Mel Kelly of Not Boring Home: “Homes of the future are going to place a greater emphasis on the home office”

Homes of the future are going to place a greater emphasis on the home office. Coronavirus has pushed so many of us into home workspaces. Recent Stanford University research suggests as many as 42% of Americans are now working from home full-time. As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had […]

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Homes of the future are going to place a greater emphasis on the home office. Coronavirus has pushed so many of us into home workspaces. Recent Stanford University research suggests as many as 42% of Americans are now working from home full-time.

As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mel Kelly, the Founder and CEO of home decor startup Not Boring Home. Mel is a contemporary artist from the Midwest who curates ethically made home decor from across the globe. For Not Boring Home she specializes in finding unique, fair trade and sustainable pieces for designers, influencers and DIYers alike.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you! Right now I feel like a professional treasure hunter. I make art and curate home decor for a living. It’s brilliant.

Entrepreneurship runs in my family and I’ve always wanted my own business. But I started out in marketing and web design and it was stressful. I could see my blood pressure thumping in my eye, having heart palpitations… it was not a healthy fit. So in 2017 after my kids were born I shifted gears to sell art part-time.

After nearly two years of selling, I saved up enough to bootstrap Not Boring Home, which is still evolving and growing as we speak.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I started Not Boring Home I was completely new to e-commerce. So as any noob would, I started memorizing all the YouTube videos on e-commerce success.

The internet in all of its wisdom advised me to start an online shop by buying cheap products from overseas. The idea is to run ads like crazy to see which product is the most popular. You want to find a winner. Once you find that winning product, you scale up your ad spend. You keep scaling up ads and profiting until that product plateaus and then you repeat the process. It’s an interesting concept.

So one day I found a product I might test out, but before purchasing I found something disturbing. On the manufacturer’s website they proudly advertised “strict quality standards” next to a photo that I could only describe as a sweatshop. That was my interpretation anyway. My face went pale and in that moment I knew I had to find a better way to run my business. I wish I had saved that picture because it literally changed everything about how I run Not Boring Home.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

For me, doing business differently meant rejecting the cheap labor mentality. I needed to know where my products truly came from. I wanted to know their story. And even though I’m now proud to sell ethically made products, success didn’t really start for me until I got over myself a bit. I almost wanted to convert everyone to this new way of thinking, but people didn’t want me shoving ethics down their throat.

I realized that design comes first and the ethical bit second. If a product is ethically made but doesn’t fit your design aesthetic, you’re not going to buy it. This means that it takes longer to find the right products, but ultimately it’s what’s led to my store’s success. My customers know I care about style and ethics. Not just one or the other.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

For a long time, I knew what I wanted but was afraid to fail. My husband Corey really pushed me to go for it. He reminded me that failure was part of success, not the death of it. It’s a simple and powerful thing. If you’re afraid to fail you’ll never succeed. But if you accept failure as part of success, you’ll keep failing, keep learning and most importantly keep moving forward.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I really enjoyed The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It sort of builds on the topic of moving forward we just talked about. The book is about a philosophy where you keep taking steps every day toward defined, measurable goals. It’s the unfailing daily work toward a specific goal that really gets you there.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Done is better than perfect,” made famous by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I first heard it from Jenna Kutcher on the Goal Digger Podcast. So, you need to be a perfectionist when you’re painting a portrait. In that way, perfectionism has served me well. But this one trait has caused me more stress than good in business. Once again I had to get over myself a bit. This quote reinforced the idea that I’d never be successful if everything had to be perfect.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

Homes of the future are going to place a greater emphasis on the home office. Coronavirus has pushed so many of us into home workspaces. Recent Stanford University research suggests as many as 42% of Americans are now working from home full-time.

If fashion is dead, then your home office has just become the new business attire. What your space looks like during video calls now represents your authority and credibility.

I also believe a major struggle for consumers in the coming years will be eco-anxiety, defined by WGSN as a “chronic feeling of worry about the impact of global warming.” In some parts of the country, this feeling has been common for years, but in others, it’s just beginning. Because of this, designs are moving toward the equivalent of slow fashion for your home.

