You know that saying, “when one door closes a window opens”? Kate Dawson’s window is covered in sparkles and glitter and is filled with possibilities that she could never have imagined. At the age of 44, with no formal training, Dawson, a successful actress, built her own thriving interior design business, Decor Whore.
Over the years friends always told Dawson that she should be an interior designer. But front and center was the pull to become an actor and singer. Her passion for design goes back to childhood and the joy she felt when her mother let her decorate her own room. “And whenever I played with Barbies I was really only focused on creating an amazing home for her and Ken,” she shares.
During her Junior year in college when Dawson moved into an apartment with a roommate, her friends were dazzled by the little apartment she decorated on the cheap from antiquing and flea market finds. The place contained beautiful fabrics, stylish artwork and splashes of color.
“It felt like a real home. Most college apartments are just a hodgepodge of inexpensive stuff thrown together with no style or design,” recalls Dawson. That was the first time she discovered her talent for interior design.
Meanwhile, Dawson continued to purse her performing dream. After getting a degree in musical theater from Millikin University she moved to New York and made her Broadway debut landing the plumb role of Emily for three seasons in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. She did loads and loads of voiceovers for film and TV and acted in theaters around the country from California to Alabama.
She created and co-produced the children’s book and CD Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project and birthed and performed her one-woman show, The A**hole in My Head. Along the way Dawson married actor Jedidiah Cohen, who played Rod McCallister in the Home Alone movies and they had a son.
Dawson’s design expertise showed up for her in a big way when she and her family had to downsize to an apartment. After a promising investment in a new business went wrong they could no longer afford their house.
“When we were forced to sell our beautiful home, which was heartbreaking, and move to an apartment, I wanted to make our new space feel cozy and homey and had to do it on a budget,” she shares. Through that experience, she discovered that loving your space changes the way you feel. “Our environments have a huge impact on our mental health,” says Dawson.
Friends would come over and complement them on the décor. When one particular friend shared how much she loved the place, Dawson sort of chuckled and said, “It’s all T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, estate sales and Craig’s List… cuz I’m a whore for a good deal…In fact, I’m a whore for decor too!” Then these words tumbled from her lips, “You can call me a Decor Whore!”
She and her friend laughed so hard. Dawson had a revelation. She said, “OMG. If I ever start a business I’m calling it that.” After they finally stopped giggling, the friend hired Dawson to design her office. In 2019, Decor Whore was born.
After Dawson posted before and after pictures of the office people went “kinda crazy” over them. Suddenly she received messages and texts requesting to upgrade other spaces. Her business grew from there.
Since starting Decor Whore, Dawson has transformed more than 50 spaces in the New York City area. Her mantra is that any designer can take you to a pricey store and show you a $12,000 couch. (Which she can also do.) “But where is the fun in that? Where is the individuality? Where is the creativity? Where is the thrill of the deal and the quest?” She asks. “Well that’s where I come in.”
Jeryl Brunner: How did you transition from actor to business owner?
Kate Dawson: It wasn’t a one-step process. It happened in stages. But when I look back, I realize that all of my experiences prepared me for exactly what I’m doing today. Especially performing. What I love about theater, and art overall, is connecting to others through stories. Storytelling is essential to humanity, and it’s the only way we can truly get into someone else’s world to try and understand our differences and also our sameness.
One of the things I realized early on in my career as a designer is that our homes tell a story. And in order to design a space that my client loves, I need to be able to get inside his or her head and be a great listener and observer. And that is something my years as an actor definitely helped. I also think it prepared me for putting myself out there over and over again. As an actor you gotta go out and find the jobs. It is the same with my business.
Brunner: What would you tell your younger self?
Dawson: I’d tell her that she’s not too much. I’d tell her that all those “toos” that she’s heard through the years, you’re too loud, too dramatic, too sensitive, too much, are actually the clues to her true self and her life purpose, and that the more she can stay true to that self, the more success she’ll have. I’d also tell her to trust that there is something greater at work – cuz there is.
Brunner: So many people dream of doing something super creative like you are doing. What would you advise?
When I was toying around with the idea of Decor Whore, I remember stumbling upon a quote I saw on Facebook that my friend Dee had posted. It said, “Successful people start before they’re ready.” That stopped me in my tracks because I had been dragging my feet trying to figure out SO MANY things. I thought that once I had, I’d be “ready” to take this leap. When I read that quote I realized that there was no way to figure it out without doing it. So my advice is to just start. Just do the thing. And know that you will likely have to re-invent it a million times. But you can’t learn to ride a bike by staring at it. Get on the bike and see what happens.
Brunner: How has your business been impacted by Covid-19?
Dawson: Surprisingly, and thankfully – it’s made people reassess their homes and realize how life enhancing it is to love your space! I do not want to make light of this worldwide crisis, because the truth is that this pandemic has changed the world in ways that we can’t even fully comprehend yet. And it has been a roller coaster to say the least. But I’m also grateful that it’s forced us to slow down.
Before we were are just running and racing to get to the next meeting, music class, or swim lesson. Before Covid it was easier to not love your home since we spent so little time there. Now, people are seeing that being surrounded by beauty brings joy, and literally changes the way you experience life, which changes the way you show up in the world.
Brunner: What are some tips to freshen up your space on a small budget or without doing an entire overhaul of our house?
Dawson: I have a completely un-scientific totally made-up algorithm for styling a room like a pro. I call it the “FOUR P’s.”
Paint. The number one game-changer for a room is paint. It is a decorator’s miracle. There are so many things you can do with paint, whether you decide to paint the whole room, or maybe just an accent wall. Or how about the ceiling? Or if you have a lot of brown wood furniture paint it white.
Pillows. Throw pillows! Do you have an old sofa or chair that you can’t replace or reupholster? Go to HomeGoods and bring home an assortment of fun and colorful pillows that you love! Remember you can always return them. So if you see a bunch in the store that you like, but can’t decide, buy them all and play with them back in the space! And even throwing a blanket that ties in with one of the pillows over the side of a sofa arm will enhance the overall look. Never underestimate the power of pillows.
Pictures. You cannot have a room with blank walls. And I’m not talking about one picture hung in the middle of the wall in the middle of the room. I’m talking about an assortment of framed pictures, or artwork, that you can hang in a grouping that will bring interest, color, and texture into the space. And make sure you have pictures hanging on several walls. Not just one.
Plants. That’s right. Plants. I know that most of you are thinking, “I kill every plant I own.” So do I! But here’s the good news! There are so many fantastic faux plants out there now! Home Goods has an assortment of sizes. Nothing brings in the energy of life the way a plant does. If you have an empty corner, get a big faux fiddle leaf fig tree potted plant. Tuck those cute little faux succulents you’ll find in the check out line in coffee, end tables and bookcases. It’s a game changer! Bringing in that green gives a new pop of color and vibrancy to the space. So don’t shy away from the faux plants.
Jeryl Brunner profiles people who are guided by a deep and unshakable passion for what they do. Following their joy inspires them to think outside the box, take risks and