One sunny autumn morning, our team gathered to brainstorm blog topics. One idea that popped out was asking what YOU would love to know ABOUT Donna – on any topic. What would you love to ask if you two hung out and shared a cup of flavored decaf with a splash, or a glass of cabernet? (Yes, those are both Donna’s bevs of choice….) But let’s get to HER answers to your questions!
Linda Dunn McHone: What events, person or influence greatly contributed to the woman you have become today?
Thanks Linda, for asking such a thoughtful question.
I’m absolutely the person I am today because of 3 people:
*My mother Naomi who was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known and in whose deep heart and encouraging love and soul I learned to find my own gifts. She was my 1st and best cheerleader and friend, AND port in the storm.
*My grandmother Anna who was an aspiring writer. At a very young age, she surrounded me in boundless love and taught me to compose stories.
*My husband Steve who is my rock and my #1 fan. It is thanks to him I’ve built enough confidence, to achieve everything I’ve accomplished; moved forward in life when my knees shook and… I even donned my first bikini AFTER giving birth to our first child – our daughter Anna – because Steve made me feel that adored and that beautiful. (Um…I’ve long since packed away the 2-piece suits because I do own a mirror!)
So, with Naomi and Anna, I found my gifts and developed my spirit; with Steve, I grew my heart and found my voice.
Sally Whitesell: How did you make the transition from TV to design?
It was at Steve’s urging that I indulge my love of – and what he believed was a deep talent in – interior design. I never enjoyed my work in TV – or any other career, no matter how much success I had achieved.
When I decided to make the career switch, I called a designer I had once hired and admired. Thank God, Denny warned me NOT to be a dilettante, saying that if I wanted to run a serious business, I needed to pursue design training.
And on my first day of design school, I cried on the way home in the car because it became clear that “my knack” for design without serious technique wouldn’t get me far. I was terrified, wondering if I could learn it all. I was in my early 40’s. But I JUST kept learning. Learning is key: design AND biz.
I launched my design business at the start of the recession of 2008. I’m very driven, but when a moment of “freak out” struck, Steve was there saying, “JUST. KEEP. GOING.” And I did.
JI Green: What is a design element that you had in your home in the past that now the memory of it makes you want to cringe?
Burgundy flocked wallpaper & Window Scarves.
Megan Doul: Who are your mentors in life….business and personal. How did they affect your life decisions?
Wow Megan! What a question. OK, my mother Naomi and my grandmother Anna are on the list as life mentors, along with my homeopath who is about 10 years my senior and has become a good friend, and possibly a mother figure in some respects. She has seen me though some trying times since I’d lost all of the significant older women in my life by the age of 37. Earlier in my life, my 2 brothers were mentors in different ways – one more as a friend, one more as a 2nd father.
On the business side: I’ve learned a lot from a business coach who specializes in interior design and also Steve Hoffman has long been my “consigliere” ….not just in life, but also my business adviser. He’s a fantastic business strategist. So is my older brother Jeffrey.
These are the people who have created some wind beneath my sails.
Deb Nelson: What one person in your life ignited your desire to make beautiful living spaces?
Deb, the answer is actually 2 people.
Growing up, my dad was not the world happiest guy. Between his temperament and crushing financial trouble, his unhappiness and anger permeated our home. It, and he, terrified me. My mother, meanwhile, was a true light, around whom I always felt safe and loved.
When I was about 8, she took me to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first of many mother-daughter adventures there. She wanted me to see beauty and art. I thrilled at what we saw.
Beyond the stunning Impressionists, the religious art, the sculpture, and taking in the overwhelming beauty of the building itself, she took me to the Furniture Wing, which I adored.
I HAVE ALWAYS felt great in that museum – fueled and comforted by all the beauty. It became my amazing escape from the pressures I felt in our home.
Before long, I began making things to “beautify” our home – puffy big paper flowers, wired flower arrangements, (hideous) clay pots. And I’d rearrange the accessories everywhere I could.
I can still hear my mother calling firmly but lovingly from the next room, “Donna! I liked that where it was please!”
Deb, my need to make beautiful spaces was ignited by my parents: My dad was the catalyst, my mother the deliverer.
Kay Bordelean Keen: Do you have a favorite designer besides Jamie Drake? (hehe!) And do you watch HGTV and cringe?
Yes Kay. Besides my #1 design crush on Jamie D., several designers past and present come to mind: Juan Montoya, Mary McDonald, Vicente Wolfe, Albert Hadley, Dorothy Draper are a few.
As for HGTV, I work so hard and long during my work week, that I don’t find HGTV relaxing in the ways I did before I began my business. 😊
But I DO enjoy catching Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing because I love seeing the spectacular homes featured. I used to enjoy Million Dollar Decorator because the designers were talented, hilarious, and I loved seeing them work through the same problems we do.
I also used to enjoy Jeff Lewis’ Flipping Out. He is tough but talented. I once got a vicarious thrill seeing his nerve to actually scream at a client “YOU are the WORST F-ing CLIENT IN THE WORLD!” I still smirk recalling it because all designers have had “that” client …ONCE. (You try never to again after that once…you guard your doors!)
Sharon Doty: Do you have a religious faith that is part of your desire to share and help others like us with our knowledge?
Wow Sharon…I never really connected the two, but now that you ask…yes, I do.
Asking me a religious question does not come with a short answer, nor one I’m entirely comfortable sharing, but here goes Sharon. You guys trust me with your hearts – so now I’ll do the same.
I am not proud to admit that I spent a lot of my life “slightly hiding” the fact that I am Jewish from the greater public. Not from friends – but from “the public.” I got such awful antisemitic mail when I was a QVC host. I didn’t want to invite more.
I watched last year as fellow citizens of this beautiful nation marched, angrily chanting, “The Jews Will NOT Replace Us!”, as my heart sank and my eyes filled. I’m used to feeling “other” (different”) but being hated is not something that one ever gets used to. It’s a heavy cart to pull.
So, I answer you even now, with some shyness and trepidation.
BUT, now that you KNOW I am Jewish, yes, there is a principle in the Jewish faith, that stirs me. Since I doubt you speak Hebrew (which makes 2 of us), I’ll simply state it in English: “Save the World.”
This principal does not mean preach or get people to convert. No. It means simply this: Put more “good” into the world than what you take from it. Save the world in every way you can, large and tiny. Just keep doing THAT until your last breath.
That one religious and culturally embraced sense of responsibility to do good speaks to me.
Add the fact that as an empath – something else I spent years trying to hide from literally EVERYONE I know – well, I’ve never liked to see people suffer because I “feel” their suffering.
SO, the short answer is that a key teaching of the Jewish faith – “Tikkun Olam” – Save the World – which is really a Judeo-Christian principle …do good in the world…meshes easily with my world view.
And because I know how powerfully a beautiful surrounding can nurture my own spirit, I wanted to help people everywhere who want THAT, to be able to get it.
Well peeps – thank you for your questions! I’m touched that you’d even want to ask me these things. And if I didn’t include YOUR question, it simply means it came in after I wrote this post for publication.
Hugs and hugs.