Episode 151 My Friend Eric Egan

December 18, 2023

Good morning from Buenos Aires. This is a city I’ve wanted to visit for so many years. So, when I found myself in Uruguay, which you may or may not know is literally just across the river, I decided to change my return ticket so I could come and spend a few days here.

Before I left Punta del Este, I thought, what better thing can I do on my last day in Uruguay than interview my dear friend and host, Eric Egan. He’s a good friend of mine, and someone I quote often. Anyway, if you know anything about me, you know that I’ve interviewed thousands of people about their professional life. At this stage in my life, what I find most interesting is people’s stories. What makes them tick? What interests them? Who are they beyond their professional persona? What are their values? What do they value? That’s what interests me.  I really hope these snippets of our conversation give you a glimpse into our friendship into the life of a very interesting international person, and some insight into what makes Eric tick beyond his professional accomplishments. While Eric does reference his professional life, if you really want to get a good idea about it look no further than the New York Times where he was featured in a ful- page article in the design section of the Sunday issue, September 4th, 2022.It’s a great article.

Before I share the conversation, let me give you some context. Eric grew up in Lake Forest in Illinois. His father is a psychiatrist, and he comes from a history of medical professionals on that side of his family. I believe his mother was obsessed with houses and they moved 13 times and, as Eric says, he started pushing furniture around from a very young age.

Another interesting factoid about Eric is in his early teens, I think he went to Mexico or Chile, I’m not sure where. I think that experience informed his life, his interest in languages, his interest in music, and his vision of himself of being the international person that he is today

Eric went to Brown University, where he double majored in architectural studies or the history of architecture and international economics. After university, he went to Italy to study architecture, but soon realized that he was really not interested in architecture and he went back to the United States to study interior design at Parsons. He started learning his trade in New York City and wrapped it up in Chicago before then moving back to Italy where he started all over at age 32.

In fact, that’s something very interesting about Eric. He’s told me many times that his mother used to say to him if you hadn’t dilly dallied around and gone straight to work for Mark Hampton, you would be further along in your career. I think this is a theme in Eric’s life. Not only did he start all over in his early thirties in Italy, he got his MBA in his forties and he married just this past summer, well into his fifties.

One of the things I find very interesting about him is yes, he is very accomplished professionally and he has a plethora of interests outside of his immediate profession. I would say, for example, as an international person, he is certainly in the top 1 percent of the world. He owns homes on three continents, he speaks fluent Spanish and Italian, and he has friends and work that take him all over the world.

The last thing I’ll say before we move on to the conversation is this. Eric is one of the most creative, passionate, resourceful, and generous people that I know. He is full of anomalies, and he is someone who never ceases to surprise me. I so value our friendship. So without further ado, my conversation with my dear friend, Eric James Egan.

Good morning from Punta del Est. I’m here with my friend Eric Egan and because I reference him quite frequently, I figured what better way to end my visit here than sharing him with you a little bit. So, welcome Eric.

Eric Hello there.

Constance: You know, it’s funny because I do reference you a lot and a lot of it has to do with wisdom and I think that’s an interesting place to start. Talk to me a little bit about your little wisdom books. Tell people what your wisdom books are and why you do that.

Eric: Well, you know, all of us, I think when we read something, we always see something you’d say, Oh, that’s a really great quote. I have to remember that, and then you never remember it. You turn the corner of the book or whatever, and so many years ago I started this. I would just make a simple word document and I write them down.  I will either screenshot –  now with the phones I screenshot the quote – but then I transcribe them it into a word document Then on the 24th of December of each year,  right before Christmas, I take it to the printer and have it printed out in spiral bound notebook. I also insert all the great pictures I found during the year,  so there’s both visual images and, phrases to go through.

Constance: So when did you start doing this and what have you found is the benefit of having these wisdom books, as you call them?

Eric: Well, started doing it just so I could remember things that I’d read that made sense to me or touched a point. At the beginning, when I first started to do it, I tried to organize them into topics, like books of quotations would be done.

Now, A that was a lot of work but B, I found rereading it was dull. So, now I just do them as they come I write them down. What I notice in going back is that I’ll go back to an old book, say from 2012, and it’s interesting to see the things that were important to me then, important enough that I wanted to write down something about them, but also the number of things that now become a part of my daily practice. A lot of the things have become so internalized because I would then take these books with me and reread them on the planes. So I’m always reinforcing those ideas and there are a lot of my sort of practice – and some people call them life hacks – my guides to how to live is based on these things. It’s not a quotes machine. I don’t say Ben Franklin said XX.  I just want the knowledge. I’m not interested in becoming something to spout off quotes at a party. They’re things to live by.

