Katie Williams joined her mother’s company, Donna Elle Design, after 15 years in the fashion retail industry. Growing up on Nantucket, and innately taking after her mother’s more creative side, Katie has always been surrounded by color schemes, architectural layouts and an entrepreneurial spirit. In addition to bringing her natural talent to all of her projects, she recently introduced Design ID, a tailor-made e-design service that puts the power of design quite literally into the client’s hands.
What is it like being part of a two–woman team, or just part of a family business? Have you always been involved indirectly?
I grew up with an entrepreneur mom, so design was ingrained in my upbringing. I do feel like I got that creative gene. As a child, my mother always did everything she could to nurture my creativity, whether it was a pottery class, or jewelry making class or painting class. And from a young age, I always had an interest and a curiosity in her latest design projects. There was a definite trust in my intuitiveness and sense of judgment when it came to the critique I offered or a recommendation I made. We had a natural dynamic when it came to creative decision making. I graduated college with a business communications degree, fell in love with retail by chance, and spent the next 15 years fully dedicated to a career in fashion retail. But then came a time both professionally and personally, where a shift was necessary. In 2016 I started working with my mother, officially.
What would you describe your design philosophy as, or how do you get in the right creative headspace?
My mother has always had a natural gift of building relationships with other people through her ability to connect empathetically, build trust and dig deeper, not just hover over the surface. That has been the foundation of her design philosophy. I guess you could say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. My retail career called on me to exercise some of those same practices–uncovering the nuances of a person’s lifestyle, discovering what brings them joy, and translating that into something tangible. For me, these practices guide me in the relationship building I do today. Interior design is so personal. It involves connection and understanding, trust and imagination. When you can fully embrace this, the design possibilities are endless.
Give me a step-by-step walk-through of what you do after you meet a client.
Lots of daydreaming and vision boards. It starts with design development/evolution. Drawing from inspiration, colors, landscape, feelings, etc. and turning that into something conceptual is the part that makes this work so inspiring. There is no limit to where your design program can take you. Functionality is equally important when developing a design concept. The balance between art and function is delicate. That’s where the importance of a dynamic designer-client relationship comes into play. To be able to tap into your client’s needs, wants, hopes and dreams (truly!) is to have the tools to produce a comprehensive design program.
What’s a project you’re most proud of?
A project we finished in 2018–it was a four story, 5,000 square foot historic home in downtown Nantucket that awarded us the title of Best of Boston Home 2021 Coastal Interior Designer by Boston Magazine. There was full trust and transparency, and it resulted in one of the most beautiful design stories. The clients were seeking cheerful ambience, feelings of coastal bliss, and interiors that exuded happiness. This was the first project that my mother and I designed together from start to finish. It was really fulfilling for the both of us. It was the symbolic start of a new era, the mark of a new path for Donna Elle Design.
Do you have advice for younger people who may hope to have a career in a creative or design field?
Nurture your passions–whether conventionally or unconventionally. Stay curious. Stay inspired. Stay true to your authenticity. Don’t be afraid of taking a risk; you never know how successful you can be unless you dive in, fully immersed and committed.