Finally, I see builders of new homes including more options for their premium upgrades including sustainably harvested wood flooring and eco-friendly insulation. Designers will stay relevant by creating the same stunning spaces while paying attention to where the products came from and how environmentally harmful they are.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

One of the simplest ways is by building smaller homes. It requires less building materials, is less costly and can be far more energy-efficient. Sustainability is also about choosing products that last longer and create less waste.

One example is the carpet. Builder grade carpet only lasts about five years in the average home. As such, more than 4 billion pounds of carpet and rug waste get hauled to the dump each year. Once at the dump, the chemicals that make carpets stain-resistant and static-resistant can release toxins into the air and groundwater. So by choosing a product that lasts longer you’ll do less environmental damage in the long run.

Area rugs are a part of that equation as well. A vintage rug is a better choice than a new rug because no additional resources were used. If the cost of a vintage rug is too expensive, a good alternative is a machine-washable rug. They’re not sustainably made but if it’s washable you’ll keep it longer, which is a win.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

A smart home has appliances, electronics, lighting and other tools that can be controlled remotely through an app or online. There are so many ways smart devices can help reduce energy waste in particular. You can set your heating and cooling to conserve energy while you’re away from home. You can see what’s inside your fridge without opening the door. There are self-contained smart devices like smart power strips that conserve energy automatically. The list goes on.

Smart devices can also help with home security. You can set your garage to automatically close after it’s been open for too long, or see a recording every time there’s movement at your front door. So many uses.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

I’m personally very excited about the Tesla Solar Roof. It’s a bunch of solar panels built as shingles, and they say they’re more than three times stronger than traditional shingles. But the cost is er, through the roof.

Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?

Sometimes it’s the simple things. I really love the new pet cameras. They detect dog barks and send push notifications to your phone. You can keep an eye on your pet, talk to them through the device and reward them with treats when they’re good. My sister has one and it was cool to see in action.

The washable rug idea I mentioned earlier is another way. Instead of throwing out your rug if your puppy pees on it, you can wash it and keep it for longer.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

I’ve been excited about wool insulation in lieu of traditional fiberglass. It is renewable and sustainable which makes it a much more eco-friendly solution. It’s supposed to suppress mold and mildew, be fire-resistant and doesn’t off-gas harmful chemicals. It’s also biodegradable and compostable. All around I feel like it’s one of the best new building materials on the market.

For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?

Millennials (born 1981–1996) and Gen Z (born 1997–2010) care a lot more than previous generations about eco-friendly and social good. If you plan on investing anywhere that depends on these buyers, pay attention to these initiatives. It will benefit future generations while also endearing you to current and future buyers. Everyone wins.

Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?

The way I see it, the housing collapse of 2008 drove a massive number of families into the rental market. With the demand increasing for rentals, the price of rent went up. At a certain point over the last decade, it became even cheaper in some areas to buy than to rent. So, housing demand began to increase again and prices along with it.

Fast forward to 2020. COVID-19 shut down manufacturing and shipping across the globe creating a scarcity of building materials. This will increase the cost of new housing even further. We’re in a really difficult situation as a country right now and I think this is why we’ve seen such a boom in tiny housing and RV living.

Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?

I think the era of cheap housing is over. My advice is really for both buyers and builders here. I think we have to start thinking smaller in scale. Smaller spaces cost less to build, they’re more energy efficient and easier to resell when you’re ready to upgrade. Having less square footage makes it easier to afford sustainable materials as well.

From a building perspective, there is already a massive demand for affordable housing. It doesn’t mean we all have to live tiny, but I do think smaller houses are going to be the name of the game in the future.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m going to quote Zero Waste Chef Anne Marie Bonneau here. “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

Relating that to homes of the future, sometimes the cost of buying ethically feels too expensive. But that’s only if you’re trying to do it perfectly. Give yourself some grace and remember it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best place is on Instagram:

All photos by Wagner House Photography.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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