The Home Trust International (HTI): What first compelled you to enter design?
Susan Brunstrum (SB): A lifestyle change and a need to use my creativity in a different manner. My background is in marketing and advertising; I had worked corporately, for an ad agency, and had my own marketing communications firm with a partner prior to my husband’s death. When I went to college, I had wanted to be an architect but didn’t end up pursuing that field. After taking a sabbatical to get my family life in order, I realized my personal life had change, so I might as well change my professional life and take a big leap!
HTI: Who or what has been the strongest influence on your career and why?
SB: My kids- starting a business as a single parent is daunting. Not only was there a need to balance my work life and home life, but there was really no option for me to fail. I think I’ve forged my path because I was driven by the energy that this endeavor simply had to work; I was the sole breadwinner for my family and had to be able to provide for my children. Often, I think we forget that we really do have the power to manifest things into being. My career reminds me of the strength of “mind over matter” every day.
HTI: If you could have told your 20-year-old self-one thing, what would it have been?
SB: Expect the unexpected. There’s no straight path in life or to success. Trust your instincts. No one knows you better than you.
HTI: Please tell us about your family and your personal life.
SB: Been there, done it all. I often joke that I’ve had every relationship with a home one can have, and those changes have all been spurred by life events. I’m a mother, I’ve been married, widowed, and divorced. I’ve lived in the suburbs, in the city, owned a second home out of state, upsized, downsized, and rightsized! Currently, I live in a pied-a-terre in Chicago’s Gold Coast where I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by a few of my favorite things: my family, spectacular architecture, exquisite food, and Chicago’s unique sunsets (the midnight blue and copper colors of the Chicago sky are unlike any other sunset throughout the world).
HTI: What is the best advice you have received and who was it from?
SB: The Pablo Picasso Napkin Story: “Picasso is sitting in a Paris café when a fan approaches the artist and asks that he make a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso acquiesces, draws his dove and promptly hands it back to his admirer along with an ask for a rather large sum of money. The fan is flummoxed. “How can you ask for so much. It took you a minute to draw this.” To which Picasso replies, “No, it took me 40 years.” To paraphrase: Expertise is the culmination of life’s experiences.
HTI: Is there a common thread that runs through all great products?
SB: They solve a problem or a particular need for the individual purchasing them.
HTI: Do you prefer the country or the city?
SB: I love the city to live and the country to visit; that may change when I retire. It’s always been my dream to participate in a cattle drive, to which my kids say I’d be re-creating the movie “City Slickers”.
HTI: What recent project are you most proud of?
SB: My company’s re-brand after 15 years in the industry and my new product line that I’m in the process of launching as both tell the evolution of my story.
HTI: In what ways has your company or your industry changed over the years?
SB: Almost too many to count. If you don’t stay ahead of the curve, you fall behind. The interiors industry is changing rapidly- my client’s expectations have shifted dramatically over the 15 years I’ve been in business; thus, we’ve had to change the business to manage those expectations. While the industry has changed immensely, I still feel as though we are light years behind other industries. Our “disruptor” has not occurred.
HTI: The one thing I’ve had forever is:
SB: My (25-year-old) daughter’s un-made Christmas stocking that I bought when she was born. She refers to it as her “FedEx” stocking, because the rest of the family has matching, homemade stockings and she has one bought by an old nanny.
HTI: What do you miss the most?
SB: I miss the activity of my kid’s living in my home and playing host to their constant stream of friends; our home was the “go-to” hang out for both my kids growing up and made me feel as though the memories created at our house would be ones to be remembered for a lifetime. I also miss my garden- digging in the earth; it is cathartic.
HTI: What is your favorite object that reflects extraordinary design and why?
SB: My collection of paint palettes and brushes I bought at a Paris flea market. They’re from the late 1800s and I always wonder what work of art they created and for whom.
HTI: What makes a room sing?
SB: That it’s not perfect- there’s always a bit more to be done, just like life. Perfect isn’t possible, so I like to leave a room for the people who live in the house. Life is constantly changing; you must allow room for it to change.
