During her life Kelly Vittengl has taken several bold steps: She left her fulltime-job to start a freelancer career, she set up her own business and, most recently, she moved to London from Los Angeles. All this at the age of 28. Kelly, who was born in upstate New York, decided to relocate to the U.K. in March because of her boyfriend – whom she’d had a transatlantic long-distance relationship with for a year and a half. Now it is from London where she runs her business Frances Loom, selling one-of-a-kind antique rugs – with regular trips to New York, where her warehouse is based. We’re meeting Kelly in her beautiful Notting Hill home to talk about the development of her business from L.A. flea markets to a successful web shop, about life between two cities and about her favourite antique rugs.
femtastics: You used to work as an interior designer before starting your own business …
Kelly Vittengl: I started out as a set designer and a prop stylist.
Was this something you studied?
I went to the Fashion Insitute of Technology in New York City. My major was called “Fabric Styling”. Many of my friends from university went into styling or editing.
Since I can remember I was obsessed with interiors.
Where does your interest in interior design come from?
When I think about my interests in life, interior design has always been the pinnacle – since I was four years old. Since I can remember I was obsessed with interiors. My Mum was always asking my opinion when I was a child, because she knew how much I loved it. I just like the idea of making a house a home. I like homey, cosy places.
And where did you start your career after finishing your degree?
I was a full-time set designer with a fashion brand, working in-house, creating sets for fashion shootings. After a while I got to a point where I thought: I’d like to do something else, but I was not sure if I was ready to leave the security of my job. At that time, the only way to get health insurance in the USA was if you had a full-time job. But I knew I had a couple of clients to take on and I had also gotten a few freestyling jobs as a prop stylist. So eventually I left my job, in order to work as a freelance interior designer and prop stylist.
L.A. has great flea markets and I was going to these markets every weekend because my style is very antique-based and vintage-inspired.
How did Frances Loom develop from there?
L.A. has great flea markets and I was going to these markets every weekend because my style is very antique-based and vintage-inspired. At the markets I was shopping for clients and found a lot of antique rugs that I absolutely loved. But when I sent the clients photos of the rugs, they did not want to buy them. And I thought: These rugs are so beautiful I cannot not buy them. So I would just buy them – not knowing what exactly to use the rugs for. When the stock pile was growing, I thought: I’ll just start a little online shop. It took me a few months to get everything going with the website, but once it was up, it grew very organically.
How did it grow?
I posted photos of the rugs on my personal Instagram, and friends were tagging friends … At that time instagram was not what it is today, there were hardly any brands on instagram, it was still a very personal platform.
So your brand started on Instagram?
Oh, completely. I owe my business to instagram (laughs). When I first started, I would post photos of the rugs as I found them – and they would sell out in a few seconds. But the demand for the rugs got so crazy that people were upset they were missing out. People would ask me: Can you tell us when you are going to post new rugs? So I started developing a weekly rhythm: Now I am posting new rugs every Thursday at 8 am, L.A. time. And it evolved from there.
I owe my business to instagram.
Is Instagram still the most important platform for you?
Unfortunately yes (laughs). … I love Instagram and the aesthetics of my brand were created through Instagram in a way. But it can be overwhelming. It has gotten to a point where it is very calculated, it has become less organic. At times I find Instagram very frustrating – when it feels bad for me, I just have to back off for a while, and when it feels good, I’ll post. I am learning not to put so much pressure on myself.
I think, since your followers are sincerely interested in you, in your brand and your content, they will follow you anyway, not depending so much on when or how often you post – but of course the dynamics of Instagram have become quite complex.
That’s nice about being in interiors, rather than being in fashion. I think that there’s definitely a lot more pressure in fashion … I think, the key is just being genuine in your content.
What is the essence of Frances Loom?
I have always been drawn to rugs in some way, even when I was young. And like I said, I am always looking for cosiness – and a rug truly brings that to a room, really makes it so much warmer. The essence of the brand is to make a house a home.
