Designing Women: Hollister & Porter Hovey

The small percentage of bloggers who find success usually parlay their popularity into a book deal or open an e-commerce store. Sisters Hollister and Porter Hovey, on the other hand, began offering design services after developing a loyal following of their unique aesthetic, a mixture of Brooklyn hip with vintage Americana, Anglophilia, Deco glamor and an unabashed love of taxidermy.

It all began with big sister Hollister’s blog, a showcase of the sisters’ (who are also roommates) taste and aesthetic adventures. The site also featured little sis Porter’s vintage Poloroid-style photography, and soon she launched her own site.

Now the duo have launched their own interior design business, Hovey Design, and Porter has recently gotten her real estate license and is now matchmaking homes and owners at Halstead Property. caught up with the sisters to talk about design, sisterhood, and being Internet microcelebrities.

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QM: Briefly describe your trajectory over the past few years from Internet personalities and tastemakers to legit designers.

Porter Hovey: It’s been an interesting journey so far. It just started with our apartment and the fun of living in New York City. We just do what we love to do and we’re so happy that people have responded to our style and vision so well.

Hollister Hovey: My blog always was an extension of both of our lives and tastes. Initially, I started it to organize my ideas and aesthetic references – sort of like Pinterest before Pinterest.

Day to day, we were combing junk shops and flea markets, lugging ridiculously large furniture all over Brooklyn, eating in old looking, brand new restaurants. All of those things were new to us – and quite a thrill. We wanted to share it all.

We came from a DIY tradition (and a childhood home that was never finished as a result), so we painted our apartment and really put blood sweat and tears into getting the place the way we loved it – so we wanted to share that as well. The result was outrageous enough that the online and traditional media started to notice our work and really gave us exposure that we never even contemplated being possible. The “New Antiqarians” feature piece in The New York Times opened so many doors – and it was that kind of validation that helped calm the nerves of our first interior decorating client. He really took a risk and gave us a tremendous amount of freedom. He wanted to be very hands-off in the process, but we insisted that he open up to us about his memories and things he finds dear so we could make the project more meaningful than just simply aesthetically appealing. A beautiful house without personality is nothing more than a hotel. Our apartment is so special to us – and we want our clients to have the same feeling when they come home.

QM: Describe the style you’re known for.

HH: We’re certainly associated with vintage and Anglo antiques – but I hope that a sense of fun, humor and adventure always comes through, as well. Since the time I was little, I’ve been enamored with the playfulness and whimsy you see in lots of Parisian design: the taxidermy of Deyrolle, the boyishness of Coco Chanel. Neither of us like pure period décor. By offering a mix of eras, you create something quite timeless. People live over decades and collect things along the way. They inherit pieces from previous generations. It’s refreshing to start anew and buy a house full of new furniture, but it’s always more interesting if you can layer in the memories, too.

QM: How do your tastes differ?

PH: Up until recently Hollister leaned more toward masculine things. But after painting our apartment all white and adding in a hot pink scarlet ibis . . . things are changing a bit!

QM: Porter, what made you want to get your real estate license and what do you think of working in the industry so far?

PH: I feel like there’s nothing more important than helping to create a home for someone. On the surface, real estate is about selling property, but on a deeper, more emotional level, it’s about providing comfort and an ideal location where the owners can foster memories, families and relationships. It’s really hard for some people to go into an empty space or a space with the wrong furniture and see the potential. The space could be perfect, but they need someone to help coax out that vision. On the other side of that, when selling a place, there are so many helpful tips that could bring more money to the sale.

I love everything about it so far. Joining the Halstead family is a dream come true. Not only do I get to work alongside two good friends, Warner Lewis and Ari Harkov, but they’re two of the top SVPs the industry has to offer. It’s truly been an inspiration.

I’m the luckiest lady around to get to see some of the most amazing real estate that New York City has to offer – and turning those amazing spaces into homes . . . well I think I’ve really found my calling in life!

QM: What’s it like working for clients instead of just decorating for yourselves? Are you marketing yourselves as designers who work in a fixed genre, or are you open for anything?

HH: Interestingly, every one of our clients has had exceptionally modern taste – a love of clean lines and minimalism. This seems counter-intuitive from both sides, but it works. The common thread is that they’ve all been looking for designers to help them make their homes comfortable, personal and interesting. The penthouse we did first was exceptionally slick, but had very old things mixed with new: A WWII campaign desk, 1960s Børge Mogensen chairs, deco cocktail shakers from the ‘20s. Again, no one just spawns into adulthood without a long history of experiences. Our homes should pay homage to our pasts while providing a comfortable place to make future memories. Whether the overall look is clean and minimal or layered and maximalist, the same theory applies and leads to quite a beautiful, meaningful result.

PH: It’s been amazing working with our clients. So far they’ve been truly appreciative of our advice. I feel like it’s a more rewarding experience working with other people. We’re opened to different genres – which makes it a bit more fun for us too. We just stress the idea of great design, great quality, and really finding that special thing that really evokes who you are and what your true interests are.

QM: What are your most treasured possessions of the art/decor/furniture variety?

HH: We both treasure the 1933 life-size painting of the hunter that our mom bought when we were kids, our parents’ enormous Venetian mirror and this wonderful oval, leather topped desk that belonged to one of our great grandmothers. I’m truly obsessed with the taxidermy scarlet ibis that I just found on Criag’s list two weeks ago. That one object is changing my entire aesthetic vision for our apartment – and that’s so fun.

QM: What’s it like working and living together as sisters? You’d seem to be the envy of constantly battling siblings.

PH: It’s been great to live and work with Hollister. We were brought up to be super close and our mom always reinforced the idea that we only had one sister in the world and nothing should ever come in between that bond. Even though she’s the older, bossy sister, Hollister always pushes me to be better and do better things. We share the same aesthetic but we have very different personalities that really balance each other out.

QM: Porter, with “Mad Men” relaunching this weekend, tell us about the contest you won to be an extra on the show.

PH: I was shocked when I got the phone call saying that I won Mad Men and Banana Republic walk on contest. It was so amazing to see so much support from friends, family, bloggers, colleges, and complete strangers who really rallied behind me to help me win.

They flew me out to L.A. Hollister came, too. Associate producer, Marcy Patterson, took the time out of her busy day to give us a tour of the sets, including the new Sterling Cooper Draper Price offices. People talk about Matthew Weiner’s attention to detail and it’s truly remarkable – even the file cabinets had hand-typed “Lucky Strike” labels on them. Jannie Bryant, their wonderful costume designer, picked out the perfect mod-ish black and white dress for me – which I had to wear over authentic 1960s underwear and a garter belt to hold up a pair of non-Lycra thigh highs.  I got to sit in hair and makeup with the “hookers” with speaking roles – and then spent the whole day watching John Hamm and Jared Harris act. It was truly, truly fun.

There’s a reason why it’s the best show on TV right now. I’m counting down the minutes until new season starts!

QM: Do you still live in an apartment with no windows?

PH: Ha! We still do . . . (Hollister’s room still has windows but their so high up that we can’t open them)

QM: What’s the best and worst thing about spending other people’s money?

PH: Best thing – We get to buy things that don’t go into our house. We have absolutely run out of space!! Worse Thing: There are absolutely no bad things about helping people spend their money.

Top: a Hovey-designed interior; middle: the sisters’ home; bottom: Porter (standing) and Hollister (seated).