Beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder, it also comes from the countless hours, dedication, and drive artisans summon up and dedicate to creating things that are unlike any other things we could possibly imagine. We need artisans. We also need those who seek out (and geek out on) craftsman and celebrate their work. Enter Tanya Zaben of Interior Monologue. Tanya took her years working for luxury brands as a marketing and creative director and decided to apply it to something she loves, sharing the stories behind beautifully-crafted home designs. Like TFI, Interior Monologue is relatively young, but Tanya’s quickly becoming a tastemaker in her field: French home decor company Christofle sponsored an Interior Monologue Wine Room in the recent Holiday House in NYC (a decorator showhouse that benefits the Breast Cancer Research Fund), Tanya had opportunities to interview established women in the design community including muralist Anne Harris, and is currently working the next iteration of her site, which, fingers crossed, will include e-commerce. Here she shares why she loves what she does, how her biggest business failure proved to be an ‘aha’ positive moment and her secret talent that surprises her friends.
What was you’re career path before that led you to launch this? My first job was a key grinder at Ace Hardware. That is not part of my career path, but it was actually really interesting. Truthfully it might have had something to do with leading me down a path to Interior Monologue because you did have to think about, “Wow, a key is crafted out of metal. You shape a key. I made copies of keys.” That was actually a bit of a craft. And come to think of it, I was also always involved with people. I was someone who gravitated towards front-facing day-to-day interactions and meeting new people.
My solid career after college was, I had a double major–I studied graphic design and photography and videography, it as the beginning of the video age. So after, I was a creative director in branding and marketing for quite a long while, close to seventeen years. I always traveled for work and art directed photo shoots and worked with talented photographers and videographers. Then, most recently I was doing a lot of, what we called, experiential marketing or branded experiences. So, I was working with architects and lighting designers, digital musicians. Anything you could think of to make a typical manifestation of a brand or branded immersion. It really opened my eyes to just how many people it takes to pull of something of that magnitude.
You worked for a lot of luxury brands…. It really ran the gamut. It would be things with Samsung, Land Rover and Jaguar. But then also, Amex and smaller, more boutique things. And I worked at the New York Times on their Luxury Conference.
What inspired you to want to do Interior Monologue? It was two-fold. The idea was born out of an absolute love and passion for textiles and craftsmanship around textiles and wallpaper. I always gravitated towards things that were patterned, embroidered and beaded. I had started a business and that’s a longer story we’ll get to it later, but the short version is, I had a business that I decided to dissolve. I went into a freelance creative direction, which would sometimes mean that I would work really intensely for six months, then, I would have two, three, four weeks in between projects before the next one would start.
I started dabbling in designing my own collection of textiles for the home. I wanted them to be hand-embroidered and hand-screened, fabrics and wallpapers, and I had the hardest time getting them produced, because I could get someone to make a prototype for me, and then they told me that I had to go to Asia to get it manufactured. Which then, sent me reeling, going, “How can this be?” That was the idea for Interior Monologue. I got inspired by what is happening to the makers and the artisans and the craftsmanship. Where did hand-screened wallpaper go? That was the only way to make it in a certain day and age. It shouldn’t just be digitally printed.
So, I started to tell the story of these makers and shine a spotlight on them.
What do you love most about doing it? I would say it’s probably a combination of what I said earlier. The telling of the stories of these makers, I get really geeked out and excited about people who are making these beautiful things. It doesn’t even mean that I want people to buy it. I can’t even necessarily buy it for myself, I just want to celebrate it. The great thing is I feel like everywhere I go and everything I do and look at, I’m running this creative filter. I love that part of it.
And then there’s working for myself, truly, wholly and completely. Every day I feel very motivated by it. Life can be challenging at times to be on your own, but it’s very rewarding right now. I feel excited.
Going back to the craftsman aspect, I designed handbags before and made them in Italy. They were mostly exotic skins and one of my sample makers made samples for Chanel, in the basement in his home in Parma. There’s so few people like that anymore. And what happens when they go away? That’s the thing that’s freaking me out.
Do you think people are starting to appreciate that kind of craftsmanship more? I do and I don’t. I think they appreciate it more, but I think when push comes to shove, myself included, it can be a hard decision to make. To stand there and go, “Yeah, that hand crafted originally made product or thing or the cheaper knock-off?” The immediate gratification. It’s really tough.
What came easiest for you when you started Interior Monologue? Finding the content, finding these incredible makers, and products, and brands that I think have great heritage. That part came absolutely easy. The cup runneth over, it seems like I’m a bee to honey.
