Liz Solms is the co-owner and Creative Director of Spruce Street Commons, a real estate company that focuses on historic preservation and classic design. She also is the founder and principal of Banana Tree Consulting located in Jamaica, West Indies where she designs and builds organic gardens for boutique hotels. Liz holds an MFA from Bennington College and lives between Philly, Jamaica, and New Orleans where Spruce Street Commons’ latest project is in the beginning stages. She has a young daughter who comes along.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have been able to live in multiple places throughout my life outside my beloved hometown of Philly—New Orleans, New York, Philly, Amsterdam, and Jamaica. Living and working in completely different paradigms outside of my own home foundation I think has broadened by perspective about how things work differently in different places. Living all over, particularly overseas, I think has engendered in me a sense of openness .
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
I wear two hats. For over a decade I’ve lead Banana Tree Consulting, a consulting business in Jamaica, West Indies whereby I work with small boutique hotels in developing their food and beverage programs to reflect the local food system. I design and build organic gardens and create visitor experiences around that. The other hat I wear is Creative Director and owner of Spruce Street Commons based in Philly and soon to be New Orleans. We focus on historic preservation and classic design. My years of work in sustainable agriculture and hotels has aided my role as Creative Director because I’m constantly thinking about the natural environment in my design choices. I’ve also worked with hotels now for so long that I bring more hospitality-oriented ideas into our residential spaces.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
A recent highlight has been to be able to bring more of my own personal design aesthetic into our historic spaces. We recently launched No. 108, a hotel suite in our historic residential building in Philly called The Touraine. I just went for it with No. 108–layering the space with color and fabric and texture and loads of plants and art. I wanted it to feel like someone was coming to stay in my home. Having that freedom was a highlight. A challenge lately for me is honestly spending time in the office. I like to be on the move, to be outside, and sitting down for meetings does not come naturally. I get itchy.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I finally hired an assistant/design coordinator after years of doing it all myself. Why did I hire this amazing woman? Not because she had all the experience in the world but because she was so hard working and creative and responsive and kind. I guess my only advice to someone trying to get into this industry is to be just that, regardless of the actual hard “experience” you have.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
That family and friends matter more.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have a lot of rules in our household about the phone. I hate it. The phone really needs to be off when we all get home. I cannot be creative and generate ideas at work and be present on the job without being present at home. Straight up I am also able to maintain a decent work/life balance because I am able to afford quality childcare, and I make it priority to nurture our family’s relationship with our daughter’s caregiver.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think there needs to be more sisterhood, straight-up. There are so many chips stacked against us. We have to be there for each other.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
I think the more women and girls see more women running valuable, successful, and meaningful businesses, the more they will see it is possible for themselves. So getting the stories out there, giving real platforms to the women who are doing their thing is an organic way of encouraging more ladies to start their own biz.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My parents were my biggest mentors personally and professionally. I realize this is rare. My father taught me to be bold, wild, and comfortable with failure. My mother taught me what it is to be strong and capable. They also taught me about how important it is to leave work at the office and to foster fun at every chance with the family and friends.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Judy Wicks because she’s a successful entrepreneur who has never sacrificed her values. I also really admire my dear friend Juliet Masters who is one of the only women I know to actually succeed in the whole restaurant dream thing. Her restaurant, the Edge, (in Harlem) has become a neighborhood staple against all odds. Perseverance such as hers inspires me.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?
I’d like to solidify our plans to hire formerly incarcerated people, particularly for our project in New Orleans. Mass incarceration and prison reform are the issues I care about most. And personally, I’d like to try to carve out a little more time to write.
What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
Resilience I think is the most essential quality to lean on. Breathe and keep going or breathe and turn a different direction.
Have someone important in your life besides your partner with whom you can be totally open and frank.
Without peace and fun outside of work, your work will surely suffer.