Constance: basically, what you’re saying is that you’re capturing things that call your attention or you feel like you have something to learn from. Can you give me just one example of maybe something that you capture?

Eric: Well, it might be that things like use downtime to get ready for uptime. I don’t know where I got it from, don’t know when I got it from, and I might have made it up myself. But the point is we all have quiet moments and the quiet moments are when you get ready for the busy moments So you don’t say oh, I don’t have a lot of work this week, so I’ll take a nap. No This is the time to get your passport renewed, to get your taxes ready, and generally to get all that stuff that you never want to do. Get it out of the way so that when somebody does call and we’ve got a job, we have to start immediately We’re ready to go. You don’t say, I need business cards tomorrow. You get the business cards done today so that when tomorrow comes you have them.

Constance: I refer to that as productive procrastination, but you’re saying a little bit more. I know that recently you found yourself in a moment where you’re like, Hmm, don’t know what’s next, and you reframe that for yourself.  In fact what you’re saying, if I’m understanding correctly, is when you have a moment or a lull, rather than letting your guard down you ask yourself how you reframe that. Or ask yourself, what can I do to make good use of my time?

Eric: it’s not even that high of a thing. It’s a things like I’m considering buying a house in Uruguay that will require moving a lot of dollars from either America or Europe to Uruguay. Bank fees can get very high. There are companies that do it at a wholesale rate, but you have to have an account open So you have to do the research of who are the companies Set them up.They want your tax records. They want all this stuff. You have to send in all sorts of documentation. The time to get that account set up is not when you found the house and you have to make the payment in 24 hours. The time to get that is set up now, and even that requires a hundred bucks to get this up, it’s all good to go so that then when you find the house boom, you move. That’s using downtime to get ready for uptime.

Constance: one of the things that I find very interesting about you is that you know a lot and this is not a commentary about your intelligence, but you go narrow and deep in so many different areas. I find that very interesting. Before we go on –  to give some context – what is your main profession right now?

Eric: We design houses and hotels. We do five-star hotels for major multinational brands like Park Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, and Belmond. Then we do very high end residential properties. It’s always good not to be all into one typology of clientele. Having two areas of expertise helps because they are counter cyclical. So when we have a lot of hotel works, for some reason we tend to not have so much residential work. And then when it changes, if the hotels fall off as they did during COVID, the private work saved us. The good thing also is that the the five star hotels are looking to appeal to the same clients that we designed the houses for. And those clients that we designed the houses for travel and stay in hotels all over the world and they’re always saying to us can we please have this that we saw in such and such a hotel. So that’s actually the same market from both sides. Their residential and their commercial,  so they’re complimentary in that sense.

Constance: It’s interesting that you’re talking about how the high end residential and hotel play well together and inform each other in in many senses. Talk to me about some of your many other interests. I feel like a lot of the things that you’ve been naturally drawn to, be at cars or travel or languages, have actually really fed your business and, distinguish you or are a point of differentiation in your work as a decorator. Can you speak to that a little bit

Eric: Karl Lagergeld said, I want to know everything about everything, but I am not an intellectual and I do not like their company. I think that a little bit sums me up. I just have an obsessive interest in acquiring knowledge. I’m always trying to acquire knowledge and I’m always trying to catalog what I’ve acquired. I think, again, a lot of people study a lot of things. I have an image inventory of over 75, 000 images of things I’ve collected, and they’re all filed. I’m always filing my images and I know how to get my hands on them and that is really, really helpful to me.

Constance:  Can you say more about that? so give me an example of like images.

Eric: W are doing a kitchen now for a house in Hong Kong. The house’s overall style is 1940s French interiors. What would a 1940s French interior look like in a kitchen? Back in that day, that would’ve been  a staff kitchen, but this now an open kitchen that’s open to other rooms. I remembered that I had seen an interesting table at Tefaf in Maastrict in 2012. Tefaf is the European Fine Arts Fair. It’s where all the big museums go to get their things and they have a small, furniture section. I’d seen this one piece that was very interesting and I knew it was at Tefaf, and I was pretty sure it was 2012. So I have images, shopping, Tefaf by the years we’ve been to the fair, and within two minutes I was able to put my hands on six pictures of that piece of furniture, which we’d never bought. And now we’ve taking the detailing on that and making that the base for the details of the cabinets. A lot of people remember they saw something but they don’t remember where, they don’t remember how to get to it. I can, and that’s a big thing. Now with the internet, things have become much, much, much easier because of keywords. You can Google immersive searches, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so a lot of my things predate internet. That’s a big help.

