Meet Victoria Smith, the Legendary Blogger, Designer, and Curator Behind SF Girl By Bay
That’s right, I’m calling today’s creative crush a legend. A blogging legend! She needs no introduction, but for the sake of being thorough here’s a quick rundown on why we’ve been crushing hard on Victoria Smith, the voice behind SF Girl By Bay, for over a decade. Starting her blog in 2006, Smith has made a name for herself as a visionary curator, interior designer, relatable writer, and master of unusual color combinations. Her particular eye for found beauty, be it the facade of a San Francisco Victorian or a dusty velvet settee, is what makes her curation really stand out.
Anjelika Temple here, Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Brit + Co, and sheepish owner of a 2008 Blogspot-turned-Tumblr blog that hasn’t been updated since 2011 ;) In this edition of Creative Crushin’, read on for Smith’s story of how she found her voice, what advice she has for creative folks just starting out, and her latest design collab with The Inside.
Brit + Co: First off, tell us a little more about your background. Where did you grow up? Please feel free to include more deets on your "circus background" ;)
Victoria Smith: I grew up in Woodland Hills with my mom and dad, and my younger brother Tod, in the suburbs of Los Angeles — a ‘Valley Girl’, for sure, for sure. My mom was an interior designer, so I presume I got those genes from her and would decorate and redecorate my room all the time. I used to fake sick to stay home from school and redecorate my room, much to my mum’s chagrin.
It’s true about the circus family. My great grandparents owned the Downie Brothers Circus in the 1930’s and though I never knew them, it was pretty hilarious to find out I come from circus blood. It was pretty well-known at the time, and I have a photograph that Walker Evans took of a barn with ads for the circus covering it. I found it online and ordered it from the Library of Congress. So I could be in a tutu riding horseback right now, but they sold the circus way back when.
B+C: Before you were able to go all in on SF Girl by Bay and your own variety of projects, what did your career path look like?
VS: I was a successful art buyer and ran the creative studio department at an advertising agency for many years, working with clients like Condé Nast, Levi’s, and Apple. Prior to advertising, though I started out by getting my Advanced Arts degree in Interior Design and I had worked decorating model homes for a while and then worked in sales at a designer furniture showroom in Los Angeles, but didn't do well at the sales aspect of it at all. I'm a horrible sales person. So then I was invited by a friend to work in advertising for her creative director husband. I thought that would be glamorous and it was anything but at first. I started as a receptionist, and moved my way up to art buyer, running the creative department.
B+C: What motivated you to start your blog? Tell me the origin story.
VS: I didn't really decide to start SF Girl by Bay — it kind of chose me. I started the blog in June 2006, as just a hobby at first — it was never meant to be my 'day job'. As I mentioned above I was in advertising for 20 years, and I left that steady, reliable position to head into this thing called a 'blog' that had to succeed all on my own. I did both for two years though, before I ultimately quit my job in 2008. I’d started the blog as a way to show Apartment Therapy a look at my home because a friend had suggested I should be featured on their home tours. They ended up liking my home and featured it, and then invited me to guest post for them, which helped grow my own audience. It just kind of took off from there, I think because I just really love doing it.
B+C: What led you to go out on your own? When did you realize your side hustle could be your main hustle?
VS: As I mentioned, I didn't really decide or make a business plan. It happened quite organically. My whole life has been that way, though. I've changed careers many times, and mostly by happy accident. I've pretty much followed my instincts all along my career path. And now, it's all circled back around into design again, but writing and curating about design on the blog rather than actually working as an interior designer I find much more fulfilling and satisfying creatively. I’m a pretty independent person, so I think I’m motivated enough to work for myself and be disciplined about it. I did save quite a bit before I quit my full time job — so that helped me feel a bit more secure about leaving advertising. I made a considerable savings from the Keep Calm and Carry On posters I used to sell in my Etsy shop and I put all of those earnings into my savings account before I quit my job in 2008 to blog full time.
All of this is sounding like I fly by the seat of my pants and I suppose I do, so perhaps it's not the best business advice! But it's all the advice I really feel qualified to share. However, I think all of those experiences help me day to day on the blog. Having an eye for art buying helped me identify great imagery, and my interior design background hopefully helps me edit and share good design with the readers.