What do you think has been the hardest part, or something that surprised you or caught you off guard? I’d say, two things. The first thing is not having an office and a team. Looking around the room and going, “Gosh. That idea I had was fantastic, don’t you all think?” Like, “let’s go do it. Or let’s fill that in and execute the plan.” Then, I look around, and I just see me, looking there going, ” I think that’s a great idea, Tanya.” There’s no one to do it so that’s really hard.
And then, I don’t have the AMEX or Range Rover product launch budget anymore. You can’t describe that to somebody, when you say you’re going to go off on your own and launch something from scratch, not based on my previous career. It’s related, but I’m doing something totally different.
An attribute that helps you succeed: My positivity, I’m definitely a very positive person. If I could say a second one, I would say it’s perfectionism. I don’t know if it will hold me back, I do tend to want to do things the best that I can.
Role models: My mom and my dad. My mom was the first person to got to college in her family. She studied math and was a math teacher. Then, she left her career behind to start a family with my dad. My dad was an immigrant, so I though my mom was quite heroic in that. She married against the norm in that day and age. My mom is a white girl from Pennsylvania and my dad is Middle Eastern, he was not the person that someone from Chicago, married, so to speak, at that time. It was like, nobody even knew what an Arab was.
So, I was really proud of my mom, I really thought she was quite punk-rock at the time. She just loved my dad, and they started a family and she, without hesitation was like, “I’m gonna stay home with kids. I want a huge family.” I’m the oldest of four, and she was always there for us and supportive. But, she didn’t coddle us too much. I never had that feeling from my mother, that she was put out by being a stay-at-home mom, and her helping us with our homework. She was just tireless, and she always seemed happy. But at the same time, she was really driven.
Then, my dad I’m just really proud of him. He was a refugee, didn’t have anything growing up. Came here with no money in his pocket, dreamed of having an education and living in America, went to school, and put himself through college. He’s been an incredibly hard working man. He made it all about family. He raised four kids and put the all through college, without debt. They’re two really upstanding, honest, great people. My moral compass always points to them.
Best career advice you’ve received or you’d share with somebody else: I’m really interested in talking to the younger college grads who seem to think they can graduate college and just get a job and they should be making six figure salaries. And I’m just, “You have to start at the beginning, and work just as hard as the last couple of generations have had to do in order to make it.” This is all a fantasy and it’s Instagram feeding this beast. That’s not reality. You gotta work hard. You gotta pour the coffee and run the errands. You gotta pay your dues. There’s no way around it.
I can’t tell you how many coffees I got for Anna Wintour and I wasn’t her assistant. I just sat across the hall from her. You do what you do. You do what you do. We all did it in all our industries. I feel like all of the people I know, that are successful and are our age, have done that. We’ve all poured the coffee, and used the glue stick late into the night to put together the board presentation.
Three words that describe Interior Monologue: Artisans, craftsmanship, curated.
Three words that describe you: Determined, big-hearted, passionate.
What motivates you? New York City. I think it’s a combination of the city itself, and the energy here that I need. I don’t need it seven days a week, but I do need it. This particular spot on earth, the city and the people motivate me. Sometimes it motivates me to get the hell out, but, I always want to come back.
To date, what do you think has been your biggest success? I don’t think I’ve had my biggest success yet. From a career perspective, I don’t know if I ever will have what I would consider to be my biggest success.
Is that the perfectionism coming in? That’s the perfectionism. I’ve had a lot of successes, but I honestly feel like what motivates me every day is that I haven’t actually had my biggest success. What’s interesting is that after becoming a mother, I think that having my son, and just our family in general, it’s a small lean and mean, the three of us…I feel like that’s actually successful. I don’t know if it’s a fair answer but, I’m proud of that.
That’s not easy, right? No. It’s not. It’s a unique kind of a success. Like, this morning and how we got to school. I found that successful.
What do you think has been your biggest dud or failure and what did you take away from it? I have a very personal story that I’ll try to condense. That, I was going to say was my biggest dud, but then, I could twist it and say, it was probably what I learned from it that made it actually one of my bigger successes. I started a business in the world of design. And I ended up meeting a man who became my second business partner. He was a con artist. He ended up literally being not who he said he was. It’s a very personal story that I have a hard time telling people. How do you tell people, “Oh. I’m really sorry. We’re dissolving this company. Jonathan’s a liar. He’s a fraud.” It was like a Lifetime movie.
But, it actually ended up being the thing I learned the most from. Because, I didn’t think that I’d be strong enough to do it, and I actually realized I was the whole company. He was the salesperson for us, so he sold me and I did the work and people kept coming back, and they wanted more.
