I just did a flip-flop off the back of my bar stool. Yes, I am sitting at a bar with a beer, writing right now, because this gig is awesome. I don’t know if you had heard, but a few months ago, The Sister Project co-hosted our first Cool Ass Yoga retreat in Tulum, Mexico and the whole experience was kind of ridiculous… if I do say so myself. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would leave paradise with not only a new found perspective on life, but having made a real, human connection with 15 strangers. STRANGERS! I still pinch myself when I think about that incredible week and the friends that I made. Tulum was in the presence of some pretty awe-inspiring gals last November. Every single one of them changed me for the better and I am forever grateful for that experience. However, there was one gal in particular I personally felt drawn to. Her spirit and kind soul captivated me. After we returned back from our trip I told the sisters, “Our community needs to know who this person is. She is too good. Too kind. Too inspiring. Too beautiful on the inside and out to keep all to ourselves.”
Meet our friend and born and raised Chicago girl, Aimee Wertepny, owner/Provocateur of the stellar design firm, PROjECT. This girl is a bright light and a maker. A design wiz and I know for a fact, her heart is far too big for her body. It is not every day you meet a person who is not only a source of endless inspiration from a professional standpoint but a friggin humanitarian to boot. Aimee has made giving back a part of who she is and go ahead and add it to her list of awesome because she is. This is a person who likes to feel good and good is every bit of who she is. Our girl Aimee is a world-traveling entrepreneur, with a zest for life and spirit, unlike anyone I have ever met. Her passion for business, pleasure, and culture is truly palpable and know this, she is making her mark in the world.
Wearing Aimee’s face as a mask wasn’t an option, so instead, she and Lauren had themselves a little chat. Check it out.
How do you pull inspiration from a client’s home to help bring out their individual style when it comes to decorating their space? Do you simply do a walk through or interview them as well? What’s your method?
All of the above. It starts with a call. Ideally, they have reached out to us for a piece of PROjECT in their home and have seen the work we do and relate to it in some way. We chat about design projects in our portfolio that they love (and if they don’t love anything it’s time to). I ask clients how they want to “feel” in the space if they don’t have any particular likes/dislikes relating to style, color, etc..
I believe a home should tell stories and reflect one’s journey. If there are no stories, I want to help create some. It’s incredibly refreshing when a client tells you they have the families’ heirloom rug, or a collection of kuba clothes from Africa, a chair from Cuba, or all of the above. We’ve been known to upholster chairs in the families’ old jeans and turn grandma’s fur coat into pillows.
You are so well traveled. Can you pick one place that was slammed with so much amazing interior design and inspiration you almost freaked out?
This is a tough one! Tulum and Sayulita have a place in my desigNERD heart for the boho-beach-chic-love on everything vibe it brings. Denmark is design heaven with its mid-century modern design that makes me go goo goo ga ga. They do design so good! And Peru was overwhelmingly inspiring. The vibrant colors, textiles, people and the incredible cuisine. I carried my weight in Alpaca and textiles home with me, I swear. However, the slam dunk goes to Cape Town, South Africa. They have this modern-tribal-chic thang down and it makes me want to beat on a drum. Lauren, you know how I feel about those drums! If you haven’t been, go. See the design, visit wine country and drink the fabulous wines, learn about apartheid and pay homage to the great Mandela. It’s soul food, regardless if you eat biltong or bobotie. The motherland is where it’s at for me. There’s an energy, a pull. Tribal anything, it speaks to me. A piece of my soul will live there for eternity.
What charity or mission are you most passionate about?
Anything that helps children who are less fortunate. Becoming a tutor/mentor for Chicago Tutoring years back was a huge inspiration. Malik, now a Gates Millennium Scholar at Howard University, was merely in 4th grade when we met- now my family, my little brother, friend and confidant- we even completed a 30-day yoga challenge last summer together. All good stuff. My experience and fulfillment working with Malik opened me up to other possibilities. It led me to Tanzania in 2007 to help raise money for a secondary school for orphaned children called Peace House, a visit to welcome new students and help with tasks such as building furniture, and some lifelong friendships. Malik journeyed back with me a few years ago before heading to college- that was life-changing for him to say the least. Last April PROjECT built a school with and for the jungle village of San Juan Yaro, Nicaragua through buildOn. It was simply the best, as Tina would say. Actually, buildOn student TINA TURNER touched us with her trek story and got us amped up for our own trip! No running water, or electricity, extreme heat, but so much connecting, teambuilding and love our hearts could burst! This is one of my proudest endeavors- honoring PROjECT’s decade alive by building a school. Bringing “our village” to this special village; uniting with a community who had a dilapidated leaky shack of a school and now a safe and solid place to learn for years to come- with solar panels! Connecting, sharing, service. The goods. This trip was extra special because my niece Alexis and nephew Nicholas were able to join on their first service project and trip out of the country. So proud we got to share this experience together. I want to do this again and again. And we will. Look up buildOn.org – they are the sh*t.