The essence of Frances Loom is to make a house a home.
Now that you are not visiting flea markets in L.A. anymore, how do you find the rugs?
That was a big transition. L.A. has such great markets, they are so accessible and I had a big car in L.A., that could fit all the stuff. So moving to London was slightly challenging, but I had been coming here for a year and a half, to visit my boyfriend, and I had started building contacts here. Sometimes I still go to markets, but I have a few dealers here, whom I work with directly. They import rugs from Turkey and Iran and they know what I like. It feels a lot more professional.
And it’s more time-saving!
Oh yes, it is so much easier – also in terms of managing and planning my stock. Sometimes, in L.A., I would drive all the way out to East L.A., park my car, get my cart out, spend hours walking around these markets – and I would not find anything. It is nice to have somebody, who has so much more access, pre-curate for me now.
What kind of rugs do you look for?
The signature to my rugs is their age. Recently, I have been buying rugs which are as old as from the 1850s to 1910, so between 150 to 110 years old. They are truly antique. When a rug is worn down to its threats, that’s the best. I love it when a rug looks like it has been lived in.
When a rug is worn down to its threats, that’s the best.
What is the price range of Frances Loom rugs?
It depends. From 250 or 300 US Dollas for a smaller rug up to 3.000 or 4.000 US Dollars for bigger rugs.
I love that they all look unique!
Yes, there is no pattern for them, they were all made differently. That’s part of the beauty in it: the rarity.
You don’t have a showroom, do you?
People are asking me all the time and I completely understand the demand. But for me it is working so well to sell the rugs via my website that I do not feel the need. I am a creature of comfort and I like to have things running smoothly. I like to keep it easy.
Do your customers still mainly come from the US?
Since I have moved abroad I am getting a lot more international interest. I offer international shipping for a decent price, but most of my clients are still in the US and many are still in Los Angeles.
During the last couple of years, Moroccan rugs have been very popular. Do you see a new trend coming? Or do you not care about trends so much?
Moroccan rugs are very beautiful – but very trendy. I think that the Persian and Turkish rugs that I sell are truly timeless. They are already over a hundred years old and they are always going to be around, it is just a matter of how you style them. The older they get the more beautiful they get.
Do you live between New York and London now?
I do. I spend most of my time here, but I am a US citizen and my business is based in New York. So I go there pretty frequently, about once a month. Luckily I have a lot of friends in the city and my parents live in Upstate New York – I always have a place to stay.
Is it difficult to organise your life between two cities?
In a way, things can get a little hectic. I have been travelling a lot this summer. My boyfriend is from Italy and we have been visiting his family, too. … I have a planner that is my life! You should see it, every day I have lists. I try to manage my time well and to keep things stress-free. That includes learning to let things pass.
I try to manage my time well and to keep things stress-free. That includes learning to let things pass.
How does life in London differ from life in New York?
New York is a lot more intense. London is a short city, New York is a tall city – in New York you have to look up when you are walking around, in London things are more eye-level. The energy in New York is extremely intoxicating in the most amazing way. There is so much energy, but living in New York is tiring, it’s exhausting. New York throws itself in your face. And while London is a big city, too, I feel that it is quieter. In Notting Hill you feel like you are in a small town. There are more parks and I try to take a walk around Hyde park, which is quite close, every day – it is so rejuvenating.
New York throws itself in your face.
Do you have any favourite spots in London?
Hampsteadt Heath is so beautiful! It’s a big park in North London, where you have a full view of the city. I love North-East London, the Tate … and there are a lot of historic houses that have been turned into museums. That is so fascinating. I love places that mix history and interiors. In terms of restaurants, you have to visit “Granger & Co.”, they have a restaurant in the neighborhood. Also, “Dishoom” is so good! And one of my favourite things about London are the pubs. They have been there forever and they have not really changed.
I agree! Thank you so much for this interesting interview, Kelly!