What I learned from it was two things: One, Google is a great tool to figure out if someone’s really who they say they are. If they say they were the director of sales and marketing somewhere, you can probably find that on the Internet. If you don’t, you might want to not believe them. And two, I learned I didn’t need a business partner as a crutch. So, what I learned, to summarize, is that I will never have a business partner again. Done. That ship has sailed.
Life goals: From a business perspective, to build Interior Monologue. Then, to have that inner peace that we all hope to have. That would be a life goal, to be like, “Hey. I’m good. Everything’s good.” To enjoy the moment, which is a huge cliché, but I have a hard time, sometimes, really enjoying the moment.
The perfectionist in me can really annoy myself. Like, “That’s not the perfect pumpkin pie. I didn’t have the perfect oven mitt to take it out of the oven with.” Oh my God, just make the pie, eat the pie and enjoy the pie. Who cares?
Daily goals: I try to take some time every day to just appreciate and have a moment of the day when I go, “Wow. Today’s good.” Every day can be good.
Favorite motivational/inspirational read: My favorite book is not motivational or inspirational at all, but it’s The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I just love that book. Inspirational or motivational reading is not my thing.
Daily rituals: I’ve got a lot … I’m super ritual girl. Right now, my favorite thing in the whole world is to wake up and make coffee for myself. I love my morning coffee so much. Every day, I get excited about it. I only drink one cup. Sometimes I have two, if I have a meeting.
Then, I love my workout. I need exercise and always have. I love the Tracy Anderson Workout. Then, I would say my daily ritual is then to shower, which is silly, but shower. And then, work, whether it’s taking a meeting or going and exploring something. Then because I’m not a cook, my ritual is to order food on Seamless. It’s embarrassing but you can put that down. I can never leave New York, because I would starve. And then, my guilty pleasure, at night if I am home, I will do some sort of face mask. I have my favorite facialist, Claudia Colombo, I’ve been seeing her for like, twenty years. She’s epic, and nobody’s heard of the brands that she has, they’re from very random places in the world. She’s created a skin care regime for me that I don’t think I could live without.
Afterwards I will watch a really good show. Whatever show I’m into, I will binge watch, but I very methodically give myself a dose. I’ll watch Episode One of The Affair.
Hidden talents/hobbies: I’m a really good baker. People are always surprised when I show up with a zucchini loaf or peanut butter cookies, people are like, “What’s that?” I’m like, “Oh, I baked.” Miserable cook, happy baker.
Favorite charity: I sit on the board of Parent Child–it’s early childhood development for underserved families, targeting kids between the ages of one and three. Based on fifty-plus years of research, they’ve discovered that is the time when the brain is forming and a lot of the kids, especially in underprivileged areas, are not given access to the simplest things, like letters, numbers and colors. Simple toys get their brain engaged in a way that actually equates to school success and not dropping out.
Do you collect anything? I collect two things. One is Astier de Villatte. I went to Paris for the first time, in maybe 96′ and bought one of those plates. Now they’re ridiculously expensive, but I’ve been collecting them for over twenty years. And then, seashells, which honestly, if you look at my home décor, you’d be like, “Where do you even put them?” I don’t know. My husband and I started this and now our son’s in on it. We collect seashells like crazy people.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret? I have two. My Dune sectional from Poliform, which is in our apartment here. I’ve never spent that much money on anything in my life, especially not furniture. It’s become the center of our home. If it’s comfortable and it’s well made and it’s going to last forever, I’m in. No regrets.
The second thing is our bed in our Sag Harbor home. The mattress, the linens and the goose down duvet–we just really went for it. It’s like a cloud in heaven. I can’t wait to get into that bed. It’s much more comfortable than my bed in the city, which is ironic. I can’t afford to do that in the city. I have to keep it in one place, and somehow it ended up in Sag Harbor.
Favorite small indulgence: Right now it is Tony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate Bars. Did you know that there’s slave trade in the cocoa fields in Africa and South America? I did not. This is 100% slave labor free chocolate. Now I feel a lot better about my chocolate problem. It’s not even a small indulgence, because I can probably polish off a whole bar a day. If I stopped eating the chocolate, I might see more results from my workouts.
Album currently on repeat: A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs. I have off-the-beaten-path music taste.
Scent that brings back memories: The scent of my mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing recipe in the oven. My siblings and I, we all make the same recipe.
Lucky charm: My swallow necklace that my husband surprised me with as a gift.
Favorite hour of the day: Twilight. No matter where I am in the world, I’ve always loved twilight–the way the sky looks against either buildings or trees, or even the ocean. It makes me take a moment and pause. I also like it because it usually means I get to go home. You can be done and switch into a different gear.
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