Ivy League-educated Nell Diamond grew up between London, Tokyo, and New York and created Hill House Home after graduating from business school and struggling to find a cool and quality brand to help bedeck her first “adult” apartment. Now, three years later, Diamond is launching Hill House Home Baby. A full circle for Diamond, the entrepreneur found out she was pregnant just weeks after her company’s launch in 2016. With a flagship retail location on New York’s Bleecker Street, a podcast with over 300,000 listeners, and a supply chain that includes France, Italy and Portugal, Diamond has created a brand as buoyant, cosmopolitan and charming as she is.
1. How did you first setup shop and create the Hill House Home brand? I launched Hill House six months after graduating from business school. I first spent about 18 months incubating the brand, figuring out everything from how to trademark a name to how to negotiate with a factory.
I launched Hill House because I couldn’t find beautifully designed, well-priced, thoughtfully sourced products for my first real, adult apartment. I wanted to have fun creating a home for myself, and to build a little sanctuary that made me happy after a long day of work.
2. What are some of the design elements that define your brand and aesthetic? What sets you apart from your competitors? Design and aesthetic are incredibly important to me, and that’s something I so often see overlooked in the home category at our price point. From the start, we were thinking about ways to add little moments of joy and beauty into our product. One of the clearest ways we did that was through monogramming. We encouraged customers to add song lyrics, favorite phrases and secret messages to their pillowcases, and it really took off. When we design, we want things to feel fun, pretty, happy, and different. We’re not in this to create products that already exist, and design is such a wonderful way for us to share our point of view.
3. What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs? Remember the good days on the bad days, and the bad days on the good days. Entrepreneurship has such drastic ups and downs, so I find this mentality helpful.
4. How does running and growing a direct-to-consumer company differ from working with known and existing retailers? The primary benefit is that it allows us to price our product significantly lower, because we don’t have to charge a retail markup. Another huge plus for me personally is that I get a direct line to the people who are actually buying and using our products. If we only sold through retailers, I wouldn’t be able to log into our customer service inbox, and speak to a customer about their towel preferences, or help a customer in our store figure out the best gift for their mother-in-law. That direct line is for me one of the best parts of the business, as it allows me to make more thoughtful decisions about everything from fulfillment to product development to retail expansion. Having a direct line with our factories allows us to constantly source and negotiate the best prices for our customers, too. In early 2018, we were able to significantly reduce prices on our core bedding collections because we achieved scale with one of our factories. As soon as costs dropped at the factory, we passed along that saving to our customers, changing the prices on our website the very same day.
5. In our digital world – tell me about the decision to open a brick-and-mortar storefront on Bleecker Street? Brick and mortar has always been in the plan for us, and in many ways it was one of the reasons I started the business. I was a brand fanatic as a child; I remember deciding at age eight that I was a “GAP girl,” and refusing to wear anything else for years. I would patiently wait for their iconic commercials to come on TV and try to memorize every look. I constantly begged my Mom to take me to the GAP store on the King’s Road in London, nearby where we lived. I’ve always been obsessed with the stories brands tell through products and experiences, and there is no better place to tell these stories than in person. I was desperate to find a home base for Hill House that allowed us to tell our own story, and allowed customers to walk into the world we’ve created. We were incredibly fortunate to find a space on the iconic Bleecker Street just 1.5 years into the business. Having a physical space to speak to customers, share our story, and merchandise our product has been a dream for me.
6. When you meet someone at a party, how do you describe what you do? I have a few different lines depending on where I am and how familiar I expect the audience will be with the retail and consumer space. My usual go-to is to say I work for a direct-to-consumer brand in the home space.
7. What has been the biggest pinch-me moment so far? After a long period of product development, sampling and strike-offs, seeing the final finished product is always the moment I cry. If you’re truly making something special, the design process is long. We’ve been working on our baby products for almost a year.
Likewise, one of the first milestones for me was walking home from our office in the early days and spotting a Hill House package on a UPS truck, amongst a sea of other packages. It was wild for me, seeing our brand out there, existing in the universe. I spent so much time in the preparation phase – basically sitting by myself in a room in the basement at my business school, thumbing through excel sheets. So much. I cried.
8. What do you know now that you wish you had known starting out? I think I wish I’d known how fun it was going to be. I spent a lot of time at the beginning anxious and worrying and trying to plan for every eventuality. I didn’t realize quite how much I’d come to love what I do. I probably would have relaxed a bit if I’d known!
9. What are the trends you’ve picked up on around how people travel, shop and choose brands and how that has changed over the past few years? I think customers today are really thoughtful about the brands they want to support. They put research into it. They learn more about the team and the founder and the product. It’s wonderful because it really pushes brands and founders to show what’s going on behind the scenes a bit, and forces accountability in many ways. The power dynamic is shifting; there are so many brands out there, so customers really do have the ability to choose who they want to align themselves with.
10. How has social media changed what you do? There’s no question in my mind; I wouldn’t have a business without social media. Not only has it allowed our hyper-loyal customerbase to naturally share our products with their friends, but it has also served as a focus group for us. We ask our followers about everything from color preferences to new product categories, all via polls and questions on Instagram stories and DM.
11. How do you source and choose which products to stock and how do you ensure quality across the site and product range? First, we work with incredible suppliers. This hasn’t been an accident; we’ve worked with the best partners to sourcing fabrics, trims, embroidery threads, and factory partners. Most of our factories are family owned and operated, and we like to visit them in person. We want to have real relationships with the people who are making our product. I’ve seen that there’s a direct correlation between the strength of our relationship and the quality of the product.
12. Talk me through the decision to grow the brand to include baby items? And who are your main competitors in that category? Launching baby products is full circle for me; I found out I was pregnant two weeks after launching Hill House in 2016. I grew my brand and my baby (now my three-year-old!) at the same time. I’ve always known I’d come back to baby, but I wanted to take my time on the product. I knew I wanted the product to be non-toxic, organic, well-priced and really, really pretty. And I also knew that was going to be difficult. Most of all, I wanted to celebrate the most incredibly vulnerable, emotional, intense time for a parent and baby – the first year – by creating beautiful, practical, useful products that were full of joy.