Catching up with Clare McLaughlin, Martha Stewart Jr.
Updated: Jan 8, 2022
I first became acquainted with Clare when Instagram's algorithmic alchemy pushed her page my way. I quickly took note of our mutual alma matter and connections but what captivated me was her supremely classic yet spirited style. Her unabashed manner and seraphic personality left me pouring over her artwork.
Fast forward to the early months of the pandemic when TikTok began its global craze, Clare again popped up once again but this time with a plucky tour of her New York City apartment where she divulged her discontented with trendy apartments and described her style as "27 going on 78." The video subsequently went viral launching Clare's career in an unexpected direction.
Many videos and months later Clare now holds the reins as "Martha Stewart Jr." foraying whimsical designs, spilling top entertaining tips, and sharing her approach to living with her followers. Sanguine and organic, Clare's fresh perspective remains relatable to those who relish preppy sensibilities yet garners the attention of individuals of this realm. She is the true embodiment of a grand millennial.
Clare's cardinal success and growing platform as a tastemaker inspired me to reconnect with her. I had the chance to probe her creative brain and catch up.
Are there any particular childhoods moments that influenced your path into design?
Fewer moments but more so what I grew up around. I grew with a grandmother who owned the retail boutique The Snappy Turtle. She was so talented and was obsessed with interior design. Her home was an explosion of pink and green, layers and layers, MacKenzie Childs, and every pattern you could imagine mashed together in the most glamorous way. She had pink carpeting, beautiful chintz on everything, and every bedroom was wallpapered. The bedroom that I slept in was Ralph Lauren wallpaper with the pink bows which is so iconic and I think growing up around that opened my eyes to the beauty of design.
I think we were up with someone that loves interior design you’re really lucky because you just automatically kind of inherit that obsession for it and I think it is a gift to love interior design like I think it’s really special and people that appreciate it and love it and yeah she taught me how to love it and how to decorate and I just always in a group with her fiddling around the house she’s always moving things around always redoing things I loved it I love being around her so I would say that was a big part of it yeah
How did your Maine upbringing influence your style and sensibility?
I grew up with parents that flip houses. I think we moved eight times growing up and my parents were constantly buying and selling homes. It's not normal to live in eight different homes throughout your childhood, but for me it was normal.
The smell of a new home to me smells like home. When I walk into somewhere with new construction, it's like I'm flooded with memories because that's what my childhood was. Being around that was good for me because I got to see the whole process. I was always surrounded by it. I think when I was three years old, I named my teddy bear after the guy who was heading up construction at one of my parent's projects.
My parents are very much into the Maine style. I grew up with them loving nautical things. My father is an antique collector. My whole life I was around antiques. I was pretty embarrassed by it at the time because our house was just full of antiques. When I was little it was more embarrassing than it was exciting because all my other friends had normal houses with normal stuff inside. I didn't understand his love of antiques. I then went off to college became a history major and I started to appreciate antiques. It changed everything for me and now I love it. And we go antiquing together whenever I'm home. It's a shared interest of ours, which I think is special.
What fictional character do you consistently return to for inspiration?
Natalie, I'm not going to lie when I read this question in my head, I was like, "Clare, come up with a character from a book that's highly educational or iconic because you want to come off as really smart." I have this whole complex now about being an influencer. There's such a negative connotation tied to it. I think people tend to think of influencers as pretty vapid so I've been hyper-aware of that.
I keep thinking about Eloise. I think Eloise is at the top of my mind because my dad was at an auction a couple of weeks ago and found an entire set of Hilary Knight original illustrations. They were unidentified and of course, he saw them and thought, "Oh my God, these are Hilary Knight." No one else recognized them so he got away with them at such a steal. I get to put one of them in my apartment and I'm so excited because I love Eloise. I love Hilary Knight.
I would say the reason that Eloise is huge to me is that she is a rule breaker. She was such a naughty kid, but so entertaining. I remember seeing this girl doing whatever she wanted and she did not care about the rules whatsoever. I think that stuck with me. All through elementary school, I was constantly breaking rules. In middle school, always breaking rules. I was always getting in trouble at school even though I had really good grades. I just never have had a proper understanding of rules and it drives me crazy when people live by the rules.
Hilary Knight, Eloise.
I'm not a lawbreaker, but I'm a rule breaker. I'll go against what might be expected of me. For example, when I graduated from Parsons during the pandemic I was expected to get a job at a design firm in the city. Then I suddenly had one of those clear moments
where I realized I don't have to do what everyone else is doing. And I said, "Okay, I'm just going to become an artist."
I think that people that are successful break the rules and go against what's expected of them. I think that's the only way that you could be successful. Eloise influenced me from childhood on. I always have her as a little guide compass. I love Eloise to death.
You have a background in history, interior design, and art. Now you have become a burgeoning tastemaker and lifestyle expert. Looking back, how do you see the dots connecting that led you to this point?
It's funny reading how other people describe me because "lifestyle expert" is so flattering. Maybe this is imposter syndrome. I just float around my apartment and film myself doing things all day.
