Inspiring Women: Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess

In our new Inspiring Women blog series, we're shining a light on women who've built businesses and brands that we love. From beauty moguls and boss babes to publishing powerhouses and truly inspiring influencers, we asked these women to share their stories, advice, must-haves, and secrets for crushing it at work, life, and motherhood. 

Fawn Design Inspiring Women Blog Series: Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess

We first fell in love with Elsie Larson—one half of the sister duo behind A Beautiful Mess—through her colorful, whimsical world of decor, DIY, food, style, and more. Then Elsie and her sister, Emma, launched A Color Story, a photo editing app, and our girl crush went through the roof. Not only is Elsie an inspiration when it comes to running a handful of creative business, but she's also an inspiration when it comes to motherhood: Elsie and her husband adopted their daughter, Nova, from China, and they will be adopting a second daughter this summer. We couldn't wait to chat with Elsie about all things business, motherhood, womanhood, and more! Read our conversation below, and be sure to follow Elsie on Instagram for even more from this Nashville-based beauty. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your story—what inspired you to start blogging and create A Beautiful Mess? 

I started ABM about 12 years ago—just for fun! I have always loved sharing my life online, and a few years into it I also discovered the business potential and sort of "fell" into a career in blogging. My sister and I owned a vintage store in our early twenties—it didn't really make any money, and customers were few and far between. We ended up using all that time making blog posts together and quickly discovered it could make more money than owning a store. We still love blogging all these years later! Six years ago we created our first app and it changed our lives forever. We currently own three apps: A Color Story (photo app), A Design Kit (graphic design and brushes app) and Filmm (a video filter and effects app). 

What steps did you take to start your business and launch your brand? 

We took calculated risks. We've started a lot of businesses and projects that failed though the years, as well. Business is risk. We build on what is working and let go of what isn't.

What's one thing you've gotten right and one thing you've gotten wrong along the way?

Working with my sister, Emma, as a business partner is the best business decision of my life. It's definitely tough working with family (Emma's husband is also the CEO of our app company). We have had some bad fights over the years, but we also have really close, healthy relationships. Open communication is key! We've made so many mistakes along the way, I try not to start businesses just because something is a passion in my life. I've eventually learned that sometimes it's best to keep some parts of my life "just for fun."

What does an "average" work day look like for you?

I batch work, so whatever I do I do it all day. Some days I shoot blog content, some days I design for the apps, some days I write posts, some days I work on our renovation projects (our blog does a lot of home renovation and decor content) and some days I cram in a bunch of meetings with our teams!  

How do you find balance between mom life and work life? Do you believe there is such a thing? 

I definitely believe in a healthy work/family balance. What works for me is work hard when my daughter is in school (five days a week) and then totally log off, leave my phone, etc., when I'm spending time with her at night and on the weekends. Whether I am working or being a mom, I give it 100%. I absolutely believe it's possible to thrive in your career AND be a great mom.

You adopted a darling daughter, Nova, and are in the process of adopting a second daughter. Could you tell us about your decision to adopt and share some of the details of your adoption journey?  

Yes! My husband and I followed a special needs adoption story early in our marriage and we fell in love with this little girl and eventually realized it was something we'd be open to and excited to pursue. Both our daughters are from China and have Albinism, which is a genetic condition that reduces the amount of pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes. This causes low vision. We didn't set out to adopt children with Albinism, but after we were matched with our daughter, Nova, we decided it could benefit her and her sister to share the same medical condition. We feel like the luckiest family in the world! Nova is a gift and every day is magical with her in our lives. We're excited to travel as a family this summer to adopt her little sister, who we plan to call Marigold June. For our full adoption journey, you can read more here.  
Fawn Design Inspiring Women Blog Series: Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess

What advice or encouragement would you offer other parents considering adoption? 

Don't let fear make your decisions. I believe so many people miss out on adoption because fear gets in the way.  

On the weekends or when you have a free day, how do you like to spend your time? 

We have a pretty special weekend routine. We do a lot of the same things over and over. We go to the library, paint, have picnics, and we have a few special restaurants here in Nashville that make Nova feel like a guest of honor. When I was a child, my family stayed home a lot and I believe it gave me a more creative childhood and helped me to learn to invent my own fun. For that reason, it's important to me to stay home often and not be too busy in our routines. I want to leave space for those random little activities—like my daughter wanting to run through her rainbow scarf over and over in our hallway for 30 straight minutes. That's the magic.  

Where was the last place you traveled and what destination is on your travel wish-list? 

We recently traveled to Palm Springs, one of our favorite cities. I'd like to take a family trip to India and Japan while our kids are still young.

What's one fashion item or accessory you're currently coveting?

While more than 50% of my life is currently spent in yoga pants, I still love dressing up. I wouldn't say no to a rattan Gucci bag.

What are your favorite shops in Nashville? 

My favorite boutiques are Apple + Oak, Arcade, and Lemon Laine

What's one of your beauty or skin care must-haves? 

I am obsessed with clean beauty and my must-have brands are Leahlani for skincare and ILIA for makeup. My most used product is probably the Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask—can't get enough! 

What food, meal, or restaurant are you always craving? 

Japanese food and Jeni's Ice Cream. In Nashville, we love to eat at Green Pheasant, The Mockingbird, Five Points Pizza, and City House

What song or album are you currently listening to on repeat? 

We're doing a new band/artist every week with Nova as our New Year's resolution. It's been SO much fun. This week we're listening to The Beach Boys. 
Fawn Design Inspiring Women Blog Series: Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess

What book, podcast, or TV series are you currently loving? 

For a podcast, I listen to Young House Love Has A Podcast pretty religiously. It puts me in a good mood. For TV, I'm currently excited for the new season of "The Bachelorette" and "The Handmaid's Tale"—an odd mix. For a book, I'm reading, I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Remit Sethi. It's very good; I'm learning a lot.  

What's one item that you always carry in your bag and never leave home without? 

Water wipes and extra sunglasses for Nova. 

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your teenage self? 

First and foremost: Stop plucking your eyebrows. LOL (not joking though). 

I wish I could go back and really teach myself confidence. I was painfully shy growing up, and only recently felt released from some of my biggest fears like public speaking or feeling comfortable going places alone. I had a lot of hang ups that were unnecessary, but at least I got past them eventually. 

I wish I could also go back and teach myself to be more open minded. I was raised with good values in a lot of ways, but I wasn't taught to genuinely respect other cultures and choices. I was in a bubble. So now I'm constantly trying to teach my daughter that the world is much bigger than how we live and what we personally believe in. I want her to always know that there's not one right way to live and I want her to learn to be curious about and interested in other people. 

Who is a woman that inspires you and why? 

My mom—she taught me to love art, to make art every day, and to let go of the ideal of perfection. I can't really think of a better influence than that, and I strive to be like her for my daughter. 

What words of wisdom would you offer other female entrepreneurs? 

Don't compare yourself to people who have been doing it longer. I know sometimes people look at us and see an overnight success, but that's not how it played out at all. Almost every successful person I know was working so hard for ten years before they "made it." Comparison can really hold you back. It's so much better to celebrate each milestone—even the small ones! 

Photos: Courtesy of Elsie Larson