Tastemaker Tuesday


I'm Erika Ward

Over a decade ago, I exchanged my corporate life in building construction for an opportunity to enhance your personal home via decoration and renovation.  My mission? To help busy professionals make their homes their sanctuaries.

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When I first learned about Nicole Sassaman (as a builder), I thought back to my past life as a Project Engineer. Fresh out of college, I was in charge of a crew of flooring installers and often times was the only woman on the job site. It sure would’ve been useful to channel her nonsense attitude regarding design and construction when my confidence waned. Only a woman who knows her stuff could produce such an unbelievable portfolio of before and after  photos that will leave you wondering if it was even the same space!

I look at her career as an accomplished interior designer, builder, television personality, and author and see all that I hope to become. If this is your first introduction to Nicole, prepare to be inspired to go for the gusto in life and to be reminded that your biggest dreams are attainable. Enjoy!

I consider your style to have a distinctive Californian vibe. What influences your design style? The property, the client, nature?
Each project is certainly different. When doing client work, I first take into account the personal story of who I am working for. I like to know who they are, where they have been and where they want to go. This helps me to create an environment that will inspire them to move forward and live the life that they want. I also like to know where they shop, eat, and what type of environment makes them most comfortable. I use this information to determine which design elements I should incorporate into their own home. My friends have nicknamed me “Bugsy” because I have this way of walking into the worst of spaces and seeing them finished. I never try to make a home something that it is not. At the same time, I try to bring it to it’s full potential.

You’re known for not knocking on doors, but knocking down walls in the Hollywood Hills. I love that! Describe to me what that feels like.
Ha! Ha! Yes, I do love to knock down a good wall or two. I am and have always been a very hands on person. I think it is so important to understand and appreciate each trade’s talents. So often people just come into a space and look at what isn’t right or finished. It really brings the crew down. I enjoy being hands on because it constantly reminds me of how special each member of my team is and how difficult their jobs are. We need every person in all fields of life, especially the trash man, so it is important to respect and appreciate each one. For me, filling up the construction dumpster keeps it real!

Please describe an average day in your life.
I am not sure that any one day is much like another. It is a juggling job that requires a calm mind and that you know how to perform a great balancing act. My day starts off with being a mother to my four year old daughter,  Ava.  Once she is in school, I rush to the construction site to be sure all of the guys are on track and have any questions answered or supplies that they need. Then, I am off to deal with whatever needs to be confronted on the real estate front whether buying or selling a piece of property. This could be responding to a counter offer, staging a property, a photo shoot on one of the properties to sell it or for publicity. Somewhere in between those things I try to work out and make it to Home Depot, Walker Zanger or where ever the road of design and construction requires for the day. It’s a lot of lugging stuff around in my business. You never know what you might find in the back of my car- a toilet, faucet, tile, fabric, etc.  Then, back to get Ava from school and whisk her off to dance class or something and back home, which we call Barbie Headquarters, to make dinner and enjoy my family. Each day is uniquely it’s own and I love it that way!

Congratulations on completing your first book, Design Life! How long has this book been in the making? Will there be more books in the future? 
Funny that you should ask. I am just finishing up my second book, Sassy Tips. It is a bit bigger book than Design Life!. I enjoyed creating Design Life!, which took about a year to put together. I learned so many things from it and have tried to implement them into the new book. The goal in the books that I create is really just to share my tips with people and to also inspire them to live the life that they dream of. Anything really is possible.

Define your signature style.
My style is modern and architectural in style. The end product always ends up feeling very warm which surprises people. They usually expect a modern space to feel cold. I like combing warm colors and materials to achieve that. I also enjoy trying new products or old products in new ways to create unique elements in my spaces like the wine cellar under the staircase. Creating special area like this is what makes a space really stand out. Great design is never just about furniture and paint on the walls. You have to layer your
work and think deeper into the possibilities of the space.

With Fall’s pending arrival, what changes will you make to your home’s décor?
In my own home, I love to decorate with festive holiday items like fall wreathes, etc., but I also enjoy switching out pillows and throws in a room to really set a new tone. Sometimes I even switch out a pendant light fixture or two!

What are some of your favorite finishing touches when designing a room?
I love creating nooks in walls that I finish off with wood or tile and install lighting in. These nooks are a fabulous place to highlight pieces that are special to you. I also like to create the nooks in ceilings with special lighting to create depth and interest. I love using
unique lighting fixtures, as they are really like a good piece of art when used well. I also love to cover a wall in a beautiful tile or wood to add a sense of richness and uniqueness to an otherwise boring wall.

What is your ideal work environment? One where I am the client or where the client really lets me do my thing without all of the usual hemming and hawing.

When not designing I am…living my dream.

Heroes…Einstein, Oprah, people who go for it and live their dream. People who are not afraid to fail and who certainly don’t mind getting their hands dirty. People who find a way to get to yes and make their visions a reality no matter what the road blocks are.

Highest Compliment…when people see the before and after pictures of my work and then look at me like, “ A little woman like you did this?” It also makes me happy that I think I inspire people to go for their dreams, too.

Lucky Break…Buying and renovating the Greta Garbo Home.

Eureka Moment…When I sold the Garbo home for top dollar in a market that was heading downhill. I really realized that I was able to create a home that would sell more like a piece of art. The person wanted it at any price and that was that.

Looking forward to…inspiring more people to design life!

Best Advice…When you believe in yourself and put the hard work in behind your dreams, miracles will begin to unfold. So go for the life you want and when you get there, stop to smell the roses!


Three lucky readers will win an autographed copy of Nicole’s book Design Life! Here are a few ways to enter:

1. Become a follower of BluLabel Bungalow.
2. Visit Nicole’s Blog & “Like” her Facebook Fan page.
3. Leave a comment telling us why you need a copy of Design Life!
This contest ends Thursday, August 19th at 11:59PM EST. Open to U.S. Residents only. Winner will be announced Friday, August 20th at 8:00AM EST

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Hi, I'm Erika.
Your Design + Happy Healthy Home Advocate.

Over a decade ago, I exchanged my corporate life in building construction for an opportunity to enhance your personal home via decoration and renovation. My mission? To help busy professionals make their homes their sanctuaries.

Learn more