Constance: I’m trying to reframe what I was thinking earlier about some of your other interests and how they feed your decorating business. For example, you have deep knowledge and interest in music, in watches, in travel,

Eric: We’re doing a hotel right now in Athens and the hotel was built in 1975 in the internationalist style. We’re trying to think how to do interiors to make them feel fresh and up to date. One of my favorite things are vintage cars, specifically vintage Mercedes and vintage Mercedes. In the 70s had these really wild colors and I have found on eBay all of the dealer paint charts for all the 70s Mercedes, so that’s informing the color of the lacquer. The Boise in the room is based off of these wonderful Mercedes colors when the cars were not all silver, white, black or gray. They had things like cactus green, fire mist red, you know, there’s wonderful, wonderful colors. Mercedes and Cadillacs had the best colors back then. They weren’t afraid of color. So we try use that to inform what we’re doing in the interiors. Another thing. I think Hermès are the greatest colorists in fashion and so when we’re doing a house, I’m always on the lookout for vintage Hermes scarves which, you know, are a little bit dated in terms of fashion, but the colors are good. When you go through the vintage ones, you find a good one that can be the whole scheme for a whole project so you have that scarfish or control color palette, and so everything you choose refers back to that.

Constance: So interesting. I always call Eric one of my kookiest friends because he really does have this vast amount of apparently random knowledge that, if you know him well, you know is not so random. And when you look beneath the hood, you can see the cataloging, the ability to reference, the cultural references, not only in decorating, but in humor et cetera. So he’s a really fun friend.

I thought it’d be fun to end with some of the crazy things you say, which are actually incredibly insightful nuggets of wisdom. You know how you said before, I don’t know if I made it up or whether it was in my wisdom books? Well, a lot of the things you say have become my own. They’re part of my language, and I think a lot of them came from you. Using downtime to prepare for uptime is a good example. Productive procrastination. We don’t know where that came from, but I feel like a lot of your funny references are the things that I really hear and make my own. Another one that really changed my life I know came out of your experience as a decorator is truly a wisdom hack – it’s a life hack and it’s good enough is good enough. I’ve quoted you many, many times and I’ve even talked about on the podcast. That language changed my life because I’m not exactly sure where it comes from – and I’m not sure that that matters – but I had this need to try to get the best all the time. I consider you a person with extraordinarily high standards and very discerning. When I heard the words good enough is good enough come out of your mouth. I immediately made that my own. It really freed me up in a lot of ways, whether I was shopping for something or even in the case of this podcast. I love when you said to me, for example, no one is grading you. I let myself off the hook and I relaxed more into what I’m doing, and I accepted it. Yes, some days I’m more articulate. Some days I have more to say.

So let’s talk a little bit about some of your best ones. For example, what is it that you say about budget? You said it just yesterday.

Eric: Well Before we get to budget There are two macro categories of people in the world. When we decorate we deal with all sorts of people, but there’s two macro categories. There are maximizers and there are satisfizers. Maximizers are looking for everything to be perfect and nothing that’s ever good enough. Everything has to be perfect. Satisfizers well I’m washed and ironed, we’re good to go. Okay. Ultimately one would think that maximizers are better, but satisfizers are happier. Okay. I think it would be natural to think that it’s better to be a maximizer. But in reality, satisfizers are happier than maximizers because maximizers will always be disappointed because nothing is ever perfect.

From that general starting point, when you approach a renovation, you know no matter what your budget is, there’s always a limit to the budget. And so, one of the things I like to say is let budget be your friend. When you go into the marble showroom. and they have 5, 000 different marbles and you can’t make up your mind, if you have a budget in mind you can tell that to the marble person and say, let’s exclude everything that is out of our price point. Then maybe you’re down to 10 marbles. That’s a lot easier. If you can’t afford marble, then you say, I guess we’re going to go look at the world of tile. But rather than crying that you can’t have marble and you have to have tile, let’s find the best tile we can find at this store that is in stock.

Constance: I think that’s a perfect example because you can take let budget be your friend or are you a maximizer or a satisfizer and that really applies to so many things in life

Eric: The other thing first choice best choice. Most people in the world cannot make decisions You see it in a restaurant. They can’t decide what to eat. Now they ate four hours ago and they’re going to eat in another eight hours, but they can’t decide what to have dinner. When you open the menu, the first thing your eye falls on, that’s probably what you want to eat. Pick that and go.

Constance: Oh, you’re right and there’s also a lot of science behind that. I mean, they’ve studied that, and our general levels of satisfaction are much higher when you go with first choice, best choice.

