Influential Women in Business award-winner Lara Ellenwood talks to Kootenay Business about work and making an impact
Lara Ellenwood is principal of design and co-owner at Ellenwood Homes in Nelson, B.C. As a registered interior designer, Ellenwood’s skills work perfectly together with husband, Marc Brillon, who is a residential builder and a certified architectural and building engineering technologist. After being nominated by an employee, Ellenwood is now also a West Kootenay winner with the Influential Women in Business awards. Read on to learn from Ellenwood about loving her career and the importance of a balanced life.
Tell me about Ellenwood Homes.
We started the business in 2008, my husband (Marc) and I—he is the home builder. I was working with a very well-known interior designer in Vancouver at the time, but I was on maternity leave and we knew that we were moving to the Kootenays, so I wasn’t planning to go back to my old job. Marc wanted to have his own business, so we just said “let’s do this.” It was about wanting to do something different and to be able to do our own thing as well. Neither of us are super driven entrepreneurs, or anything like that. It was just that we’re good at what we do and we wanted to do it together.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
What I love about my work is that it changes every day. It’s never the same old same old, especially from a design point of view. There’s always a new challenge, whether it’s meeting a client or working with our staff to create solutions or even figuring out how to do the bookkeeping stuff. There are some days where I’m ordering furniture and there are other days where I’m pricing plumbing fixtures and other days I’m drawing a lighting plan and other days I just run from site visit to site visit. It’s never stagnant and there are wonderful people to work with.
Why do you think you were considered for the award?
Maybe I’m going to sound falsely modest, but I just work and do what I can for the community and for the business. But others see us in a different way than we see ourselves, I guess. So I’m doing my thing and yet (the person who nominated me) thinks, “Hey, this is something worthy of recognition.” So it was really really sweet.
Can you tell me about someone that has influenced you in business?
My previous employer, Robert Ledingham, was very well known in the design community and the arts community as a whole in Vancouver. I didn’t really learn anything about business from him, per se, but I learned so much about good design and thinking things through and providing a beautiful product and good service. He was also a very generous mentor.
I would say Amber Hayes, one of the other Influential Women in Business winners, has influenced me as well. I have taken some of her classes at Community Futures and she is excellent. There seems to be no end to her entrepreneurial scope and her knowledge of technology is huge!
I also have a girlfriend from university who’s an uber businesswoman and she’s amazing in that she’s always taking courses and improving herself and finding ways to do better at her business. They didn’t teach us about business in design school, but she is a natural! There’s always room for improvement and we can learn from others and their experience.
And finally, I’d say that around Nelson a huge influence on me has been my Rotary colleagues. They’re just amazing people. It’s incredible the way they give to their community and they’re so lovely to be around. The way they interact with each other and support others is really inspiring.
What advice would you have for a woman who is working towards becoming a business owner?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can’t do it all yourself—it’s good to have support. A great part of being self-employed for me is that we have a young child and I need some flexibility. So, get the support, go ahead and create whatever it is that you want for your life and have a wonderful time, because it’s very rewarding.
What are you looking forward to with Ellenwood Homes?
I am looking forward to building our team and possibly not doing quite as many late nights (laughs). I don’t believe in growth for growth's sake. The business will come when you do a good job and you give a great service and people talk about it and your circle of connections grows. But I don’t want to have so much work that I can’t keep ahead of it and I can’t continue to do a good job. We want to do an amazing job with what work we have and have a balanced life, because the whole point of moving here was so we could have a simpler life with lots of family time.
I was totally taken by surprise (when I won an Influential Women in Business award) and I just want to express what an honour it was. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by so many women who have just gone out and taken a chance and are doing so well. I’m also so thankful for the support that I get from the team here, and for the knowledge and stability that Marc brings to our company.