B+C: What inspires you to create, curate, and share your unique point of view with the world?
VS: I think for me, blogging just encompasses everything I love: writing, photography and interior design, so I found my niche, so to speak. And I think readers like and respect authenticity, so I knew I wanted to find a creative way to share my point of view on the blog and remain as unique and genuine as possible.
I sometimes have a quirky view of the world, and of design and I didn't want to be afraid to share that. I think that authenticity will always be my driving force.
And I also think it's possible for anyone who's willing to work hard (it's a full time job for sure!) on their blog to succeed. I think you need to have a very clear vision of who your audience is, and share what you're most passionate about, and perhaps most importantly speak from your heart and in your own voice.
B+C: How do you feel about being referred to as an OG blogger? How do you think the landscape of blogging + social media has changed over the last decade?
VS: I’m mostly proud of it but it does make me laugh. The first time I was introduced as an OG blogger I thought they meant ‘Old Girl’ because I’m like the oldest blogger out there! Blogging has changed a lot, but I’m happy to see a lot of the OG still out there. I think Grace from Design*Sponge is one of the first to hang up their hat this coming August and do something new. I have no clue where blogging is headed with other platforms like Instagram so popular, so I just keep doing what I love and wait to see what happens next. What I don’t really care for are people who simply want to make a lot of money or be famous. Yes, it’s nice to be able to make a living at what you do, but I think it’s also more gratifying to do it because you love it or are passionate about your subject matter whether it be design or fashion etc. I think the more you love something, the better you will do at it.
B+C: I know firsthand that you’ve been a major ‘pinfluencer’ from the start. How is your approach to Pinterest different from Instagram, your blog, etc? What advice do you have for upstarts who are overwhelmed by all of the different channels for sharing / creating / curating?
VS: I loved Pinterest straight away when founder Ben Silbermann told me about it. I could see what a unique tool it was, a great device for sharing, and for me, an insanely helpful blogging tool. I use it to pin things I want to share later on the blog, and I design or curate "rooms" or pinboards for myself from pieces that inspire me and that I might like to try down the road. It's the perfect tool for me, because I could never remember my traditional bookmarks, and this is a visual bookmarking tool, so it's all right there in front of me and it links back to the original site where I discovered it. I love sharing inspiration I find with followers on Pinterest, too. And, it’s the number one source of traffic to my blog.
Instagram is different, although I still think about it as a curation of sorts, but I think I use Instagram more to share, where Pinterest right now for me is a tool for blogging. I’ve always loved photography and was big into Flickr when it first came out, so I love sharing photography. I really, really hate the algorithm and feel like it’s messed up Instagram terribly. I don’t know why they don’t grasp that. It’s really hard to grow a following now, and that’s disappointing for people trying to grow a business or a popular feed.
So lately, I’m just posting whatever I personally like without giving it too much thought, or I think it could drive you insane, hoping for ‘likes’ and comments. You just have to do ‘you’. And as far as advice, I’d just say really try not to take it to heart — it’s not real life, and it’s not healthy to fixate on it. I think focus on the social media tool that you’re most good at and enjoy - if you’re great with words, maybe Twitter is fun for you, and if you love taking pictures and posting them have fun on Instagram.
B+C: If you’re starting something from scratch, where do you go for inspiration? Tell us more about your ideation / creative process.
VS: That’s really hard to describe because I truly find inspiration everywhere — from books, movies, magazines, museums (the big three M’s - ha!). Even from long walks.
Beauty is really everywhere and I like to keep my eyes open to possibilities.
B+C: When you’re not curating, designing, or writing, how do you spend your time? What’s your favorite way to veg out?
VS: I read a lot. I hadn’t read much for a while — I’d taken a break for some reason and now I read all the time. It’s the perfect escape. And I read floating in my cowboy pool when it’s hot on the weekends, which is super relaxing. I also love to go the flea market and farmer’s markets on the weekends and then cook a big meal with friends. And I love binge-watching shows like lately, Killing Eve, Dead to Me and Restored by the Fords — Leanne Ford’s amazing home makeover show. I also listen to podcasts like Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series with Eckhart Tolle — it’s been kind of life changing.
