The Peak of Tres Chic with Sam Penner

Young, creative and eager to design spaces that make her clients glow, Sam Penner is one of Houston’s up-and-coming interior designers. 

Thanks for joining us, Sam! Tell us a little bit about how you got into the design business.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with design. The creative process of turning a vision in to a reality is what I most enjoy. Growing up, my mother took me along to antique stores and instilled in me an appreciation for historical treasures from a very young age.   Although I have always had a passion for interiors, I never thought I could turn that passion into a career, so instead I went to university and pursued a business degree. Once I graduated in the spring of 2010, I went to work for an energy company in Houston, TX. Although I quickly fell in love with the city, I soon discovered the career path I was on was not going to fulfill me long-term.

As an alternative means to express my creativity outside of work, I began my design blog, The Peak of Tres Chic. I would share pictures of interiors I designed, as well as general inspiration surrounding the arts. It quickly became a place where I connected with other likeminded individuals who encouraged me and helped me develop my dreams.   After about 6 months of blogging, I decided to leave my job to go back to school at the Art Institute of Houston to pursue a degree in interior design, and now run a residential interior design business on the side.  And as they say, “the rest is history!”

What are some of the first things you try to notice when meeting a new client at their space? Do you have a checklist, or is it a meet and greet for the feel of their personality?

When I first meet with a client for an initial consultation, I like to do so at their home.  I try to keep things relaxed and comfortable in this meeting, and let them do the talking!  Clients who hire an interior designer have often thought a lot about how they want their home to look, so I do my best to gain a full understanding of that vision in this first meeting.  I like to get an idea of how they live their daily lives, what they value and what their specific needs are so I can design appropriately.  Of course, desired time line and budget are discussed as well.

Your job is filled with challenges. Which problems do you face most often? Do you have a method to work through those problems?

A constant challenge for most projects is designing a “high-end” look on a limited budget. I don’t believe you have to have an endless budget to create the space of your dreams.  It’s all about blending and mixing higher priced pieces with affordable ones in a cohesive fashion.  I am constantly on the hunt for the perfect pieces and keep working until a look is perfect and also fits the client’s desired budget.  If this just isn’t possible (i.e. VERY limited budget), I suggest doing the space in phases, as funds become available.

Design shows are very popular on television right now. How have they influenced your business? In what ways do your clients now interact with you that they might not have before the popularity of the shows.

I love HGTV as much as the next designer, and Million Dollar Decorators is another favorite.  Many HGTV shows are home improvement or “DIY”-style shows, which are inspiring and fun, but not exactly representative of what a professional interior designer does.  A common misconception is that interior designers = decorators.  We are definitely decorators, but there’s so much more to our profession- choosing finishes, to flooring and tile, to working with an architect on custom new builds, to designing cabinetry, there’s a lot that goes in to a complete design.

Texas is about being big! Describe a project you are most proud to have designed. What did it look like before? After?

I just recently launched my own interior design business and am still finishing up school, but I am very excited to be in the middle of designing a new build for a couple.  They are building their “dream house” and have graciously allowed me to help guide them through all the design decisions.  We just installed a travertine brick flooring in the entry, and it’s looking fabulous!  I can’t wait to see it all come together.  It’s been a lot of work but such a great opportunity for me professionally.  I’ve learned so much!

We love rugs. Can you take us through how you use area rugs in your designs? Are there designs where you’re more likely to use a rug? Less?

I am a big believer in area rugs.  They anchor a space and can add much needed color or texture.  Lately I have been layering rugs, like placing an animal hide over a sisal or seagrass.  If a client’s budget can afford it, I always recommend adding rugs to common spaces as well as the master bedroom, especially in the absence of carpet.  If a client is opposed to the idea of an area rug, I suggest custom carpet as an alternative.  It can be cut in a size that works with the space and there are many color and pattern options.

We know as well as anyone that rugs can be expensive. Any assistance on how to cut down on the initial price?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I love custom cut carpet as an alternative to an area rug.  Depending on the kind you choose, it can be considerably less expensive.  Also, there are so many fabulous rug vendors out there (like yourself) that offer chic yet affordable options!


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