Getting to test out luxury bedding in the name of the job seems like a pretty dreamy scenario if you ask us. Entrepreneur Nell Diamond, of Hill House Home, has made it her mission to make sure we all sleep stylishly and has just opened up her first Brick and Mortar destination on Bleeker Street in NYC’s West Village to showcase her coveted linens.
We were thrilled to connect with the mother of Henry (14 months) to talk about her experience launching a new business while pregnant, the importance of setting weekly priorities and why waking up and falling asleep in a space you love can be incredibly empowering.
What was the impetus for starting Hill House Home? Was there something specific you felt was missing from the marketplace?
I couldn’t find well-made, beautifully designed products that were fairly priced and efficiently delivered. I didn’t want to give up the dream of thoughtful design just to get good customer service and free shipping, so I set out to combine old-world design, high quality raw materials, personalization and efficiency all in one direct-to-consumer brand.
How would you describe the Hill House Home Customer?
Our customer really values beauty in their home, and wants to create an environment that brings them joy. We often have customers tell us how happy their bedrooms make them, and that’s the ultimate compliment for us – being able to elicit such positive emotion in the most intimate space. Waking up and falling asleep in a space you love can be incredibly empowering.
What was it like starting / running a newer business and expecting a baby at the same time?
I found out I was pregnant about two months after we launched, and it definitely was not planned. Since the business was so new, I hadn’t built a team and a support system around me yet, so the first few months were really difficult. I had terrible morning sickness for all of my pregnancy, so I’d literally be throwing up in a trash can all day, working crazy hours trying to keep the lights on. Luckily, I was able to build an incredible team as my pregnancy progressed, so that by the time I gave birth I had amazing support.
What have been the biggest milestones / challenges of building a brand?
Building a team, managing and scaling growth, transitioning from online-only to an omni-channel brand. In start-up world there are certainly challenges every day, but that’s part of the fun!
As a business owner, how did pregnancy affect you? Did you take a maternity leave?
I wish I had taken more time to completely disconnect, but the stage of the business didn’t allow that to happen. I worked from home for a few weeks and then I went back to the office full time pretty quickly. I wouldn’t recommend that!
As a busy working mom, what is your best advice for other working moms trying to strike that balance between work and family? What is your biggest challenge?
Know what’s important to you. There’s no right or wrong. Once you figure out what that is, ask for what you need. That may mean coming into the office earlier in order to leave every night for bath time at home, or it may mean needing to work from home one day a month. No two mothers are the same, and there’s no right way to do it.
What has been the biggest change to your professional life since welcoming your son?
Working late into the night. I used to save up emails for pre-bed, but now I need to be really rigid with a bedtime for myself otherwise I won’t get the sleep I need. I still do emails at home after work, but not at the late hour I used to!
As a mom, which age (of child) do you think has been most challenging in terms of finding enough time & energy to balance everything? i.e. Newborn, toddler, etc.
It’s all been challenging in different ways; I don’t think there’s been one specific stage that’s been easier or harder; the only constant has been change. As soon as I get a routine going, a new developmental milestone upends it – crawling, walking, talking!
Did many of your friends have kids at the same time and if not, how did you find a community for support, activities, etc?
I was one of the first of my friends to get married, and when I got pregnant I had never even held a baby! Most of my friends were still single and very much not in the baby mindset. I felt really isolated and alone for a lot of my pregnancy as a result, and I didn’t seek out a support system like I should have. If I could go back, I would actively search for women at similar stages of pregnancy so that I didn’t feel so alone.
What does your typical day look like? Schedule-wise.
Henry usually wakes up between 6-7, so my husband or I will wake up with him depending on the day. I give Henry a bottle right when he wakes up. Then we’ll play with toys or eat breakfast until his nanny arrives. After his nanny arrives, I’ll go get ready for the day and head to work. Since our store opened, I’ve been spending mornings in hyper drive with my team going over daily priorities. Leading up to Christmas I spent every day in the store, so we were all working 7 days a week. Now that Christmas is over, I’ll spend a few hours in store and a few in the office, with meetings in between. After work, if I have an event, I’ll come home to see Henry and put him to bed before I go out. If I don’t have something after work, I’ll answer emails after Henry falls asleep and then try to watch a show or read.
What do you do to carve out time for yourself? Meditation / Exercise / Nights out with girlfriends, etc?
I very much need time to just sit quietly. I recharge by being alone, so I try to save at least two weeknights to just be by myself organizing, reading, watching TV, taking a bath. My job is so people-focused – I’m speaking to my team or customers all day long – that I really crave alone time.
How do you balance your time between work, your child and nurturing yourself?
I definitely don’t have the dream solution. I’m really focused on setting weekly priorities, and checking in with myself. What are my goals, and how do my actions reflect those goals? For me, it hasn’t been possible to focus on more than three core priorities at a time – so Work, Henry, Friends tend to always win out. I haven’t gone to the gym in over a year. I stay active by walking everywhere, and I eat really well during the week. I try not to be so hard on myself – a few years ago I would have ended that sentence with “I’m trying to go to the gym more,” but the truth is, I’m not! I’ve moved exercise lower down on my priority list. If I check in with myself one week and find I’m craving gym time, I’ll move it up again. For now, what I’m doing works for me, and I don’t make apologies – to myself or anyone else – for how I prioritize.
