Young and ambitious, Nicole Gibbons channeled her love of home style into a successful New York design firm and then parlayed it into her game-changing online paint store, Clare.
Who influenced your creativity?
My mom worked in the design business, so I grew up around it. As a child, I was always making jewelry, knitting scarves, and crocheting. I was into drawing, too. My mom and both my grandmothers were the consummate homemakers, so I learned how to create a beautiful home from them.
Did you always want to be a designer?
Actually, I wanted to be a doctor. When I went to Northwestern, though, I realized that I wasn’t passionate enough about the sciences to continue that as a career, so I worked in fields that interested me: fashion, beauty, and music.
After college, I did PR for a big global retail organization. In my free time, I found myself always watching decorating shows and buying coffee table books about design (and I had put a lot of time and effort into making my apartment well-appointed in college), so I started truly exploring my passion for design.
I created a home-and-design blog in 2008, in the very early days of blogging, which inspired me to set up a side hustle design business. By January 2013, I started doing interior design full time. I definitely had a very unconventional path, but each step led me to where I am.
What inspired you to create Clare?
As a young person, I felt like nobody my age was speaking to me and my generation about home and design—they felt more like parents than somebody I could identify with. I thought I could be that person for a younger generation who love their homes.
I’ve also always admired the Martha Stewart business model—parlaying food and catering into multimedia and everything from cooking products to food and design. So my end goal was to build a big business where more people could utilize my design aesthetic. I knew I wanted a focal product, but being the crazy, ridiculously optimistic person I am, decided to start a paint company. Nobody was selling paint online, so I immediately saw that opportunity. I worked on it for about eighteen months and launched in 2018.
What is your personal aesthetic? How does it blend into Clare’s?
My personal taste has evolved, as I think a lot of people’s do. Starting out, I leaned more toward traditional and then went into transitional, but I always had the same common threads: mixing vintage with modern and a fresh use of color. I love making color pop in a room, whether it’s through a beautiful wall color or using a neutral palette and adding bursts of color through textiles and accessories. That transition very much holds true on a personal level because my life has become so crazy and hectic. I used to be much more of a maximalist, and now I like things more streamlined and pared down—at the end of the day, I just want to come home, breathe, and have an airy, open kind of feeling.
The Clare aesthetic is even more modern and streamlined than my own. That was very intentional. Paint is a very cluttered world, so I wanted Clare to feel like a breath of fresh air. If you look at our photography, there are a lot of white spaces and clean walls because we’re selling the color on the walls, not artwork or furniture. At the end of the day, color is the star.
Tell us about your Color Genius personalized color quiz and your ten-inch by ten-inch stick-on swatches:
When I recommended colors for clients as a designer, I’d usually only suggest one color per room; I never really had clients question it or ask for many color options. Yet most DIYers usually collect several colors—because there are so many choices and they can’t decide.
This showed me that design guidance and trust are significant, and we layer that throughout the whole Clare experience to give people more confidence. Design Genius is meant to make you feel like you have a designer helping you choose the color that fits you. It looks at all the same inputs I would as a designer—such as the amount of light the room gets, the direction it’s coming from, and the different colors in the room. We want to make sure that we’re recommending colors that fit your aesthetics as well, so it factors in questions like “What’s your decor style?” and “How do you feel when you’re in the room?”
As far as the swatches, the old way of painting usually requires you to purchase several sample jars of paint and single-use painting supplies at the store. You must paint it on your wall and wait for it to dry, which is expensive, time-consuming, and wasteful—because that’s a lot of single-use plastic containers. So the peel-and-stick swatches enable you to sample the color in one step. It again stems from wanting to simplify every step of the process—not only sampling but also color selection. A typical brand can have three thousand colors, and we only have fifty-six beautifully curated colors.
How do you ensure your paints are safe?
For us, it’s all about making better choices to minimize the impact on your home, the air, and the environment because people spend more time indoors than out. And the EPA says that the air in our homes can be up to ten times more polluted than the air outdoors because you’re recirculating the same stagnant air. In addition, there can be toxic emissions in your home that you’re unaware of, from things like cleaning products and anything that has an adhesive, such as a carpet or a mattress.
So we focus on products that support better indoor air quality. Our paints have zero VOCs and top-tier GREENGUARD certification. They go through a process where GREENGUARD measures them for fourteen days to make sure that they don’t let off gas because paint that contains VOCs can emit gas for years. We want to strengthen our customers’ trust that they can feel good about the products that they put into their homes and take a transparent approach about it. We always try to do the right thing.
Speaking of transparency, what does open communication mean to you and your company?
From an industry perspective, there’s so much information out there about paint and painting, but it’s very fragmented. If you google “paint,” there are a million different resources to sift through, and which one do you trust? Even if it’s about how to paint, you’re going to find ten different articles and ten different YouTube videos that each have very different steps to follow. So we want to be the ultimate resource for paint, painting, and choosing colors.
What’s your top suggestion for a weekend painting project?
An accent wall. It doesn’t require a ton of time or labor, and it will have the biggest impact. You can use painter’s tape to paint something like a geometric shape to add a little bit of fun.
In your opinion, what’s the most underrated painting tool for a DIYer?
Definitely an extension pole. It saves you time and energy, and it gives you so much more leverage because you’re not bending down as much to keep loading up your roller. You can also paint a room much faster with an extension pole—if you notice, professional painters rarely paint a room without one.
You’ve accomplished a lot in a short time. What are you proudest of?
At the end of the day, two things stand out. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I created a company that has successfully changed the way people shop in a category that is two hundred years old and is essentially setting a new bar for what paint shopping should be. And I’m proud of the brand that we’ve built. Knowing how frustrating the traditional paint shopping experience can be, I’m happy that we’ve created a delightful journey, from color selection to the packaging. Our customers genuinely love it and tell us we make it so easy, and that’s really gratifying.
For more info, visit clare.com