Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
Editor, The Design Files
When I asked Lucy Feagins — the extraordinary individual behind Australia’s most popular design blog, The Design Files — if I could probe her about her daily routine, her ecstatic ‘Yes’ caught me by surprise. Days later, when she stood in the office doorway in her trademark nautical striped top and beamed, ‘Thank you SO much for coming,’ I was stunned. It was clear that modesty and an uninhibited sense of affection were at the core of her off-the-scale magnetism.
From its humble beginnings as an after-hours hobbie, to a full-time business bustling with a team of contributors, photographers, stylists and the trusty Editorial Co-ordinator Lisa Marie Corso, it is consistency that Lucy accredits to the blog’s widespread success.
Since its inception in 2008, a blog post has been lovingly composed and graced our screens each weekday morning. Interviews with renowned designers, artists and creators have spurred us into action. Exclusive glimpses into stunning Australian homes and beautiful spaces have inspired us to finally de-clutter or spend a Sunday afternoon rummaging through vintage furniture stores for a new set of chairs. We’ve been led down numerous garden paths bursting with greenery, salivated over delicious dishes on Tasty Tuesday and cherished the inside scoop on the latest design discovery.
It’s hard to fathom how such a prolific content schedule is maintained, let alone adding regular art exhibitions at TDF Collect and the incredible task of creating Open House each year added into the mix. How does this powerhouse find the time to sleep?
To appease our curiosity — and assure us that she is indeed human — Lucy kindly reveals the details of her day-to-day life, her approach to goal-setting, and the seed to her awe-inspiring level of motivation: “I never want to do the same thing this year that I was doing last year.” And aren’t we glad about that!
PART I: DAILY ROUTINE
I know Lisa is going to laugh because I’ve been off the wagon in the last month, and a bit strung out because of The Design Files Open House in December. But I can tell you what I normally do... in an ideal world!
I have quite a good schedule in terms of exercise. In the last eighteen months, I’ve realised that even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, it makes me feel better and more focused if I do some exercise in the morning.
In an ideal world, I get up around six three mornings a week – usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday – and go to the gym, which is five minutes away in Fitzroy. I’m a bit of a highly strung person [Laughs], and I’ve got a lot of varied things on my mind so I’m not very good at meditating or yoga, or anything like that.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll have a bit more of a sleep in.
For me, going to the gym and getting puffed out is a good way to start the day. Usually I’ll do cardio twice a week and once a week I’ll do weights. I don’t know anything about these things, but my Mum and I started to go to the gym together a couple of years ago and she has a personal trainer, so I just take the advice of those guys. I don’t go nuts… it’s not really so much about fitness or whatever, more a way to be more focused.
When I get back home, I usually have a smoothie for breakfast and then shower and get ready.
Since I started the website, I’ve had a home office and now we have moved to Fitzroy — for the first time I’m working outside the home! I was daunted by this at first because I was thinking that it would be more work. But it’s actually been quite good to get a little work-life balance, which I’m not always very good at!
I’m not very structured at all, and I used to like being able to work till all hours and then just go to bed, but now I don’t really want to sit in a lonely office till midnight — it makes you a bit more disciplined and structured.
So now there is a short walk to the office which is nice, I quite like that separation. I grab a coffee across the road at Place Holder, that’s my morning routine.
I try to start the week in the office. So when I can, Monday is usually a meetings and organising-stuff-with-Lisa kind of day. So writing content, emails, logistics, figuring out which photographers are going where that week, all that sort of stuff.
Again, in an ideal world — and I can't even believe I’m saying this as if it is some kind of structure, because I can’t even remember when the last time a week actually fell like this— I probably do two days in the office writing, planning, and organising advertising; two days a week out at photoshoots; and a day a week, usually Friday, doing bookkeeping and sending invoices. That is how it is supposed to work but that very rarely happens... It is kind of just the vague skeleton that I base everything on!
I’m probably in the office around nine, but Lisa gets in around nine-thirty, so usually a proper office day starts then. It’s good to have a staff member who has structured hours because it keeps my day structured.
When you work for yourself you just float around doing work at any time, but as Lisa’s hours are more or less set, it means my day is too. If Lisa has a sick day — which is very rare — then I almost feel like, “Do I have to go to work today?” [Laughs] I do but, you know what I mean, it’s good to have imposed structure!
A thing that Lisa and I were doing quite regularly, but we have kind of dropped off a bit, was having a Stand Up Meeting. I picked it up a long, long time ago when I went to America and visited Etsy’s headquarters to do a little behind the scenes story about their offices.
