Tess Twiehaus of Tess Interiors


Words by:

Tess Twiehaus + Present Studio

We leave every conversation with Tess Twiehaus encouraged and reminded of the joy that comes from living a life that's true to one's self. Read on for our recent chat with Tess, the inspiring founder of Tess Interiors.

PS: We wanted to start off our interview with a Conversation Starter Question. *Selects a prompt* Okay, "Present Allure" What's something that's caught your attention lately?

I blame Tiktok for this one, but it has sent me into a spiral. I’ve been obsessed with fashion lately, specifically the recent Margiela show with the corsets and doll-like makeup. I’ve been so inspired by that and have pulled imagery from that show for project moodboards. I am just so obsessed with that whole world and I find that I’ve been turning to fashion way more lately to inspire interiors. The creativity that goes into those shows blows my mind and I've been spending a lot of my time sinking my teeth into that world.

PS: Ah, I love that. It’s always so nice to get outside of your own industry to gain inspiration.

100% agree with that.

PS: So we have some questions that span creative process, the culture you’ve built within your own company...and then a few fun questions, if we have time. To start, we’ve always felt such a kinship with you because your service also requires you to prioritize and listen to your clients and translate this via visual ways. We’re curious to know what that process is like for you–from understanding the client to how that’s being represented in execution.

It starts with a deep dive of listening. We always meet with our clients at the start of every project, ideally in their own space. There’s often a very visceral reaction to the things that they’re surrounded by all the time. So we’re tuning into all the specifics of what they’re saying they love and hate–it’s very informative. I spend that whole time being a sponge and then create a concept deck right after that initial meeting. That deck serves as an affirmation–like, I’m repeating their requests back to them–but also introduces conceptual ideas.

There’s also a lot of visuals involved. We’ll pull together tons of imagery and also provide captions for context. Like, “look at this crown molding detail” or “look at this tile detail”. It helps to have a lot of imagery because people can have such emotional reactions to all the images that they’re seeing. You end up getting more that you bargained for (in a good way) because there are so many talking points within this huge visual package.

PS: I love that you’re almost training your clients’ eyes in a collaborative and welcoming way. Saying here’s what I’m looking at and now you’re looking at that, too.

It’s true. And my projects span a year, two years, sometimes more. So it’s nice to have this concept deck to confirm what we've agreed upon. People get new ideas, scroll on Instagram…sometimes you have to remind them where we started. We can go on a journey of changing things, but how does it relate to where we began? Are we getting into a trendy zone? Is this meaningful? It opens up a lot more conversation.

PS: How do you navigate that appetite for trends that clients may have?

It’s a give and take. I usually welcome requests with open arms, but I try to remind clients what the end goal is. We agree upon certain key words and moods that we want a room to evoke rather than focusing on what trend is occurring. For example, scallops were a really big trend last year. And we could incorporate that specific trend into cabinetry or furniture, but maybe it’s just the playfulness and whimsy that’s actually attractive and that can be achieved through fabrics, etc. We really try to get to the “why” before we do anything because it helps us make informed decisions.

PS: It’s incredible to have that discernment of picking and choosing which items and areas of a room can express different qualities. How do you know whether whimsy should live within a small side pillow vs. a custom sideboard?

I mean, budget really helps with that. I know a lot of people think budget is a downer, but it keeps you on track and gives you parameters. Without being put in a little bit of a box, you could just go on and on and a project would never finish. I don’t think it’s a very popular opinion, but I truly don’t know what we’d do without constraints. It’d be a madhouse!

PS: totally relate to that. I need some sort of structure or bounds for my creative work to live within or else I just get so lost.


PS: Any tips on making a space your own?

Whenever I go to friends’ houses, what I’m most drawn to is when I can see that they are curating things based on what they love vs. an “Instagram vibe.” Curating the things that appeal to you and not comparing yourself to anyone else. One easy tip is to get vertical shelves and slowly start filling in the blanks–whether it’s with records, books, whatever your interests may be. That alone will inject so much personality into a space and even serve as a color palette to pull from. Soft textiles also really help–rugs, window treatments. A space can feel naked or incomplete without them. There’s so much more beauty and interest in a curation. It takes time, though.

PS: Seguing off of that sentiment of getting out of that comparison mode…it’s always been clear to us that you show up so genuinely and that inspires your team culture and the work you create. Any advice (for us included!) on how to get out of that comparison cycle? Were you born this way?

I just feel like, what’s the point! It would just be such a waste of time. There’s so much content at my fingertips from all these different mega-talents that I feel like if you don’t have a good attitude about it all, you shouldn’t be here. There is a whole toxic side of design where that comparison exists and it’s really, really poisonous. I just can’t imagine living life like that. When on the other side of the coin, you could be working with people who love what they do and want to create something that’s meaningful. The culture we’ve created [at Tess Interiors] is such a representation of each individual’s personality on the team. The whole hustle culture in a creative sphere is so contradictory and I try to tune it out as much as possible.

PS: We feel that too.

Don't get me wrong, there’s a drive too. We’re in no way blindly optimistic and complacent. I know what we’re capable of and what we want to achieve. I basically tune out all the bullshit and focus on what we’re capable of. I feel like we’re just scratching the service in our company. It’s less about focusing on other people and more on what we want to put out ourselves.

And 9/10 when you reach out to those people you admire, they usually have something really great to say about you. It’s nice to create camaraderie and lift each other up. I think we’re a part of a new generation that’s not nearly as toxically competitive. There’s a lot more of a support system in those people that you’re idolizing. You idolize them for a reason and it’s probably mutual.

PS: That’s so true. And also in having that camraderie, you realize that everyone’s just figuring everything out too. I find that very comforting.

Yeah, we’re all just throwing noodles on the wall and seeing what sticks. And luck strikes, too. Like meeting you! I was following Alex (of Ceramicah) and found you guys. Recognizing that there is a bit of luck involved but also appreciating when those moments happen as well.

PS: That ties in really well to our next question. We’re notorious for not celebrating our wins so we’re trying to get better at encouraging each other. What have you been celebrating lately?

I think the team does this really well. There’s such a level of respect and appreciation for each other–stepping in to help each other, acknowledging each others’ strengths. It’s about getting into that habit and it's easier with a team.

PS: That’s lovely. Okay a couple more questions to close us out. We’re all about the understanding that we’re more than our work. Any hobbies or habits you’ve been into lately? High brow/low brow–we want to know the whole spectrum.

Definitely a huge Love is Blind fan. It’s trash poison and it's great. I also bake a lot. Going for walks is a regular. I’ve been seeing my mom a lot lately and we have tea together. It’s been really lovely. I also started a garden! We have some cucumbers and sunflowers coming through. It’s quite wholesome over here.

PS: I’ve been watching so many old Martha Stewart episodes.

We have the same birthday and I’ve been obsessed with her since I was a child. She’s amazing, I love her.

PS: Finally, what's been bringing you joy lately?

Being outside. That has been really lovely. And hanging out with my mom. She’s the reason I got into interior design and I get so much joy from being with that woman.

PS: It's nuts how being outside just instantly lifts your mood.

Yes! It won't solve all your problems, but it will solve a lot of them.

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