Favorite Quote: "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." - Dorothy Parker
Go-to Karaoke Song: "Sugar" by Maroon Five (I know, it’s so embarrassing)
Late Night Snack: RXBars in Chocolate Sea Salt
Currently Reading: Euphoria by Lily King
B+C: What advice do you have for creative women just starting out? What do you wish someone told you back when you started SF Girl By Bay?
VS: This is more of a heartfelt lesson than anything else, but I would say it's to be as unique and as individual as you are. Don't copy others, find your own voice and share what you love. When people see something unique and genuine and a voice that resonates with them, they will follow. Just create something that's all yours. I also share a lot of my own home and while that can be a little disconcerting at times, I think the readers really like stepping inside my personal world - so don't be afraid to share that side of yourself.
Also, save your money before your jump in head first. I had savings to lean on in case the blog failed or didn't earn me a living. And, I knew I could always go back to my career in advertising if I had to. It's good to have a fall back plan if for no other reason then it helps you to feel just that much more fearless. And having a savings to count on may help you feel less tempted to take on a sponsorship or projects that really aren't right for you. It helps you hold out for those opportunities that fit you and the brand you've worked hard to build.
B+C: I know that sometimes being a content creator can feel like an island. What does your support system look like?
VS: I wear all the hats. I do have an amazing editorial assistant, Kristen Waltman who helps with all the email we get and the business side of sponsorships and occasionally I have a few guest contributors that help me get a break but I’ve let many go because I find my voice works best for the blog and I’d rather blog less and have more quality than quantity. But I write, style, and photograph about 80% of our blog posts and all of our Instagram and other social content. And I handle all the accounting, travel, meetings, etc. including running Super Marché, my online vintage shop. For the shop I travel to France (which is not a hardship!), shop the flea markets, and then style and photograph and upload to the shop.
I have mentors like Bri Emery from DesignLoveFest — she’s my go-to advice gal and a really good friend. If I need advice I trust Bri to advise me, even though she’s much younger than me, she’s super smart. I also have an amazing web designer Suzanne Shade who designed my site and my shop and ALSO, web developers who executed the site. And tons of creative friends who I seek advice from and collaborate with when it fits.
B+C: You recently launched a home decor collab with The Inside. Tell me more about how that project started, and the inspiration behind the pieces you created.
VS: I've always dreamed of creating a unique home furnishings collection, so when Christiane Lemieux invited me to partner with her company The Inside I was intrigued and excited by the opportunity to work together. I was hoping for a bohemian vibe but with a modern, fresh twist, pairing colors like indigo blue, pale pinks and mustard yellow with the intention that they’d look great paired together, building interest through layering the various pieces from the collection. And for the prints and patterns I was inspired by French ticking stripes, Japanese katazome stencils and even a touch of Moroccan textiles.
The Inside designed the furniture itself, so they’ve relied on a lot of experience in the furniture industry to know what functions best for people. As for my involvement, I tried to create upholstery textiles that are stylish and on trend, but very livable, and blend well with a lot of different aesthetics. It’s almost a global collection in that it’s got a fusion of French, Moroccan, Japanese and American design influences.
B+C: How do you decide what to pursue and what to say no to? What advice can you give to folks who are navigating yeses + nos with regard to their personal brand?
VS: I think it’s important to be honest with yourself and to only take on brands that fit well for your audience and for yourself. I know it’s hard to pass up income, but if it doesn’t ring true to you, it won’t for your audience, either.
I heard this Zig Ziglar quote recently that really resonated with me from Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day!: “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now.” I think that's really powerful advice because it's so easy to fall into a trap these days of accepting everything that's offered to bloggers. Sponsorships and freebies may seem really tempting, but they're not always in your best interest. Follow your gut instincts - you'll know in your heart if something doesn't feel morally right to you and you should pass on those kinds of offers. A free pair of shoes has a price tag and it's an expensive one — it's called your credibility. It's more than fine to have sponsors — that's why it's called a business, but be transparent about it. Be honest with yourself and your readers.
B+C: What’s new and coming soon that we should all check out?
VS: I am working hard to grow my Super Marché vintage collection and head back to France in July to shop for more inventory, which is always a blast and so rewarding. I love vintage and this has been a dream for me to create and grow.
I also have an upcoming project as a strategic advisor for a large company but I can’t speak more about that right now, except to say I’m really excited about what might come of that.