I quite like it because when you are sitting down in a meeting, it can become drawn out. Sitting down feels more permanent. I find when you stand up, you are not comfortable, so you’re not endlessly dragging things out — you get to the point quicker and take more action steps. There is also not the distraction of the screen — you are standing and have nothing in your hands. You have to just make eye contact, make decisions and not be distracted by stuff.
Where I can, I try and have meetings in the morning and be in the office in the afternoon. I’m not the biggest fan of meetings — I just don’t think they are always that efficient. I guess if you are a big company, you have a lot of resources and are used to that as a structure. But I am now getting more to the point with people, and try and get things done without having a meeting about everything. [Laughs]
I am really bad at remembering to have lunch — I just get in a zone and keep working! Lisa is often reminding me to have a good lunch. I don’t really stop for lunch — I grab something out of the fridge and eat it at my desk.
I’m a bit ritualistic about food and I’ll have the same thing for breakfast almost every morning with the same ingredients. I do love food, but for breakfast and lunch I like not having to think. Sometimes I get decision exhaustion — lunch shouldn’t take up more than one second in my brain! [Laughs]
But it is easy to eat badly when you don’t think about it, so it is good to plan a little. Lunch is usually a handful of rocket, a tin of tuna, and half an avocado. I might swap the tuna for chicken or something!
In a way, I don’t understand how I am across things in the design world… I’m getting more and more insular as I get busier. [Laughs] I used to be always out physically noting new shops or new things. These days I feel they find us and I’ll make a point of putting it on my to-do list to check things out.
Lisa is often at the office till six-thirty, so once she has left and I’m here on my own I know I’ve got to start winding things up. I will probably work for an hour after Lisa leaves. I feel like I’m always racing to catch up on the urgent things. What I am really bad at doing is writing the actual content during business hours when people are around. I feel like it’s easier when I am on my own, it’s after hours and I’m not getting emails and phone calls. So I tend to write after Lisa has left.
Once I’ve left the office, I’ll go home and have some dinner.
Dinner is a bit more flexible, but I do a big shop and basically know what I’m going to have for dinner most nights. We might grab takeaway or something, but generally I like to have all the ingredients so I don’t have to leave the house during the week.
I hate getting home — especially if it is a bit late — and opening the fridge and it’s bare! That just reminds me of being at uni and not being organised! [Laughs] I just want to go to the fridge and be like, fish, potatoes, string beans… done! You know? To just know that I’m finally grown up. [Laughs] Sometimes I even put a menu on the fridge which says what we are eating each night for dinner!
After dinner I will get back onto the laptop and just do content stuff until midnight.
I usually read for twenty or thirty minutes before I sleep. Otherwise if I just close my laptop and lay in bed, work is still in my head. I don’t get through books that quickly that way... I mainly read on holidays!
PART II: WEEKEND ROUTINE
My weekend definitely starts on a Friday night — it’s the only night I actually finish work at a decent time, around six. My schedule is very much guided by the daily deadline of TDF content. What this means is that on a Sunday night, I’m not doing a whole lot of work, but I am uploading content for Monday morning.
Friday kind of replaces Sunday night for me in terms of relaxation as there is no post on a Saturday morning — I can actually have a drink and relax.
Normally, I will usually go out for dinner locally with my partner Gordy. Izakaya Den is one of our faves for Friday night date night, or the Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy. I love food… we eat out a lot on weekends!
The big grocery shop is usually on Sunday. I’m a bit control-freaky about food and I like to go to good places. I used to live in Brunswick and I still really like the food shopping there — I go to a lovely place for good dips and deli things, and there is a grocer I really like.
I’m always conscious that on a Sunday afternoon I’ve got to get to work around four. I will often work from home, but there is about three or so hours of work involving uploading content for the following day and prepping for the week.
Sometimes there is a last minute text to one of my photographers, “Sorry I know it’s Sunday but can you just send me that other photo in high-res, I just didn’t realise until now that I needed it.” Which is really bad. I do feel a bit bad for our photographers!
I’m quite partial to sleeping in on the weekend, which is quite bad! I try and tell myself I deserve it, but I would LOVE to be one of those people who is effortlessly an early riser and just gets out of bed at six-thirty, even on a Saturday — imagine how much more you would get done in life! [Laughs]
But I think I’m very out of whack. I don’t get enough sleep five days a week and then I collapse on the weekend. So I will usually sleep in till around ten and it feels like the ultimate indulgence!
I do try and go to the gym on a Saturday or for a walk around the park if it’s nice, but it doesn’t always happen. I’m much less routiney on the weekend. It’s so boring to admit, but I do often come in and do some work on the weekend. Gordy has been doing some work on the weekend because of Open House, so I feel like I should just come and do some work as well. [Laughs]
I’m really bad at catching up with friends on weekends… I’m a really bad friend actually! Well, I do have good friends I will see for birthdays and things, but not so much just randomly. Friends are usually people I work with or live with! [Laughs]
I’m thirty-three, so a lot of my friends have babies now and I’m not in their routine yet — they get up really early and take the kids swimming and I’m like, “Don’t call me at eight on a Saturday morning!”
