Extraordinary Women - Gen Sohr

Welcome to the second installment of my 
Interviews with Extraordinary Women series.

Today I'm thrilled to introduce you to Gen Sohr.
I was first introduced to Gen through One King's Lane when they featured her beautiful Nashville home in their Designer Homes series.  Gen and her husband Benjamin run Pencil & Paper Co., a full service residential and commercial design firm and lifestyle brand.  

She also has impeccable fashion sense...and I love following her Instagram account because she is constantly sharing the most darling clothing items  - especially dresses!

Please enjoy this interview with Gen Sohr...

What was your view of "aging" before your forties and how has it changed?

When I was younger forty seemed so far away.  Obviously when you're in your twenties it seems like a life time away.  I can remember when my mom was in her forties saying to me "you never really feel the age that you are, you kind of always feel like you're in your twenties."  And I've found that to be incredibly, incredibly true.

So now I just turned 48 and I'm on the brink of 50, it seems so much younger to me than I ever imagined it would.  And even thinking about sixty or seventy, if feels not that far away anymore and so it still feels young to me.  I think that's how your perception of aging certainly evolves.

What is something you consciously let go of and didn't take with you into your 40's?

I have felt like this is the most exciting time of life.  I have confidence in my career path.  I have confidence in the choices I have made with family and love, and all of those things are so much easier and seem figured out now.  The exciting thing is that now I've really fine-tuned what my goals are for the next year, and even the next ten years, and I really have the time and energy to focus on those things.  In terms of what I've let go of, I would say judgments and other people's expectations.  As you get older I feel like that all fades away.  And I feel like I have much more clarity about my direction.

When and how did you realize your passion in life?  Has it changed as you've grown older?

I think at a very young age I knew that I really enjoyed beautiful things - and creativity, and fashion, and interiors, and color.  The same things that I really love today.  I think I was born with that.  It has certainly evolved with experiences such as travel or the different positions I've held.  As a VP of Creative for different retailers, I've learned from every one of those things.  It's certainly matured my eye.   And I have so much more life experience and  exposure to travel and inspiration, and these beautiful things that mold your aesthetic.

What ignited the fire in you to finally "pull the trigger" and pursue your passion?

To be honest, I think I'm one of the lucky ones.  I started my career in fashion.  I was very lucky to fall into an amazing position with Banana Republic at a very young age.  Before I even graduated college, I worked as a sales associate which very quickly evolved into me being a regional visual coordinator,  and then ultimately ending up with a position two years later in San Francisco with Old Navy at the beginning of the launch of that brand.  So, I have been really fortunate to always be in a creative field.  But that creative field has evolved and landing in this world where I have my own business was definitely an evolution.  

I spent fifteen-plus years in retail in Corporate America leading other brands and helping to define their vision and customer experience,  When I was in my mid-thirties, my then boyfriend, Benjamin (now my husband) and I moved to Nashville to be closer to his family and kind of escape the crazy lifestyle of San Francisco and working non-stop.  Making that move was a really big life decision and pushed us out of Corporate America.  We both continued to consult and travel for a couple of years, but ultimately realized that in terms of lifestyle, we needed to do something on our own.  

There was not a great retail opportunity in Nashville in 2003 when we moved.  And it ultimately pushed us into starting our own business which was really exciting!  That decision happened pretty organically.  Benjamin and I both really loved buying homes, renovating homes, decorating homes.  And then they would usually end up being published - our first Nashville home was published in Domino.  

Ultimately, the true trigger for starting Pencil & Paper Co. is that Benjamin and I built a ground-up house - our first full construction, full design home.  And people literally started to knock on the door to ask about it.  We'd find people taking photos in our yard, and that launched this idea that we could be creating beautiful homes for other people.  Again, I think it has been a very organic experience.  We started with interior design and flipping houses which has really morphed now into a complete lifestyle brand where we're developing our own product lines: a dress line, an art line with One King's Lane.   We launched our rugs with Annie Selke.  And we just launched a perfume this week.  We've created a full vision of our lifestyle experience, and it has been fun to land in that place.

What's one of your best tips for making difficult decisions?

I will say I have always been pretty confident in my decision making.  Sometimes it's a little slower than others.  The idea or the confidence to leave Corporate America has probably been my biggest challenge so far in terms of career.  I had a really great position as a VP with a lot of creative freedom and a team that I loved.  And all of the financial benefits and the safety of all of that.  But ultimately,  I wanted to be able to spend more time with my son.  

