Angel investor Joanne Wilson tells the story of the twisting path that bought Julie Carlson to found Remodelista.
By Joanne Wilson (Blogger & Angel Investor, Gotham Gal)
I am a huge fan of Remodelista. I am on their feed and loyally open the email every day and scroll through the content and photos. I have even spent some time on their site doing research for items and travel. Remodelista describes itself as a source for considered living, an authoritative sourcebook. I have always wanted to talk to Julia and hear her story so I was delighted when a friend of mine introduced me.
Julie grew up on Cape Cod in the town of Orleans. They moved to Wellfleet when she was eleven where there were only 1,000 people living there in the winter. Her uncle had a home there that her mother had coveted and when the opportunity came for her to buy it the family did. It worked perfectly for her parents who were a bit on the bohemian side. They house became a place of refuge for artists and writers. Her mother had quite a few careers. She taught French and English at a girls boarding school on the Cape, worked in public health at Boston University spending time in Africa and at one point moved to NYC to work on the publicity of the Puck Building for her good friend Peter Gee. Her father was a commercial fisherman. They had met in NYC. He had gone to Yale, she had gone to Wesllesley and they got married and moved to the Cape to be bohemians.
Julie went to prep school in Northern Massachusetts in her sophomore year. She took a year to go to Paris between high school and college with her friend Louise. They worked in Boston in the summer and saved money for their trip. They also worked on Fishers Island working in the oyster beds. The girls left for Paris to study at the Sorbonne in a program called the Course of Civilization that provided lectures for foreign students. They got their without knowing a word of French, found an apartment, used their guide books to learn the town and went to museums daily. As Julie put it, we were such good girls. They never called their parents but communicated through letters. Looking back it was pretty amazing their parents just let them go. She has been back several times to France. She can understand the language but speaking it is a whole other ball game — an amazing gap year.
She returned to the states and went to Brown University where she took a lot of classes in art history. Her interests were in architecture and arts. She says that she was always sensitized to her surroundings. Their house in Wellfleet was this old Victorian home vs the salt box homes in the area. She has this memory of walking around that house and just observing the way they used it. Her major was actually English with a bend towards American Literature.
After graduating from Brown she moved down to NYC to work with her Mom’s friend, Peter Gee, who was developing the Puck building. He was one of the first people who began to buy up the lofts and spaces in Soho and turn them into living spaces. He was the king of Soho and her mom was the head of his PR. She was Peter’s wife Olga’s assistant. They were crazy designers. They would decide one day that they wanted to make a giant curtain out of fur and Julie would go down into the Bowery, find fur and bring it back. It was an incredible experience that lasted one year.
Julie then went to work as a writer for the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies. It was a one year program in a non-profit architecture think tank — essentially a prep school for architects. Amazing lecturerers would come like Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson, etc. A great education.
She then went to work for the New Yorker starting in the secretarial pool climbing her way up the ladder to become a copy editor. There was a huge staff and the climb was slow. Those were the days. She stayed there for four years. Julie got married around this time and her husband was accepted to Stanford Business School so she painfully left NYC to go to Palo Alto thinking it would only be two years. She wanted to go back to NYC right after he graduated but she landed the job of the food and style editor for the San Francisco magazine after spending two years working at Consumer PC Magazine. It was the dream job reviewing restaurants so they stayed.
She stayed in this job for about four years until her husband was offered a job in San Diego. They had a child and the management had changed at the magazine so this gave her an opportunity to get off the train for a little bit. They moved to San Diego. They never found themselves there but they did start on a path that led to Remodelista. They bought their first house which was three blocks from the beach in Del Mar. It was $385,000. There was a dip in the market because they had just closed some of the naval bases. They put $60k into the house. It was a funny house with a flat roof and knotty pine paneling. They painted it white, cleaned it up, had another kid and sold the house for $700K.
It was such a great experience that they did it again. They moved back up to the SF area and bought a house in Mill Valley, a dark wood paneled house that needed work. It was around this time that the internet started taking off. It was 1995. Julie became obsessed with sourcing. One of her best friends was in Brooklyn Heights, NY doing the same thing at the same time. They were choosing the exact same things. They were inspired by Daily Candy and decided to build a site sourcing all the looks and products that they were using. They recruited two other friends and began. Originally they were focused on dailyl emails but then WordPress changed that. Her husband set them up on WordPress.
They sold the house in Mill Basin and moved to London for a year because of her husband’s job. They moved back because her mom got sick. When they returned her husband left his job to return and joined her on Remodelista. It was a big moment. They had started this in 2007 but when her husband joined it went from a hobby to a real business. They had self funded the entire time. Then they were approached by Say Media who was shifting from an ad network to a media network. They were looking to acquire them. They went for it and that was two and a half years ago. Everyone is still involved as they continue to build out the business and platform. I am a huge fan.
his post originally appeared on Gotham Gal.
About the blogger: Joanne (@thegothamgal) is an advisor and investor in startups, including Curbed (Eater/Racked), Food52, Red Stamp, Catchafire, DailyWorth, Editd, Ricks Picks, Cacao Pietro, Editions 01, Hot Bread Kitchen, Nest.io, Gotham Gym, The Moon Group and MOUSE. Her most successful venture is being married to her best friend and raising three kids.