do what I do without them.
When you create a home that is so beautiful, are you bothered when the kids spill cranberry juice on the rug or the dogs chew up the legs of the Biedermeier?
I raised my children around nice things, to appreciate them, and with good manners but I’m not at all uptight about “things”. I think homes should be lived in and the things in it are there to support and serve you, not the other way around. John, my hilarious assistant gets furious because I let the dogs run in from the pool and get on my bed, and he can be heard yelling “not on the Porthault you horrible beasts!” Losing almost everything taught me well — things come and things go .
You speak of wearing many layers of rose-colored glasses, but can you share a moment that made you remove the glasses? Your last good cry, perhaps?
I have had so many ups and downs, with a sometimes almost paralyzing fear of not being able to make it and gone to bed thinking well this is it, it’s been a good ride and I’ve done the best I can but it’s over, then woken up to live a new day, the chance to work in a new way and let’s go get ‘em! When my marriage ended, I walked away from the abuse and got to re-choose how I’d experience my own life. I think “I get to” instead of “I have to.” I try to focus on the little joys and what I do have instead of what I don’t have, and use my own ingenuity and effort to make things be the best I can.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I’m reading Bunny Mellon’s biography.
What’s your go-to hostess gift?
I love to give books, vintage cocktail napkins or an orchid or fern in terra-cotta pots or wicker baskets.
Do you have any family traditions?
We celebrate Christmas Eve with a very fun and festive family and friends dinner. It’s something I love doing even more now that my kids are older.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten?
My three children.
Your biggest splurge lately?
A little place of my own in Palm Beach. And a gold bracelet I bought to celebrate my second book that can couple with the bracelet I purchased upon receiving my first book deal …that I can make into a necklace.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Transporting myself from one place to another!
Craziest thing you learned this year?
How to drive a very large Mercedes Sprinter without destroying full city blocks. And a headstand in yoga.