The veritable "woman behind the curtain," Head of Designer Services Virna Johnson was the second Homepolish employee. Ever. Oh, and did you know she can also salsa, sing, and paint?
Photos by Claire Esparros.
You’re quite literally one of Homepolish’s first employees, number two to be exact. How did you even find the company back then?
“Back in April 2013, I found an ad from Homepolish on Craigslist looking for a client services specialist. Previously, I had worked in the nonprofit sector for about eight years. My experience there was working with individuals who were either homeless or formerly incarcerated or otherwise inexperienced in the workplace. I trained these individuals with workplace and interview skills to make them successful. However, when I saw the Homepolish ad, I remembered an interior design internship I had done. I knew I wanted to change careers, and this was my opportunity to get my foot in the door with a company that I admired.”
What was it like joining the company so early on?
“The first couple weeks were all about being trained as quickly as possible, because employee #1 [Sheralyn Caballero] was going on maternity leave. I had about one week to get up to speed before she left. In those first couple weeks, I quickly realized that designer recruitment and support was far better aligned with my background and skill set, so I hired Stephanie Corder [currently in people ops] to take over the client services role, allowing me to transition to designer services.”
And at that point, how many designers were even on the team?
“Somewhere around 25, all in New York. I started getting designers on board in other cities rather quickly. In the first year, I got us to about 100 designers, and I personally hired 200 designers before I had a proper recruitment staff to pass that role off to. It was much more difficult to recruit in the beginning. Nowadays, we get a lot of organic interest through social media and word of mouth, but back then, I had to do a lot of job postings, sifting through applications, and even directly reaching out to designers who seemed to be a good fit. I would find them through social media, LinkedIn, websites, and design school networks… then go about tracking them down.”
Obviously, your role has changed quite a bit from those first months. What is your current day-to-day like?
“It’s split between a number of different functions that support our both our Homepolish staff and the designers in our network. My staff and I are constantly building that designer team, but we also make sure that our on-boarded designers have a sense of community and are enjoying their experience within the company.”
Who makes up that team at HQ?
“In short, we have a team of three. Jordan Bloom manages designer recruitment and the vetting process; Amanda Jones manages the designer community; and Allison Petty [formerly of our in-house design team] manages designer education and enrichment. They are an amazing group to work with and they are each constantly bringing forth ideas that will enrich the company as a whole. I feel like Homepolish is finally at a stage where we have both the understanding and resources to invest in our designers’ overall experience. I’m really excited to dig in with the team and make some changes.”
I feel like Homepolish is finally at a stage where we have both the understanding and resources to invest in our designers’ overall experience.
Your professional life has obviously grown quite a bit since joining the team… has your personal style grown as well?
“Homepolish has absolutely changed my aesthetic inclinations. When I started here, I knew that I loved pretty things, but I didn’t have an overall understanding about the cohesion of a space. It’s not simply about buying pretty things and putting them in your home; it’s more about executing on a vision.”
“I’m still playing with and getting to know my own aesthetic, which is how it should be. Your aesthetic should grow and change. My current home has different themes in different rooms… I have a neutral, organic, bohemian feel in the bedroom, but an industrial, moody, worldly vibe in the living room. And there are touches of glamour that make me feel girly and luxurious. I don’t have simply one aesthetic, and I know I will continue to refine and develop this over time.”
Well said! Would you say there’s a dream space or aesthetic that you have then?
“That’s an easy one! My dream home is somewhere on the coast, probably the west coast. It’s very calming, neutral… a lot of unfinished, organic materials. A lot of textiles, antiqued textiles, from all over, my travels. And definitely a backyard. I’m a nature child at heart, and I want a flower garden (not a vegetable garden to be clear), that has a lot of space to host and entertain. And I’d like to have space for my yoga and meditation as well as artistic activities.”
Wait. You’re an artist as well?
“Oh, yes! I paint, I’ve done ceramics and stained glass, minimally dabbled in woodworking… And I’m sure other things will come up along the way.”
Are there other secret skills you’re hiding from us?!
“I am currently dancing salsa regularly, a couple times a week, and I recently took up voice lessons, which is (to be honest) one of the things I’m shyest at. I started 5 months ago, and I’ve been trying a diverse range of songs and styles… though Sam Smith is a favorite.”
Those activities probably help to keep you inspired.
“Well, that isn’t all of it! I meditate every day, which is less for inspiration as it is to keep me calm. I read a lot, to learn about my professional role. I even dabble in design with my own space and friend’s spaces. It makes the work our designers do much more real to me. I also have a thrifting hobby. Whenever I travel, I research the best second-hand shops to go to. It’s one of the greatest ways to acquaint yourself with the aesthetics, eras, and histories of a locale.”
I dabble in design with my own space and friend’s spaces. It makes the work our designers do much more real to me.
Any recent treasures you’ve found?
“In New Mexico, I stumbled upon some beautiful portraiture. I’m Native American, so the art coming from New Mexico, with its indigenous influence, really spoke to me. I also recently found some incredible, overly fabulous chrome chairs, two of them. I have yet to figure out where to place them in my Flatbush [Brooklyn] apartment, but it was a great find nonetheless. I also loved going to the Rose Bowl Flea with some of our LA designers (even if I didn’t buy anything).”
Whether it’s in your travels, your activities, or at Homepolish HQ, is there any sort of mantra you strive to live by?
“I believe in surrounding yourself with beauty. Allow yourself to observe and embrace whatever you find to be beautiful, and then find a way to weave it into your home and life. Additionally, try new things, whether that’s picking out a weird find while traveling or horseback riding for the first time. There’s something about following your whims that really allows you to grow as a person and grow in your confidence.”