Mia Belotti is the interior designer and owner of Maison Warehouse, an interior design service and home furnishing shop located in Sterling, VA. Although the shop, as it stands today, has only been open for 4 years, Maison has been around since 1998. Being family owned, Mia grew up in this business. The original company was started by Mia’s stepfather in Great Falls, Va., under the name Maison et Jardan (which, in French, means Home and Garden). Says Mia, “My stepfather is a design genius. He owns and operates Fine Landscapes; a landscape design and build firm.” Maison was originally developed as a way to furnish the gardens that Mia’s stepfather was creating. The business blossomed.
Going through many changes and growing pains over the last 20 years, Maison was once housed in an old nursery they had acquired. They began filling their interior greenhouse space with planters at first, some outdoor furnishings and then antiques and accents from France. Then they really started to grow.
When their lease expired at the Great Falls location they opted to relocate and set up shop in Sterling, VA. The 1600 square feet of showroom space allows Mia to fulfill her professional dreams of offering home furnishings to her customers at warehouse prices of up to 30% off of suggested retail pricing. This discounted price structure was important to Mia. She explains, “If you’re going to drive to a warehouse, you need some kind of incentive. We’re kind of off the beaten path, so we offer really good prices. The goal is to meet or beat the Internet wherever I can.” And, I must add, that although the building is definitely a warehouse, you do not feel as if you are shopping in a warehouse setting. There is a more intimate feeling about the shop and it is beautifully merchandised, in true showroom fashion.
Mia’s underlying belief is that good design should be obtainable. Her feeling is that, at any price point, you should be able to get something that is nice, good looking and affordable. She keeps that idea in mind when buying for the shop. Says Mia, “I always try to be price conscious. Perhaps it’s because our housing is so expensive in Northern Virginia, but my customer is very price conscious.” Having been in the business for a long time, Mia has cultivated a very loyal following. But she adds, “If you’re prices aren’t right, the customers are not going to come back. You’ve got to give them a reason to come back.”
Knowing that her competition is often Amazon and the Wayfairs of the world, Mia doesn’t take for granted the retail climate or the loyalty of her clientele. She explains, “The difference is, on Wayfair, you can see a pretty picture and you can buy items at very cheap prices and that might be very appealing to some people, but there is nobody that is personally editing the quality. In my store, I’m personally editing the quality. I don’t bring it in, if I wouldn’t put it in my own house.”
Mia was exposed to the world of design at a very early age. In addition to her stepfather’s landscape architecture company, her aunt was a designer and an antique dealer who would participate in antique shows at the DC Armory. Mia shares, “My aunt would set up a booth and bring all her things. She used to have a shop called Antiquities in Chevy Chase, MD. I would sit on some Louie the 16th settee, in my poufy Laura Ashley dresses in the 1980’s, and hand out her business cards and say, ‘Please buy from my auntie’. That was my early introduction into décor and design.”
Mia’s always been a really hard worker. She’s been working her whole life, sometimes holding down multiple part time jobs, and even pushed herself to graduate a year early from college. She jokes, “Get a job. Get two jobs if you want to be cool like me. Then finish college early and save your mom a whole semester or two of tuition. She’ll love you. That’s better than a scholarship! (LOL.) That’s the way, if you want to be a real hero….to you’re mom. (Lol.) If you want to be your mom’s favorite kid.” Looking back, Mia wishes that she had taken her time. She imparts, “Time is one of those things that you always feel is in front of you. That you have so much of it, but when you rush through things, you don’t have it any more and that time goes away.”
During high school, Mia worked as an intern under local designer Alice Bush of Great Falls Distinctive Interiors Inc. Mia went on to pursue her Bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University in interior design and merchandising and business and then returned home to help in the family business. There really has never been a life before Maison or design for Mia. She explains, “It’s always kind of been this. I was really thrown into it when I graduated. I really would have appreciated taking a little time to figure myself out because I graduated a year early from college because I was… weird. (Lol) I should have taken my time. I was always in a rush to grow up which now, as a parent, I think is so silly.” Mia had no real desire for a career in retail. Her true love was residential interior design. But she found that there were parts of retail that she really enjoyed. She shares, “I enjoy engaging with people. I enjoy talking to people and hearing what their projects are about. It inspires me. I love that round table discussion about design. I like when creativity feeds off of more creativity. I feel like it just grows. You can really breed creativity in a petri dish and watch it explode. It’s amazing.” Being naturally creative, Mia thrives on those experiences and having Maison allows her the opportunity to get that interaction constantly. And even though Mia has spent nearly her entire life in this business, she still has a lot of energy for her work. It is clearly a passion for her.
The concept of Maison Warehouse, as laid out by Mia, is quite inviting. She says, “I wanted to have a place where people can come to find good design and get it at a great price. They can bring us a picture of what they have and say, ‘This is my room. What do I need?’” It’s through this type of exchange that Mia can make her recommendations. Whether it’s accent wallpaper, a piece art, throw pillows, a lamp, end tables, or all of it, Mia will lay out just the right products and placement to bring your room together. She explains, “Basically Maison Warehouse is like a bar. You walk up, you get some great advice, you can order what we don’t have here, or you can purchase stuff that we do have and you can make your dream room come true. That was the idea behind it all.”