What is your favorite personal piece in your home?
If you come near my carved dragon chair or Maasai tribal jewelry, or telephone wire sculpture, or Oaxacan pottery, or Moroccan wedding blanket, or rubber tire bowl, or rock collection. It’s. On. One of my best friends, Amanda of Color Blind Creative, made an incredible piece of art for my birthday last year. That would have to be the one thing if I HAD to pick— there’s sand, soil, coins, corn kernels, wire ties— random things I’ve collected from all over the world embedded in the painting. Its incredible and certainly tells my story through a single piece of art. I live in a really small space— I surround myself with the sentimental stuff so I bump into it at every turn. It takes me back and lifts me up.
(maasai jewelry on stand, rock + shell collection. Oaxacan skull pottery, art by bestie Amanda Morrsion includes soil, sand mementos + coins from all my trips to date!)
If you could decorate anyone’s home (living or out in the universe) whose would it be?
Hmm, tricky… As much as I would love to go retro-diva-glam with the likes of Diana Ross or Tina Turner, or design up a Cape Town cliffside tribal-rustic-modern home for Charlize Theron or Oprah— there’s nothing more dreamy and satisfactory than creating for those who don’t have. I think design is for all— I’ve seen it truly improves lives when things look and function in a certain way. Especially for children. So maybe a global initiative that tackles schools and makes them over, turning them into brilliant, inspiring spaces! It starts with a dream, right? I’ll sleep on that one..
How did you find yourself as an interior designer? What was your path to getting where you are now?
In fourth grade, I told my best friends Leah, Santa, and Latrice that I wanted to be a fashion designer. No idea why. I was teasing my bangs into a hot mess, rocking scrunchies and salivating over anything Guess or ESPRIT. So lame. I thought I had it going on. That idea carried to high school where I majored in commercial art at Lane Tech in Chicago. I knew I needed to create. I loved fabric, art, and redesigning the room I shared with both my sisters again and again, and again. It was always in me, I just needed to sew my own prom dress and paint some awful self portraits to realize it wasn’t fashion, although the dress came out well 🙂 I attended Harrington School of Design which sadly closed last year but led me to some solid opportunities like my first job as a designer while I was still a student. I hauled ass through school and I was obsessed with my projects. Eight years into that gig I realized I needed something different, something more hands-on and emotional vs. the production work I was pumping out. It was a dear friend (and first client) who encouraged me to take the leap and here I am, a decade later still at it… moving into a new space with 5 amazing tribe ladies along for the ride. We built a school with buildOn this year to honor our 10th birthday. We’re on a magazine cover which is so exciting. I have more “pinch me” days than “I want to hide under my bed” days. 2016 and the future is looking fly.
This has more to do with your gorgeous skin than interior design…what are your three MUST HAVE products for your glowing clear skin?
Oops, I have 4, but hear me out.
1- face oil— I love this organic lavender one I found in Portland or one from Caudalie. I have dry skin so it works wonders with no breaking out.
2- Arcona anything- I especially love the cranberry triad pads for after yoga and before bed.
3- SkinMedica TNS essential serum- the secret ingredient is something you’ll need to look up… Don’t ask, just apply and know your face will feel like a baby’s bottom STAT.
4- Amore Pacific moisture bound skin energy hydrating mist. Never leave home without it, especially on a flight! Bamboo sap is where it’s at. #addicted
What are your shopping and decorating suggestions/tips for those on a tighter budget but want to bust out some seriously cool ass interior style and decor?
Get your butts into the vintage and thrift stores- there are treasures everywhere! The oldies really are the goodies. Mix it up, splurge on good bed linens paired with a funky vintage throw, “retro chic”. Or, a modern glossy dresser from IKEA or CB2 with a glam lucite chandelier. Upholster a solid core door in faux leather and make a desk or vanity. Collect art and surround yourself with things you love, a collection of things, not a “room to go” deal. And for God’s sake, please don’t hang your drapes too low or your art too high. Drapes can go as high as possible no matter the window size and art at eye level. I’m a hacker myself, I’m looking at a white cowhide and silky shag rug from overstock at the moment and giggling…
What has been your most exciting project to date?
