Meet the Minds – Nicole AlexanderMarch 21, 2018
As the founder and principal designer of Siren Betty Design in Chicago, Nicole Alexander leads a team of women whose combined passion for creation, efficiency, and style has yielded a medley of harmonious, modern projects that make a big impact with their simplicity and whimsy. Here, Alexander discusses her hardworking nature, do’s and don’ts of the business, and the design trend she’s over.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I wanted to be a singer, then a dancer, a mom, art therapist, work in forensics, fashion designer, and, finally, an interior designer. A clear path. However, I guess there is a creative pattern to each of my ‘dream jobs,’ which might have been what eventually led me to where I am.
What are some of your first memories of design?
Going to estate sales and auctions and watching my parents decorate the house with their findings. My step-dad would also convert old farming equipment into furniture and plant stands. It was awesome to witness his finds evolve into something new and unique.
Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?
I went to Kishwaukee College in Malta, Illinois, Northern Illinois University, and Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. I loved going to school and collecting degrees, including ones in 3D studio art and art history. I have been in the hospitality industry since I was 15 years old running a pizza place in my small town. I would make the pizzas and waitress since I was the sole employee of the establishment. I’ve experienced all sides of the industry.
Why and how did you start your own firm?
After completing a degree in 3D studio art and art history and working in the hospitality industry, I eventually made the transition to interiors. I started with a handful of clients and worked with amazing architects and designers. I was never really wired for having a boss, so I was determined to own my own business. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears later (trust me, there were many), Siren Betty Design was born.
Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
The Pink Squirrel in Chicago is an amazing throwback bar that opened in December 2017. We loved working with the owner who completely trusted us and our use of the color pink. Earlier in 2017, we completed Solo Salon, the Press Room (a wine bar), and the Publishing House (a bed-and-breakfast) all located within the same historic building in Chicago’s West Loop. We are currently working on a coworking innovation house called Salt Flats, a space where Soho House meets WeWork.
Is there a project you are especially proud of?
They are all challenging and that’s what makes them worthwhile. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true. One challenging project that comes to mind is a current project. It’s an existing office space that is pretty outdated, and we are turning it into a warm, more lax workspace with a Soho vibe. We are beyond excited about the outcome though, so standby.
What are you looking forward to at your office?
We are looking forward to three things: summer, our ICFF trip, and reclaimed wood to be over—please!
What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
There are so many exciting aspects like the first time you walk into a space, the endless possibilities for that space, and when everything comes together. It’s also exciting and heartwarming to find great pieces, make clients smile, and build great relationships with our vendors, fabricators, contractors, and clients.
What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant—both in terms of branding and interiors?
Don’t use residential seating/fabric in a commercial space. Don’t wait to order items, especially those with long lead times. Don’t order large quantities of an item before seeing a sample first. And last but not least, breathe. It will all work out.
Is there an architect or designer you most admire?
Kelly Wearstler because of her style and how it evolves. She’s brilliant. AvroKO because of [the firm’s] attention to detail and playfulness in spaces. [The designers] don’t hold back, as seen in their work with Duck Duck Goat [in Chicago]. I am also loving ASH NYC. I cannot wait to stay at the Siren in Detroit. Siren Design out of Australia is doing great work as well. We found each other on Instagram, for obvious reasons, and we cannot wait to host their group in Chicago.
What would be your dream project and why?
[We] would love to do more hotel work. We like the idea of combining commercial and residential and creating short-term luxury experiences for everyone.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
My grandmother. I would love to tell her about my daughters and she would be so proud. My oldest, Stella, is named after her.
Where would you eat and what would you be having?
The seafood tower at Maude’s Liquor Bar.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I would love to stay at home with my girls and I would love to, and will, own a small hotel in Costa Rica—mark my words. However, I don’t think the designer in me will ever stop.