A Duo of Design Doyennes

Annette English and Andrea Popkins Partnership is Design Synergy.

By Kelly Phillips Badal

Annette English + Associates’ bold interiors have graced the homes of L.A.’s film and movie stars, CEOs and more over the Australian-born founder’s 20+ years in business. Like many designers, through the years of running her bustling practice she’s been involved with several partnerships. But her latest is an inside job: After years of working with designer Andrea Popkin, Annette elevated their business relationship to a partnership—and is quick to declare that “she’s the best partner I’ve ever had.” Their story makes a great case for hiring from within, and is a sweet tale of shared taste, trust and mutual admiration. We asked Annette and Andrea, together, to tell us even more.

Snyder Diamond: You two had a working relationship that evolved into a partnership. What sparked the change?

Annette English: It started organically. When Andrea first started working with me, coming from the hospitality world, we were very busy—and I was just amazed by her work ethic. I realized that not only is she a really hard worker, she’s creative and technical and as passionate about our projects as I am. And she had a wonderful rapport with our vendors and our clients. So about five years into our relationship, I started thinking, ‘hmm, I don’t want to lose this girl. What if someone else snaps her up?’ I found her so valuable as an interior designer and as a person too, someone I really connect with. We have the same aesthetic--and that’s priceless.

I went about thinking, ‘how can I keep her?’ So I determined to give her a portion of my company. I thought she deserved it. And it’s been great, she’s stepped up even more. I feel blessed every single day to come to work with her. 

Andrea Popkin: When Annette asked me about a partnership, it was a great surprise. It wasn’t on my list of goals, it’s not even something I thought I was capable of, but you land where you’re supposed to be. I came into residential design feeling like, ‘I’ll try it out, but then I’ll probably eventually go back to hospitality.’ It was kind of a spontaneous decision on my part. I used to think it was random that I joined Annette’s team, but the great things in life are not random. When you put yourself into the unknown, into uncomfortable situations, things that you might never imagine can happen.

 One of the things we share is that we have the same eye. And thats rare to find.” - Annette English

Snyder Diamond: How do you compliment each other as partners?

Annette: I’m naturally outgoing, so I tend to be more of the networker and the rainmaker, which is important for the business. Andrea is really organized and she’s great at bringing systems to the company. She’s more technical than I am, so she runs projects and there’s some things I’ve evolved past that she’s taken on—and I mentor her, too. 

We both have shared values as individuals and as women and that’s the foundation of our partnership. Andrea is someone I trust implicitly. If I had to like leave the country for three months, I’d have no qualms about her taking care of everything and anything, because one of the things we share is that we have the same eye. 99% of the things I would pick, she would pick. And that’s really rare to find. 

We’re also both farmers’ daughters, we both love to sing, we’re the only ones in the office who want healthy snacks, we both love black licorice—there’s just so many little things, even weird things, about who we are and our upbringing that we share. And she’s from Kansas and I’m from Perth, Australia, and we’re about 20 years apart in age. But there’s so many similarities between us that it’s become really quite sweet.

Andrea: Because we’re at different points in our lives and careers, we’re both still learning in different ways—and we bounce ideas off of each other. Whether she’s mentoring me on the business side of things, or I’m bringing new ideas to the table, ours is a good balance that’s always evolving. That’s ultimately what the partnership is about too: We want to see this company flourish for a very long time, not even necessarily under our names, but just keep going. Our age gap balances it in that way too.

We symbiotically evolved her role, my role. We didn't really have to talk about it. It just emerged, blossomed, and continues to flourish..” -- Annette English

Snyder Diamond: Have your roles changed significantly since the partnership began?

Annette: I tend to be very involved in the beginning of a project, and then when it goes into purchasing, Andrea and the rest of the team take over—and we have several projects finishing. But we also have two bigger projects that started, with a lot of concept development and creativity, so it’s an exciting time. 

Andrea: We’re very yin and yang. I love the middle part right now, like seeing all the development on site, handling the nitty gritty details, diving into and seeing everything through during the construction, all the site meetings, the details…I’m still learning a lot in that domain. I’m not one to want to be in the limelight all the time, I want to be the quiet force in the background.

Annette: We symbiotically evolved her role, my role. We didn't really have to talk about it. It just emerged, blossomed, and continues to flourish.

Andrea: We’re also a small office, so we all work together and jump in when needed. 

Snyder Diamond: Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your business or work greatly this year?

Annette: Touch wood, we were fortunate enough that we had a lot of big projects already a year in, three years in, that were continuing—as most of the work we do is ground-up construction. Only one went on hold; we’re quite busy with 10 others right now. I perceive the future, given COVID, with a lot more home remodels going on. People are staying home. Maybe they’ll have more discretionary income because they're not traveling, or just don’t feel like splurging on a Louis Vuitton bag in times like these. I think in the past we’ve sometimes gotten swallowed up by consumerism, or by superfluous things that don’t really matter. But what we really care about as individuals, when we come back to ourselves, is family, home, love, health and happiness. We’re grateful to be where we’re at as a firm, and to have the clients we do. As long as we can keep creating beauty in the world and having a joyful experience as creatives, we’ll be just fine. 

Follow Annette English + Associates on Instagram at aea_interiors

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