Eric: I am paid. To make decisions all day long, every day. They’re not important decisions. They’re not life breaking decisions. They’re about beige A versus beige B. Fabric A versus Fabric B. Down cushions versus poly cushions. But people won’t make them. They will pay me to make those decisions, and it doesn’t mean that you’re going to make all the best decisions. Something I’ll say to a contractor is if I don’t delay all the decisions and we move this as smoothly as we can , we know that out of a thousand decisions we’re going to have four or five wrong decisions. If you’ll work with me that we might need to redo four or five things because I just made the wrong decision, I can guarantee you that we’ll go so fast that you’ll be money ahead. And they almost always agree to that.

Constance: That’s really interesting. Oh, as you’re talking, another thing came up to me because you were talking about decisions. What is it that you say about bundling decisions?

Eric: Ah, don’t bundle decisions. That I got from  my best friend from high school, Amy Drolet, who is a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Business in consumer decision making. I asked her for the freakonomics takeaway from all of her research and she said don’t bundle decisions. If I get mad at you Constance, I say Constance, I’m so mad at you. I don’t ever want to speak to you again. Let’s not bundle those two together. Those are different decisions. Okay.Let’s not put them all together. I’m so mad at you. I’m not going to speak to you now. That’s okay. But we don’t need to put that forever again on there. Keep the separated. Smaller decision. Work from easy to hard. I do that in most things.

Constance: Eric, one of the things I wanted to talk to you about is curiosity, because I do find you to be one of the most curious people I know.  I consider myself a curious person, but nothing like you. Talk to me a little bit about curiosity and what role that has played in your life, both personally and professionally.

Eric: Well, I often say  –  I have a number of young people who work for me – and I say I cannot make somebody hungry. If you’re hungry for knowledge, there is nothing that will stop you. There are some people that work for me that were desperate to work for me and only me because I was doing something they felt that nobody else in Italy was doing. Other people are just present. They may work well, but you see it. If you’re not, in our profession, if you’re not going to the auctions on your own. If you’re not obsessively getting your hands on everything you can to absorb the knowledge, I can’t help you. I can’t make you hungry. I can put the information in front of you. We have a huge 3, 000 book design library which everyone is quite welcome to read. I notice who looks at it and who doesn’t. And unfortunately, 99 percent of the people don’t,

Constance: But do you think that curiosity is something like … do you try to poke people to help them find their sense of curiosity or do you think …

Eric: You either are or you aren’t. I’m sorry. We have in our office all of the tools there. I don’t hide information. I don’t hide knowledge. I want everyone to succeed. So we get every auction catalog, but if they’re just sitting there stacked on the desk and nobody’s reading them except for me, that tells me everything I need to know. They’re there. You should be desperately absorbing as much knowledge as you can because you will not be 26 forever. You will be 36 then 46 and then 56, and then it’s game over career wise. So you really need to be pushing fast. I provide the tools, but I can’t make somebody go to the gym.

Constance: Eric, talk to me a moment about resourcefulness because that is definitely a theme in our conversations.

Eric: More than resourcefulness, I would talk about the difference between interests and passions. People say they’re interested in something. Being interested in something is worthless. You need to be passionate about things. If you’re passionate about things, you will make it happen. Okay. And I know that life is a lot easier for some people than others, and my life has been extraordinarily easy. But when people are obsessed with things, they will make it happen. That’s what I think. Generally.

Constance: Let’s end with one of your latest, greatest that I say all the time. and it has to do with beautiful things.

Eric: Ah, there’s no end to the number of beautiful things in the world. I am out looking at auctions, shopping, everything, and then you cry that you didn’t get it. There’s always something else. There’s always something else.When you look at the fashion – oh, you didn’t get that sweater?  – next season they’re going to have something even better. There’s never an end. And when something breaks, don’t cry. There’s something else nice that will replace it. Onto the next.

Constance: Yeah. I love that. I love that. Well, thank you for your time. I love chatting with you and I hope people get a little insight into your quirkiness and intelligence and, wisdom.

I’m going to end here until next time from my heart to yours.

Join thousands of others

Stay in the loop on new episodes


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

dear Listeners,

Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

read on

Book an Advisory Session

I absolutely love feedback, please your thoughts

Stay in the loop

join Thousands of others

Get instant alerts as my new episodes drop

From my heart to yours

Share Your Thoughts

book a session


Let’s get to the heart of matters
– to what matters most to you

Schedule time with me to:

“Speaking with Constance helped me to see myself  – and my experience –with fresh perspective.  I got great clarity and completely shifted gears. She totally got it. The experience fully re-energized me.”

Jim Conley – Senior Executive
ex- YouTube, Google, Twitter

Stay in the loop

join Thousands of others

Get instant alerts as my new episodes drop

From my heart to yours