Creatives in Conversation: Whitney Rietz Eller, Hospitality Designer
We are excited to launch a new blog series titled Creatives in Conversation! The mission behind this blog series is to introduce and celebrate fellow female creatives and entrepreneurs that also happen to be ExVoto clients.
Meet Whitney Rietz Eller.
Whitney Rietz Eller and I have a friendship that goes back to our college days when she and I were both at Auburn University. I count Whitney as one of my closest friends and I have been so fortunate to watch her family and career grow. Much like myself, her parents were both very talented creatives. Her mother is a painter and her father was a photographer. Whitney’s grandmother instilled in her an appreciation of beauty and encouraged her to pursue a degree in interior design. Whitney grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and now lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Whitney is a hospitality designer who would tell you she is small scale, yet each year she completes more projects in the Charleston, South Carolina area than I can count! One of her recent restaurant projects, Parcel 32, was listed by Forbes magazine as a place to visit for your “Ultimate Autumn Vacation.” When you visit one of Whitney’s spaces, you can tell every aspect was thoughtfully planned and considered. Her spaces are comfortable, engaging, full of meaning and beautiful. At Parcel 32, she took the last remaining original historical structure on King Street, researched it’s background, created a space that celebrates the history of Charleston, retained the original facade of the building, tapped into the local talent of the South, and created a restaurant that is completely modern in design. Whitney is one of the most talented and hardest working people I know. She has always been a self-starter. In college, our friends were amazed at her self-taught skills of cooking, sewing and floral arranging. I once was her floral assistant for a wedding when we were only 22 years old and she went on to be the event planner for events with budgets large enough to purchase a home!
I continue to find creative inspiration from Whitney. A few years ago, she gave me an antique pendant she found. At the time, I had been searching for the right pendant in that exact shape and size to add to the ExVoto collection. I made a mold from the original antique pendant she gave me, and the “Whitney Pendant” was born! The Whitney Pendant can still be found today in the Bandywood Necklace.
A fun fact about Whitney, she has this super-natural ability to always be in the right place at the right time and meet celebrities. I have been to NYC more times than I can count, but I only see celebrities when I’m there with Whitney.
Elizabeth: “I know the answer to this one, but for everyone else, tell us about your background.”
Whitney: “I started off at Auburn in Interior Design through the Humanities Department, then switched and finished a degree in Family and Child Development. After I graduated, my grandmother encouraged me to go back to school for Interior Design. I got my Interior Design degree from O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tennessee and studied at the Institute for Classical Architecture in New York City. I knew I wanted to be an interior designer at an early age. I remember exactly where I was at age 13 on the 4th of July when I came across a set of beautifully drawn home elevations. I was fascinated with them and began drawing a home myself. I taught myself perspective rendering then planned the rest of my dream house’s interior plans.”
Elizabeth: “What is your favorite part of your job?”
Whitney: “There are five stages of the interior design process and each has its unique set of tasks. Each stage is exciting in its own way, but of the five stages, I especially enjoy stages 2 and 5. Stage 2 is the schematic part where you get to brainstorm and dream big. Stage 5 is the installation stage and I love being able to see the dream come to life!”
Elizabeth: “What made you decide to focus on the hospitality area of design rather than the residential?”
Whitney: “I was a student in a class called, Design Three, and I had a friend who needed a design plan for his restaurant. I needed a Design Three project for a grade. It became a win-win situation for both of us. Because of that restaurant plan, I had a group of hospitality projects and a residential project underway by graduation time. In working on both the hospitality and residential projects at once, I realized my creativity was best expressed in the hospitality realm.”
Elizabeth: “What are the best projects to work on?”
Whitney: “The best projects are the ones where client gives me 100% of their trust, allows each person involved in the project to do their best work without taking over the details, has the budget to allow the tradespeople working for them to do their best work, and gives credit where it is due in the end. My first really big project right out of school was Saltus River Grill, a restaurant in Beaufort, SC, and I was so excited to get started out in the real world on my own. Fortunately, that project and its client had all of the attributes I just listed. Because of Saltus, I was able to set the bar high and it brought me more new clients. Saltus sealed my fate in the hospitality industry.”
Elizabeth: “Where do you dream of your career taking you next?”
Whitney: “Honestly, I’d love to at some point have some staff and really set my brand. Right now, it’s just me and I’m doing it all. Right now in my life, my family comes first. My boys are young so I’m still sort of flying under the radar on purpose so that I’m not overwhelmed with work and my family suffers. I manage this by limiting the number of projects I take on. I will take on really big projects like a full hotel, but I manage the workload by hiring assistants for those big jobs on a contract basis and limiting the number of projects I have going on at the same time.”
Elizabeth: “If Auburn University or O’More College invited you back to speak to their interior design students, what piece of advice would you give?”
Whitney: “If you have the opportunity as a student to help someone else with your talents, do it even if it’s for free. My project with the restaurant while I was still in school not only opened the door for me, it got me down the hallway and around the corner! Be generous with your time and talent while you are young because it can take you places.”
Elizabeth: “What is your favorite piece of ExVoto?”
Whitney: “I’m wearing it now! The Wide Monogram Cuff Bracelet. It’s simple, but adds a nice classic touch and I love that it is personalized. I wear it a lot and I get so many compliments when I do. I plan to give it as gifts!”