I wanted to be able to be home, and to drive him to school and pick him up, and not miss what is probably the most important part of my life.  So that really forced me to take the leap -  which has been truly the most exciting opportunity to date -  of started Pencil & Paper Co.  And really being able to drive that vision.  It has been unbelievable exciting!  Of course, it has been challenging, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  

If I could tell myself anything, the corporate experience was amazing, it was probably the PhD of retail, being with Gap Brands,  but I would have left sooner to start something on my own.  I feel like if I had done that sooner, I would be further along in my personal goals of creating my own brand.  So that is something I would tell my younger self.

Change can be scary.  What helps you overcome any fears/insecurities or excuse-making, in order to courageously leap onto a new path?

Change is very scary, but I will say, if you are a hard worker and you have confidence in your skills and your vision, it is really not as scary as it seems.  I've always had the confidence that I can make anything I set my mind to, happen.  So although leaving the financial security of Corporate America was scary, a couple of years into working on my own, I am more financially successful than I was working in that world. I am in more control of that.  And that has been a major opportunity.

How do you make your time work for you so that you are able to fulfill family and professional roles, but still have time to "create" and develop yourself?

I would say that as a creative, that never shuts off. I think 24 hours a day, I feel like I'm in that creative world.  I see things that inspire me, and I might stop and think about how I might translate that into an idea for work.  But the most exciting part of running our own business is that yes, I get to control my time.  Which means that I can drop my son off at school, and I get to pick him up.  And I am able to spend that hour after school with him re-connecting.  But I am working from 9-3 everyday in the office, and then I come home and I work more into the evening.  

One of the misconceptions is that you work less when you work for yourself.  But because I am really passionate about what I do, and it's creative and I truly love it, I never shut that off. So I might be working on a project at 10:00 at night and always on the weekends.  But again, it's integrated into my everyday life and it's something that I have joy doing.  And with my husband and my son - they both love to vintage shop and they both love fashion - so I'm really fortunate that kind of connection runs from work to family.

What do you consider to be your most essential priorities at this point in your life?

Family.  My husband, my son and those relationships.  We have a really large extended family in Nashville, and my stepdaughter who is away at school at University of Michigan.  All of those things are so important to me.  As well as my parents and family that are in Miami.  So that is top of the list.  But, my ability to spend so much energy around creating our business, and as my son grows older, I feel like I have more time and more focus to be able to move the passions we have around as we create a lifestyle brand.  We're much more efficient at this point, and because I have very specific goals in my head, I feel like we have moved much faster in the last 24 months than probably the first fifteen years of my career.  So that's been really exciting!

Have you found that you have developed more in your personal style (fashion or interiors - or both!) as you've grown older?  How has it changed/evolved?

100% !   I feel like I have found my most authentic self from a style perspective - probably from an everything perspective - as I age.  So at 48, I have more confidence.  I know exactly what I want to wear.  I love color.  I love pattern.  I love vintage finds.  And I have the confidence to wear what I love and not care what the trend is.  I feel more authentic and loyal to that personal style now.  I have defined that and it probably won't change.  

People ask me all the time, "why do you always wear your hair in a ponytail?"  That's just part of my signature style.  It works for me.  It feels authentically me.   I think one thing I would tell myself as a younger person is that finding your personal style and having the confidence in that and the consistency in that from how you to dress, to your home, to how you throw a dinner party, that is important.  I feel like my voice is very clear in that now, which I so appreciate.  

How has it evolved?  I think it has been more refined and more fine-tuned.  I've always loved what I love.  Pattern. Color. Vintage. But I feel like my specific voice around that and my twist on it is very clear now.

Is there a beauty or make-up tip you wish you had learned about earlier?

Yes!  Take care of your skin.  I can remember reading that a zillion times as a teenager and not really realizing what that meant or how important that is. Staying out of the sun.  I'm fortunate that I am fair so I never really baked in the sun because it didn't do me much good.  But the idea of wearing sun screen every single day, and exfoliating your skin, and seeing a dermatologist, and really giving your skin attention at a young age, is something I wish I had done more of.   I feel like my skin routine is much more focused on washing my face every night and taking my makeup off, using a moisturizer, and using sunscreen.  I wish I had started using anti-aging products so much earlier. 

 Again, I think the same thing applies to your beauty or make-up routine - finding what works for you.  So, for example, a red lip.  I am passionate about that. It makes me feel happy, awake and alive.   And people recognize me now for a red lip, or my hair being pulled back in a messy knot, or the really bold glasses that I wear. All of those things create a signature style.  And to know your signature style is important.  I wish that I had defined that in a more clear way for myself at a younger age. But, of course, some of that is just evolution, and it makes me excited about the next 20 plus years of my life and living at a time where I know what my goals are and what I love.  I know what I'm passionate about.  I know authentically what feels like me, and I have a really well-defined personal style.

Thank you so much Gen!
You can find Gen online at Pencil & Paper Co.

Until next time,


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