HTI: What place most inspires you?
SB: I get my best ideas in the shower, but I wouldn’t say that’s an inspiring location. I think new places are the most inspiring, be those US or abroad. I don’t think my inspiration comes from being in a certain place, inspiration can come from anywhere- it has more to do with connecting the dots and observing things in a new way. Often, I find that I’m inspired by culture, nature, and the concept of the bigger picture.
HTI: Do you have a favorite museum?
SB: I love the Stedelijk in Amsterdam! I took a trip with FOCA (Fellows of Contemporary Art) a few years ago and it was my first real foray into the world of fabulous contemporary art. Travelling with seasoned members of the art world, I felt like a sponge- wanting to soak up all of the knowledge and expertise possible. We visited the Stedelijk on that trip and it’s since become congruent with fabulous art in my head, always reminding me of that experience.
HTI: What is your favorite brand and why?
SB: Max Mara- Crisp, clean, elegant with fabulous basics. On trend, but not trendy. They know their market and clientele and cater to them expertly.
HTI: When you’re not working where are you most likely to be found?
SB: Am I ever not working? For me, I feel like I’m always learning and taking in new experiences or activities. My down time somehow always finds a way to relate to my work. Travelling and looking at art (some of my favorite leisure activities) find ways to inspire me. Sunday’s are reserved for reading by the pool on a nice day if I have no other obligations and family dinner with my adult children.
HTI: What makes a great organization?
SB: A great team of individuals that have the desire to grow and to challenge each other, recognizing the expertise each member brings to the table, so that together the sum is greater than the parts.
HTI: Why The Home Trust?
SB: I connected with Chris because of his focused and strategic way of connecting with and finding like-minded clients. Like myself, The Home Trust looks at the industry from a different perspective, seeing opportunities rather than obstacles. The Home Trust is trying to help shape the industry, not just be a part of what’s existing.
HTI: If you could be granted one wish, what would it be?
SB: The ability to always get a good night’s sleep.
HTI: If you weren’t in your current field, what would you be doing?
SB: I’d want to host a morning talk show, own a vineyard, become a florist, train and race horses or sail around the world for several months.
HTI: Who is on your personal ‘Board of Directors?’
SB: The Design Trust.
HTI: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
SB: I’ve always been intrigued by women who pivot careers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. They are my advocates, role models, mentors, partners, collaborators and most importantly my friends. The connectivity of women helping other women (of any age) is extraordinarily powerful, inspiring, and unique.
As founder of STUDIO BRUNSTRUM, Susan Brunstrum combines her marketing and business acumen with her love of art and creativity. Her master’s degree in advertising from Northwestern University was earned while she continuously took classes in art history, drawing and design.
Susan eventually parlayed her advertising background into corporate marketing and even led her own marketing/communications firm before discovering her true calling – design. From a one-woman, home-based business, Susan nurtured STUDIO BRUNSTRUM into an award-winning firm with a team that shares her passion for catering to a discerning clientele. She spreads her enthusiasm for design as an active participant in the design community as a founding board member and current member of Design Trust Ltd.
Susan is a speaker and an on-air contributor who has been featured and published in national and local media, including Luxe, Forbes, Elle Décor, Modern Luxury Interiors Chicago, Modern Luxury CS and NS, Michigan Avenue and Crain’s Chicago Business. Among their awards, Susan and her team have earned the distinction of “Best Design Firm for Extremely Busy People” from Modern Luxury CS in 2019, been awarded “Best of Design” honors from Modern Luxury Interiors in 2019, 2017, and 2015, and achieved ASID-Illinois “Design Excellence Awards” for the past four years in 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015. She and her team have also participated three times in the prestigious Lake Forest Show House.
Susan extends her aesthetic through product collaborations, STUDIO BRUNSTRUM HOME. Her initial collaboration is with Julie Dasher Rugs and includes a capsule collection of 17 rugs in the Elements series. When not working, you will find Susan spending time with her two adult children or seeking creative inspiration in fashion magazines, art and travel.