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Not your mother's Home Ec

Oak Park women share their talent for home design

October 3rd, 2017 12:53 PM

Kim Daunis (left) and Natalie Papier share a love of vintage home furnishings, which they often incorporate into their home designs through their Oak Park business, Home Ec. | Courtesy of Home Ec. LLC

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Home Ec might not be on the curriculum at many high schools anymore, but here in Oak Park it's making a comeback in a slightly different form. Natalie Papier and Kim Daunis are bringing their colorful home help to houses throughout Oak Park and River Forest with their new home design business Home Ec. 

While they might not teach you how to cook or sew, they promise to help homeowners achieve a style for their homes that is all their own.

Both moms with kids at Holmes School, Daunis and Papier met a few years ago at a fundraiser, and the rest is history. Once their shared love of vintage items and home furnishings was apparent, they decided to pair up on pop-up shops in Oak Park. 

Admitting that they might be hoarders of vintage items and that their basements were overflowing, Papier said that clearing items out of their own houses while showcasing their styling skills led to a new career for the duo. 

They recently opened an office on Marion Street and are busy helping local clients create the homes of their dreams.

Old and new

Both Daunis and Papier have backgrounds in the arts and are self-trained in styling houses. Their work on their own houses sparked the idea that there could be a career behind their hobby. 

After a feature on HGTV's "House Hunters," Papier and her family set about renovating their new-to-them Oak Park Victorian, and Daunis was the veteran of a large-scale renovation in California before she and her family settled in Oak Park.

In their pop-up store stage, they didn't just offer items for sale but staged the storefronts as they would style a real living space in a home, and locals responded with requests for decorating assistance.

The two found that their love of vintage items resonated with others in the community. "We incorporate a lot of vintage and eclectic things," Papier said. "Here in Oak Park, there's a lot of traditional architecture, and the question is how do you keep that but add funk?"

Daunis added, "You don't want to throw out grandma's stuff, but you might want a more modern house."

While eschewing big-box store decorating, they say that not only are vintage furniture items often more affordable, but they are usually also better made than mass-produced items that require an Allen wrench for assembly. They do prefer to purchase some items, like textiles, new and often turn to area stores or a local seamstress for these items.

Daunis says that the Oak Park area is rife with resources of all kinds for their work. "We're learning everything within our little village," Daunis said. "We've got a ton of resources here."

Papier agreed adding, "We're making a lot of local connections. There are a lot of women-owned businesses here."

The pair were thrilled to find a female electrician at Kinetic Energy to help install light fixtures, and their painters, wallpaper hangers and handyman are all from the area as well. Papier's neighbor does upholstery, and her dad has been known to jump in to do finish carpentry on projects.

They find treasures, building materials and inspiration at ReUse Depot in Maywood. From chandeliers to door knobs to salvaged wood and stained glass, the store on Madison Street is a frequent stop. 

They also turn to Studio 8, a vintage goods shop on Garfield Street in Oak Park for unique finds, and often find makeover-ready pieces of furniture at the Brown Elephant or Divine Consign. 

Two Story Farmhouse is another source for new textiles and styling pieces. They continue to build their Rolodex of local artists, including painter Mike Hedges, so that clients can find the perfect art pieces for their finished rooms.

Social media key

While the pop-up shops and word-of-mouth referrals helped spread their name in the area, Daunis and Papier also say that a large part of their marketing comes through social media. 

When Papier and her husband were turning the attic space of their home into a family room, she posted photos on social media, and was approached by someone from the blog Design Sponge about featuring her home on the well-known blog. 

The blog later published another local project that Daunis and Papier had worked on together.

Furniture company Joybird reached out to the duo after Papier posted about her purchase of a Joybird sofa for her attic. The company published two style story videos: one on Papier's attic and one that featured Daunis' house, a client's house and a shopping trip at ReUse Depot.

With the publication of these projects, they found demand for their services surged.

Through Facebook (www.facebook.com/homeecop) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/home_ec_op) Papier and Daunis share frequent glimpses into ongoing design project as well as their own homes and their shopping finds, available in their online store, www.homeecop.com.

Recent projects

Home Ec works on a wide range of projects for clients, and Daunis says that their clients are generally in one of two stages in life. 

"Either they just moved in or a starting a renovation and need help, or they've been here 10 years and say, 'It's time. I want to make it me,'" Daunis said. "From a whole-house renovation to choosing colors or helping layout furniture. We do all of this."

A recent kitchen renovation features a green island and cheerful wallpaper. Another project remade a home that had been through an earlier renovation that stripped it of its vintage character. The homeowner turned to Home Ec to add the character back into her house. 

Many clients also request help in designing kids' spaces, jobs that Daunis and Papier say allow them to exercise their creativity and sense of fun while still making sure to fit the budget for clients whose taste is likely to change over time.

Depending on the scale of the project, clients can pay by the hour or a flat fee for a set project. 

"We can just do a mood board and you put things together yourself, but most of our clients want us to do the whole enchilada," Papier said.

For them the most fun comes at the end of the project. 

"When you pull stuff together, that's how you make it a home," Daunis said. "It's very rewarding."