The weekend is more about catching up with myself — stocking the fridge, tidying the house. I just like to re-group on a Saturday.
If I do anything social with friends it might be on a Saturday night. Gordy co-owns Mister Wilkinson bar, so that’s our local.
PART III: BEHIND THE SCENES
On setting goals at the beginning of a project…
When I first started the website I was much more into making lists and goal setting. I used to make goals each year over the summer holidays.
I haven’t done it for the last couple of years, but I would be taking a road trip with my partner to Sydney or something and force him to answer, “What are our goals this year?" They would be both personal as well as professional goals.
Now that The Design Files feels like it has a momentum, I'm not as aspirational about the business as I used to be. I guess that’s because the things that we do now have a precedent — like Open House. It happens every year, so it doesn’t exist as a goal on paper so much as an annual plan.
I still do set goals, but perhaps not in such a “pie in the sky” way… I’m a bit more pragmatic now.
On having a job that’s also your passion…
I’m not very good at allocating time for things. That’s why I’m bad at social things or quality time with my partner. [Laughs] I will say to friends that have jobs that are quite structured that I am working and they will be like, “Put your laptop down, you should be spending time with Gordy.”
But it doesn’t feel like any kind of sacrifice to me to work till one a.m. every night if I am doing something I want to do.
When you are spending heaps of time doing something you are passionate about, it just doesn’t feel like work.
On dealing with an onslaught of emails…
We’ve just updated our website and Lisa told me I had to take my direct email off the contact page. They still come to me, but it doesn’t feel so much like an urgent thing I need to follow up — it's kind of compartmentalised.
I do get a lot of emails and I don’t turn them off. Lisa is quite good at doing that and turns them off when she is in the zone. But I have developed a bit of a strategy:
1. Open up your inbox
Lisa has access to my emails, so if I’m out of the office, it works well. If I'm out all day shooting, I would come home to over one hundred emails and it is quite overwhelming! It’s 5pm, I’m exhausted, and then I'd have two hours of answering emails! I think it was a significant step to open that up and have my inbox be everyone’s problem, not just mine!
2. Become one with the You-Don’t-Have-To-Answer-Every-Email philosophy!
I’ve become comfortable with deleting emails that I haven’t responded to. We get so, so many that are just random. It’s so much energy to reply and then you get ones back that are just, “Oh my god, I never thought you would respond!” So there is my lesson!
On the struggle to work ‘on’ a business, not ‘in’ a business…
We probably put out fires a bit more spontaneously than we probably should!
We do so much for such a tiny team, and I wish I could get my head out a little, you know?
They say you should work more on the business, not in the business… or something. But I am always in it, I am so personally involved in everything we do.
I guess if I was better at delegating, I would have a team and tell them what to do, but instead I’m in there styling the shoot, or writing the story, or meeting the advertising client.
I do find it difficult get “out” of the busy-ness to actually think about the bigger business picture.
On learning to say no…
I think I’m getting better at being more discerning. I’ve started to realise that I can’t do everything and I’m quite good at saying no to social things and launches. I do feel a bit guilty sometimes, but I always — rightly or wrongly — prioritise work.
I can’t go out on a weeknight, that’s one of my rules. If I do it just throws me out!
I once read that it’s okay to be selective with things because in the end your presence isn’t missed nearly as much as you think it might be!
On staying hungry…
When I was starting out, there were a few blogs that were similar to mine. I never looked too closely at what they were doing, but it did push me to do things like Open House.
It’s so much work, so stressful and so expensive, but we do it partly because no one else is — it keeps us unique and different.
It’s good to know what’s going on in your category and to feel like there is something right behind you. It keeps you hungry and keeps you producing great things.
We are always moving into new territories because I don’t want anyone to catch up.
It’s not an interesting place to be if you’re just at the top of the tree and feel like you are so far ahead of everybody else. You just get complacent, and I don’t ever want to have that mindset.
“No matter how good you are, you should always push yourself to be better. Having other people around you doing great things is the best motivation.”
— Lucy Feagins, The Design Files
Currently on my bedside are FOUR books, which I am dipping in and out of:
1. Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
2. The B Corp Handbook - by Ryan Honeyman (which sounds very dry but actually is super inspiring, it’s about how use business as a force for good!)
3. Insanely Simple by Ken Segall
4. General Thinker by Remo Guiffre
The Standard Store in Gertrude st, Fitzroy (and also in Crown st, Surry Hills in Sydney) is where 90% of my wardrobe is from!