Irene Turner is the principal of IT Real Estate Sonoma Style, an innovative new brand that combines real estate and interior design capabilities for those seeking to live in Northern California’s Sonoma County. She brings more than three decades of expertise in interior design, fashion and marketing that have brought her more than 4.5 million followers on Pinterest. She spoke with GlassCeiling.com shortly before her IT Sonoma Style venture officially opened in September 2014.
What made you want to pursue careers that are at their core about how things look?
I don’t know that I ever consciously decided. Everyone is born with a talent and I know I was born with a creative and visual brain. That’s why I’m drawn to businesses that focus on how things look.
Also, my family moved frequently when I was a child. Between living in Europe, and also along the East Coast and Midwest I was exposed to many different lifestyles, as well as museums, art and architecture. I think all that stimulated a love of beauty and creativity early in my life.
In general, I have just followed my heart in business. And yes, all my careers dealt with beauty in one form or another. I believe that beauty makes people feel good. It uplifts us all.
Your mother took you to museums in the cities where you lived as a child?
Absolutely. My mother is German born and she met my father in South America. She has a great appreciation for beautiful surroundings. She didn’t get a degree in design but I grew up in comfortable homes. We always had art, books, music and interesting objects around, thanks to her.
What does your father do?
He is an engineer with architectural aspirations; some of the analytical part of me comes from him. But the sense of beauty comes from my mother. She’s the one who took me climbing the Eiffel Tower when I was eight and visiting the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. I inherited traits from both parents, but my mother was more of a daily influence when I was young.
After college you first worked in advertising. Why was that a path you chose?
I thought that was what I wanted to do. It’s what I majored in. I went to Northern Illinois University and networked my way into a Chicago ad agency. But then I got married and moved to Minneapolis so I ended up doing advertising and retail there at the Hudson Corp.
That was less than exciting. Most of it was sale advertising. But I met a woman there who was in the fashion office and we developed a friendship. One day she said she needed an assistant and I gave her my résumé and that as my entry into the fashion.
In the fashion business I was a trend director. I would help identify trends in lifestyles and buying behaviors and interpret those for retail buyers. I helped them understand how it all influenced what they should buy as I watched people, how they reacted and interacted in their own worlds, and their buying patterns.
In interior design I look at how people live in their space. I look at what inspires them, their likes and dislikes and help them create a home that reflects them. It’s really all the same thing. It’s about observation and interpretation.
What do you find most rewarding about design work?
Having moved a lot, a sense of home has always been important to me. As I matured I understood that home is an internal feeling as well as a place, but that feeling of being at home is helped when supported by your environment. If you’re surrounded by things that reflect you, who you are, and what you love, you feel good. And being surrounded by things you love can also create a sanctuary where you feel that you can retreat from the world and relax. Achieving this is the goal, and has always fascinated me.
And people fascinated me. As an introvert I love watching how people live and express themselves. If I can capture their personality in their home, that’s great. I get to meet interesting people and help them define a space so that it reflects them.
Now, after many years as an interior designer, you are embarking on a new venture. Does it feel like it brings all your interests together?
Yes it does. It combines everything I have learned over the years. With this new brand, I’m appealing to people who want a certain quality of life, one we offer here in Sonoma County. I’m redefining luxury as it applies to living here. Because as I say in my tag line, “When you buy real estate here in Sonoma County, you aren’t just buying a home, you are getting a quality of life” that’s Sonoma Style™ and what my brand and service is all about.
In addition to helping clients buy a home I can also assist in them in decorating it or manage their property if they don’t live here year-round. I even offer concierge services such as prepping a home for when clients return after traveling. It combines everything I’ve done over my life into one business.
It’s exciting, as I come to the end of my 50s, to redesign and repackage myself again. It makes life a little more exciting and it allows me to bring together all the parts of myself I’ve developed over the years. It’s been a fun process for me.
You were a very highly respected designer. Why did you decide to make a change
I think the interior design business has changed drastically over the past five to 10 years. It’s not as rewarding anymore. Hence my desire to change it up a bit. Several things are different now. I think my international exposure was becoming less valued. After the economic downturn in 2008, how people spent their money changed dramatically. Then there was the arrival of the HGTV and DIY television networks. I think these reality TV shows have created an unrealistic world: people think can get a kitchen remodeled in three weeks for $5,000 and it’s just not so. I think the networks have done a disservice by creating expectations that things can happen in a certain way when they can’t. All that affected my love of interior design.
How did you deal with the disappointment?
It was difficult in the sense of not knowing what would be next. What else could I do? Gosh, I was X age and I should be doing what I’ll do for the rest of my life, you know. But again, going back to having moved often, I think I’m more at ease with change than anyone else I know.
Were you nervous about putting out a new shingle, creating a new company and a new you?
Maybe now that it’s almost reached fruition I’m a bit nervous, but in creating it there was more excitement. Creating something new is the fun part. But as soon as everything’s ready I can get to work. When I’m working and marketing it, I won’t be nervous.
Real estate is a new field for you. How have you learned about it?
I’m lucky that my husband is a broker, so I’ve heard a lot about it through conversation and seeing how his deals have worked. But I haven’t closed a deal myself, yet. But the first thing I had to do was my research, because there are a million realtors out there. I had to decide who I wanted to be in the field, and what I had to offer that others didn’t.
With the advent of the Internet, the real estate field is changing, too. So my observation of it is what led me to create this unique brand where I offer more services than just real estate. Having seen how my clients live in their new acquisitions has allowed me to understand what their needs are.
What has helped you succeed across all the aspects of your business career?
I think being an introvert has been one of my greatest assets… It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy, just more of an observer. An observer can focus on what other people need. And all the fields I’ve worked in come from being of service.
One more thing: I think that finding change exciting has helped. I think one thing you can teach children is to not be afraid of change. Really the only thing you can count on in life is that things will change. How you deal with that is what shapes you as an individual.