What are some of your specific gadgets, organizational tools or aids that help maintain a stress-free work/family balance?
I love Headspace for Sleep Meditation. I never had trouble falling asleep until I had a baby. In the first few postpartum months, I had tremendous anxiety including panic attacks where I would just inexplicably throw up. Headspace was hugely helpfuI. I also commit to going to therapy once a week – it’s a non-negotiable for me.
If any, what changes did you make to your work hours/life in order to create more time with Henry?
I go to bed earlier; I set a bedtime alarm so that I can come as close to 7-8 hours a night as possible. I can’t sleep in an extra thirty minutes the way I used to, so the only way I can protect my sleep (and therefore my sanity) is to stay accountable to a bedtime alarm.
To what do you attribute your strong work ethic? What do you hope your children learn from watching you work and run your business?
My parents always emphasized the importance of hard work. I was taught that working hard was something to be proud of. Not achievement, not success, not talent, but the actual work you put in. I was absolutely awful at some things growing up – mostly sports like soccer and lacrosse – but my parents always made sure I knew how proud they were of the effort I put in. Likewise, things I was naturally really good at – homework, tests, Model United Nations (can you tell I was really cool?) – they made sure to emphasize how hard I worked at these things, rather than just applaud any innate talent.
I hope Henry learns that there is glory in the process. Whenever we have something exciting happen in the business – opening up our first Brick & Mortar store, having a record sales month, being named to Forbes 30 Under 30 – we think about all those dark hours we spent breaking down cardboard boxes, ironing endless mounds of samples, cold-calling factories, negotiating contracts using Google Translate. I’ve found that reframing the process as the prize can be incredibly motivating.
How would you describe your personal style?
Always just a little overdressed! Getting dressed brings me such joy; I actually find it empowers me. When I’m most stressed, nervous, anxious – I tend to go all-out on my outfit. You should have seen me the day I took my SATs…
What is your beauty routine? How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
Usually it takes me around 30 minutes to get ready in the morning. I listen to “The Daily” podcast by The New York Times while I get ready, and I get really angst-y when the episode is shorter than 30 minutes, because I’m one of those weird people who needs to be listening to something at all times. If that’s the case, I’ll listen to a few minutes of The Economist’s “The Week Ahead” or BBC’s “Global News Podcast” afterwards. I am obsessed with Podcasts, and I try and listen to the news-focused ones in the morning. I listen to non-news when I’m in transit somewhere – in a taxi, walking or on the subway – and after Henry goes to sleep. I like “How I Built This,” “Dear Sugars,” “Modern Love,” “Hidden Brain,” The “How I Built This,” episode with Sara Blakely of Spanx is the best thing I’ve ever heard!
I don’t wash my face in the morning – I have super sensitive, dry skin, and I’ve found that washing only at night allows me to retain more moisture. Instead, after I brush my teeth I immediately put on Sunscreen (I like Dr. Dennis Gross SPF), let that soak in, then put on makeup. I love makeup! I do a daytime cat-eye with Able Cosmetics Liner, and apply Nars Concealer in their lightest color (Chantilly Lace) with a beauty blender.
What are the essential items every woman needs to incorporate to make her bedroom her sanctuary?
Soft, beautiful sheets, of course, and a clutter-free nightstand. Nightstands with drawers are a must for me, so I can hide all the clutter that inevitably ends up next to my bed – eye cream, chapstick, facemasks. I hate waking up to a mess first thing in the morning, so I throw it all in the drawer!
Even with gorgeous, ironed sheets, do you have nights that your son ends up in your bed and how do you deal?
Of course! I know he sleeps better alone, but it’s hard not to let him sleep in bed with me if he wants to.
With less time to get ready in the morning, what is your go-to look in order to look chic and put together for a full day and possible evening events?
I love a good blazer over a dress!
What are your wardrobe essentials? Do you have a daily uniform?
I tend to dress for my mood, so I don’t have a uniform. I love dresses, though, so in the winter my most used item is opaque black tights. I love these Wolford tights – super expensive but last forever, and don’t pill after washing.
What is the most valuable thing motherhood has taught you?
To ask for help. We cannot do this alone.
What has been the most surprising thing about becoming a mother?
Other peoples’ opinions! Nothing compares to the unsolicited advice that comes with being a Mother. On the strangest subjects, too! It’s taught me to really wear blinders and be sure I’m laser-focused on what’s important to me. If you aren’t certain what matters to you, it becomes much easier to believe what complete strangers tell you is important. The best armor to wear against unsolicited advice is your own priorities.
What are your 5 Must Have Mom Essentials?
A good probiotic – my digestion was a mess after pregnancy. I like VSL-3, which you can get online.
A good facemask. My favorite is this Snail Mask. I’m obsessed with all things Korean skincare. This particular mask I use 3x a week. It’s a dream.
A monogrammed mini pillow, of course! Perfect for cribs and for travel – I throw Henry’s in a diaper bag for naps on the go!
A recipe for hearty vegan soup. My favorite is by Nicole Berrie of Bonberi.com.
Headspace App for Meditation. I use the “SOS” 5 minute sessions when I’m feeling panicky, and I like the “Sleep” series before bed.