When I went to college I majored in history because my parents wouldn't pay for my education if I majored in art. I wrote my capstone paper on the Indian Sepoy Soldiers in World War One, which helped me understand agency. Learning about history and the history of other groups can give you a great sense of empathy and I think I'm a pretty empathetic person. I strive to be empathetic. Learning about history did help me more so in my personal life than anything.
When I was learning about history I'd come home to all my dad's antiques and I started to be more interested in them. I started understanding objects as something with more importance than I used to. That's now why I love old things so much. I love learning about the context of items and where they came from. I just am obsessive over objects.
And then I went to Parsons School of Design to study interior design because I have always loved interiors and I couldn't get a job. I managed to get a full scholarship to Parsons. That was huge for me because I needed a reset. I then graduated thinking I'd work for an interior design firm but I couldn't get a job doing it. And at the time of graduation, I was intimidated by the idea of having clients. I had been working at Plain English Design, which is a high-end kitchen design company. I saw what it was like to work with clients, especially wealthy clients. They can be difficult and that was intimidating for me. I felt like I wasn't ready for that.
So I became an artist. I always have been an artist but I decided to embrace that side of myself. I started painting watercolors for money. I struggled with that for a year. It was a really good learning experience for me of what it feels like to do something you love because looking back even though I probably was struggling financially, I was so happy. I would wake up every day and just be so thrilled to be on this earth. I don't even know how to describe it. That was the first time I felt like that.
Then I started sharing Tiktok videos of my apartment. I had been using Tiktok to share my art but it wasn't going anywhere. I was getting frustrated with it because no one was looking at my art on Tiktok. One day I clean my apartment up and I was like, "Oh, it looks nice in here, I'm going to share it." And then I went viral. I know it might not seem like it at the time, but I can look back at every job I've had like, really feel like I have benefited even though I hated a lot of jobs that I had.
What is your most treasured possession?
My dog. I wish I could say it's an object, but I'd consider my dog possession. I should probably be saying something like an antique chest from my grandmother or a rattan console that I found at auction.
What is your life motto?
I was having a breakdown before I went to graduate school. I came home one night and I was talking to my fiancé, he was my boyfriend then, about how miserable I was at this job. And he was like, "Well, what do you want to do?" And I was like, "I just want to make everything around me pretty." I was crying and he said, "Okay, so do it." And I was like, "What? No, I can't. What are you talking about?" He's like, "No, you need to just figure this out if that's what you want to do. If that's what's gonna make you happy you have to do it." Since that moment that's what I've strived to do.
A decorating trend you will never part-take in?
I don't participate in trends. When it comes to my home it's all just what I gravitate towards. I like what feels timeless and I just avoid trends at all costs. I will say when I'm on Tiktok scrolling through all of these apartments, they're all in the East or West Village, all recently graduated girls and they all have the same apartment. It drives me crazy. It's all white with pops of modernist color, little neon signs, and the Jeffrey Koons dogs. It drives me crazy because they are all just watching each other's TikToks and copying each other.
Thrifted or new?
Thrifted. I could go on and on probably about the benefits of thrifting. It's more sustainable than buying new. It's more affordable than buying new and you're going to get something better quality for the price. Out of the furniture in my apartment, I would say half of it has drifted.
Sometimes you simply can't find what you want thrifting. If I'm looking for a console table, I will start by looking for something antique. If I can't find it, I will resort to new. But things aren't built the way that they used to be. I just got these chairs at an antique store in South Hampton. They are built so well. I think they're 100 years old. They're built so well and I got two of them for I think $700. For two gorgeous chairs that fit perfectly in my space, that is a great deal and you're not going to get that on something new.
How do you reignite your creative energy when it has been lost?
I love this question because everyone loses it at times. I think with social media you're inundated with seeing creative people doing creative things, you kind of forget that it happens to everyone. When I lose my creative energy, which happens probably
once a month, once every two months in a big way.
I just have to go inwards and I have to just focus on myself. I have to work on myself. I'll go on a long walk or I'll take long showers. I find if I take a walk without my phone ideas will start flowing. And if I take a long shower, ideas will start flowing. Um, that's my little trick is a long shower or a long walk without my phone. A good night's sleep and then do it again. Get really into a television show. Go easy on yourself.
What’s next for you?
I am just being open to the flow of the universe right now. I'm just being flexible and going with the flow. I am going with what my followers want to see from me, what they're curious about. I'm going to keep creating great content on Tiktok.
I'm going to heavily lean into more cooking this year. I think people our age are lacking advice on how to be well mannered, how to throw a dinner party. Things that people in previous generations did. And I think our generation wants to do those things, but we don't know-how. There is a place for me to talk about that stuff and have fun with it. That's what I have the most fun doing.
In terms of my business, I have products coming from another country. I can't say what's coming, but it's not my art. It's not anything that you've seen from me before. It's really scary but exciting. I cannot wait. I'm hoping that it will be the next step to having a greater retail presence where I'm selling a bunch of home decor products. That's definitely what I want. I want to have a little empire where I'm creating content and selling products. I'm not sure, but we'll see. I'm keeping it open to what could happen.
Follow Clare McLaughlin on Instagram: @clare_mclaughlin_
Shop Clare's merch HERE.
Follow Clare on TikTok HERE.
Follow Natalie on Instagram: @natalieealdridge
Images: Clare McLaughlin and Artnet