In addition to the retail space, Mia also provides in-home client design consultation and renovation. It’s a natural progression from the “sidle-up-to-the-bar” style of consulting she offers in the shop. Mia shares, “Some people are scared to have me in their house the first time. They’re afraid I’m going to come over and judge their house. I’m like, ‘Listen, I’ve got two little boys at home that leave Legos everywhere. My house is always a mess’.” She and I agree that it’s what I call “The Instagram Trap”. You don’t know what’s behind the camera!
Ironically, Mia’s creative process involves losing herself down the rabbit hole of Instagram for inspiration. She’ll scroll through the feed soaking it all in. She picks up on subtle trends and relies on sparks from her past to develop, what she calls “a feeling”. Once she lands on that “feeling”, that connection of present to past, she begins to put together the space that she’s tasked to build. She shares, “I’ll get onto something that’s in my head. I will look for it until I find it. If I don’t find it, I have to make it, or draw it. I have to see it, and then I have to construct it somehow. Build it and make it come to fruition.”
Mia’s own Instagram account has great examples of her creative process. You will find posted pictures of concept to creation; Mia’s sketches along side of finished rooms. She jokes, “It’s how my weird brain works. When I’m really inspired I start drawing. My drawings are not beautiful, but they are reminiscent enough for me to get a likeness in reality.”
Mia and I discussed what her long-term professional goals were. Now, I’ve interviewed quite a number of people by now and I’m still surprised by answers that I get..and always in a good way. Long-term dream job for Mia? A TV show! As if that answer wasn’t surprising enough, I wrongfully assumed that she would be interested in an HGTV-style show, but no! She explains, “When I was little, the other job I always wanted was to have a talk show. I love talking to people and people tell me all kinds of things. I guess it’s because I don’t really judge. My ultimate goal would be along the lines of Oprah or Martha. Someone with some longevity in their career. Not a one hit wonder. But, I always say, you know what God, don’t give it to me if it’s going to come at the expense of my family.”
But back to HGTV for a moment. The design business is not as glamorous as TV would suggest that it is. When I asked Mia how the reality of her business differs from the dream that she had for it, her answer? “This is the least glamorous job you could ever want. It is more work for less money. If you don’t love it, and you don’t love talking to people, and it doesn’t fulfill you or give you any inspiration, it’s not worth it. Really it’s not; especially the retail side. Retail is hard and fickle. My heart is in the design, but I enjoy the retail experience.” Some of you locals might recognize Maison Warehouse from their collaborations with Chick’s Picks by Hillary. Mia and Maison host the holiday pop-up shop for the popular Chick’s Pick shopping experience. It is through this pop-up that I found Maison. Says Mia, “Those are exciting retail experiences. I love the pop-up. That stuff gives me such a rush. It’s really fun, but it is so hard. I don’t think people realize that when we put on those shows, it’s a lot of work. I am literally physically here, not sun up to sun down, but sun up to sun up again. People don’t think about what it takes to put on a production like that.”
Mia constantly fits work into non-business hours. She’ll do floor plans at home after her kids go to bed, and she’ll take calls and texts from clients at all hours of the day and night. Mia explains that there is a huge differentiation from a client’s perspective of the work being done and the designer’s perspective. She shares, “For me, it’s business. For clients it is not their business. It is not a business transaction, it’s their home, it’s personal. So they’re talking to me on personal time and the worlds collide. If you are not prepared for your professional and personal worlds to collide, if you’re not emotionally prepared, it is not for the faint of heart.” She also reminds that in retail, you must be prepared to give up holidays, birthdays, and weekends. She adds, “I worked 10 years of Sundays before we moved, which is why we’re now closed on Sundays. I’m only open on Sundays for special events because I realized I needed a day with my family. I don’t like to work every single weekend, as much as a lot of clients would wish me here. At some point, I have to put my own kids first.”
Mia would like to encourage everyone to shop small family owned businesses. When you do you are immediately affecting the people in your community. Says Mia, “Loudoun County has been really nice to us. We’ve had a really warm reception since moving here 4 years ago and I appreciate that. I thank our customers for shopping small. It’s what feeds my kids. You’re helping to grow my family. I’m not rich by any means, but I’m happy and I’m growing healthy beautiful boys who are smart and trouble all at the same time. I couldn’t do that without their support. I couldn’t help clients with their living space and indulge in my crazy circus of creativity in my brain if I didn’t have the local support. I love loyal customers. I like when I see people coming back a lot. I like when I recognize my customers and I know them by name and I know that they like it when I know who they are too. It’s nice.”
After years of perfecting her shop and services, Mia is living her passion. She takes the good with the less-than-good of this career choice. Her proudest moment is when she successfully completes a client project and is hired back to work on another space in their home. She works happily for her clients, all with a smile and in heels because as she says, “It’s not glamorous, but ya gotta be in heals or it won’t look glamorous. (LOL.)”
Maison Warehouse is located at: 221558 Stonetree Ct., Sterling, VA 20166