About 5 years ago I completed a project with one of my best friends, Lauren Warnock, who collaborated with me. We had always wanted to work together and finally had a chance. It was a gut renovation of a traditional home in the western burbs. Our mission was to create a space that made the client feel a certain way, chic yet casual, understated glamour. Sophistication with the ability to host the basketball team, glam but not too precious, and we had the opportunity to truly bring it. Turn things on its’ head. ‘Cozy Modern’ was born, and it’s a thing, you know… modern can be a scary word for some but we like to do it up proper– add fur, and snuggles, and all the fun details that engage the client. That home will always have a special place in my heart. The synergy between Lauren and I, the clients, and those unforgettable leather belted doors! That was a fast forward moment for PROjECT that put us on the map and landed our first magazine cover ever. The door image has stuck around all these years— hanging out on Pinterest, strapped to HOUZZ idea books and who knows where else— its part of our identity and branding. Best of all, Lauren stuck around and continues to dominate this interior design thing with PROjECT day in and day out.
If you could go anywhere in the world for interior design inspiration, where would you go?
Oh god, I’d travel all over South America and then hit up India and head back to South Africa. I’ve never been to Brazil- I hear the design is incredible— and those drums again! Although I don’t live in many colors, I’m drawn to the chromatic places that are lively and a bit chaotic. I’d rather be on a tuk-tuk or rickshaw than in a black car, put it that way 🙂
What do you love most about interior decorating and Project.?
I love working with a tribe of bad-asses who are some of my nearest and dearest. I love solving design problems— even if they’re not the right solutions I get into it. I love winning a killer project for us to get our hands on. I love being able to mix interior design + volunteer projects. I love the frequent flyer miles we rack up- they get us into all the other stuff we get into.
What is a day in the life of Aimee is like?
Oh, the hustle… about 1am the night before; obsess over my calendar, plan trips in my head or with my bestie in California, review appointments and lists of things to do… once 7AM rolls around, snooze repeatedly, scramble to make yoga or boxing by 8 and back to the studio to get into the groove. Protein shake, coffee, tackle a pile of emails; meet with the designers and review fun things like lighting, floor plans, furniture, and tile… add my two cents when I can. Sometimes in the studio and once in a while at Soho House. And the death of me— contracts! And then editing them… my creative self isn’t cut out for this but it has to happen. Lots of chatting with the tribe, making plans for the week, discussing projects. On a good night, there’s a fun event happening or dinner with a friend. And on a really good night, I go to yoga in the South Loop and have a candlelit date with the skyline 🙂 This year I hope to add dating to the mix— any ‘misters’ from the other blog project out there reading this? Hey, hey.
Espresso or tea? Gold or silver? Wine or vodka? Heels or Boots? Eyeliner or Lipstick? Forest or the ocean?
Espresso. Bronze. Wine- the big red smooth kind from Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico or Spain. Boots with heels. I’ve been rocking this bright orange lipstick for a minute, but I pledge allegiance to the smoky eye. African bush (safari) but a close call- crashing waves are heavenly.
Let’s talk about yoga. You were dead set on getting in that yogi head stand back in November. Well?
I’m upside down! This may sound corny, but I feel like I’ve had two lives- one before yoga, and one after. And I much prefer the current version. It’s a new way of think, thinking and BREATHING- even though I sound like Darth Vader sometimes– those ujjayi breaths really are magic! Sweating it out, creating intentions, challenging myself physically and mentally, taking an hour for me, meditating, restoring my mind and being present. It’s been such a blessing in my life and I thank my best friend, Mercedez for encouraging me to go for it although the heat scared me. To me, yoga is like sleeping or eating- it will be something I do for the rest of my life. Apparently, it runs in the family because my nieces, mom, sister and even Malik have joined the club. Maybe Lauren can come teach the PROjECT. tribe once we’re in our new studio space- all us sisters!
We are loving it.
Who has been your biggest inspiration to date?
My mom. The lady who made me believes in me, and won’t ever quit me. She’s momma Rose to nearly everyone I know and nana Rose to a tribe of shorties. The laughs, the cries, the journey– she’s a cancer survivor, a prankster, and nanny extraordinaire amongst a host of other things. She lives and loves hard but her spirit is soft and kind. She knows how to have fun. She’s a special one.
What is your daily mantra?
Gratitude. Transformation. Love. And taken from a special yoga instructor— if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. That hits home every time. Yoga does too. I start the new year scribbling my goals for the year on a large leaning mirror in my tiny apartment – they’re in my face reminding me of possibility. Some get crossed off, some are a work in progress, as you can see…
Love it. Live it. Share it.