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What’s In A Name?
…the Delphinium story. By Steve York, York & Company
Volume 3 of Westminster Teak’s Trade Stories Series
How did a top New York City and Washington, D.C. fashion designer and merchandising manager for the internationally famous Ralph Lauren Corporation end up running a small, yet much sought-after and award-winning, interior design firm in Charlotte, North Carolina?

The answer to that very long and complex question hints at an intriguing story which follows a career path that many interior designers would envy, and many interior design clients are finding to be exceptionally valuable. And this story all starts with a very imaginative and instinctively creative 12-year-old girl growing up with her family in Westchester, New York, just north of New York City.

Her name is Jena Bula. She is that aforementioned Ralph Lauren rising star. And she is now both CEO and head designer of that much sought-after, award-winning Charlotte, N.C. interior design firm curiously named Delphinium Design Interiors.

Jena Bula in the Beaver Dam Kitchen
Jena Bula in the Beaver Dam Kitchen - Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald

So, why the name, Delphinium Design as opposed to...say…Bula Design? Well, the delphinium is, of course, a very beautiful and graceful perennial flower that’s loosely related to the annual Larkspur family of flowers. Its name is derived from the Greek word “delphis”, which originally meant “dolphin”. Why “dolphin”? It seems that if you pluck a single bloom from the tallest spike on the plant, it looks sorta like a dolphin leaping out from the side of the plant.

Blue, white and violet Delphinium Flowers
Blue, white and violet Delphinium Flowers

Nice imagery! However, Jena Bula has her own special reason for the moniker, “I chose the name because the delphinium flower symbolizes infinite possibilities, good will towards others, attracting new opportunities, and enjoying the little things that life has to offer. This philosophy is embodied in every design project we undertake.”

Again, an admirable philosophy. But, as we have since come to learn, that philosophy is backed up by a uniquely creative multi-step process Bula has developed for taking an interior design project from initial design concept to ultimate client fulfillment. It’s a process at least partially rooted in her formative years with Ralph Lauren Corp. (More on that later.) However, we’re getting ahead of our story. So, let’s start at the beginning…with that imaginative and naturally creative girl growing up in Westchester.

New Zappan Zee Bridge crossing the Hudson River in Westchester County, NY
New Zappan Zee Bridge crossing the Hudson River in Westchester County, NY

“When I was only twelve, my parents had bought an 1800’s vintage carriage home. They hired an architect to help them reimagine what it could become,” Bula recalls. “I truly loved witnessing and being a part of the whole process…especially our daily site visits during the remodeling. Although I didn’t have a firm understanding of the construction process at the time, I really enjoyed watching the progress unfold and remained fascinated during the transformation.”

Two Carriage Horses in front of a Victorian House
Victorian House & Carriage Horses

Okay, that helps explain how her interior design spark was ignited. But how did that morph into an early career within the mega-fashion design world of Ralph Lauren? For that, we have to advance a few years and then drive south just a little over an hour from Westchester to “The Big Apple”.

“I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan in 2006,” notes Bula “It’s considered the Harvard for Fashion. Then, in 2007, I transferred to the University of South Carolina majoring in Advertising and Marketing Communications with a minor in Fashion Merchandising. After graduating in 2010 with a BA in both my major and minor, I moved back to New York City and interned at Marc Jacobs. Then, in 2011, I joined the corporate wholesale team with Ralph Lauren in New York City.”

Ralph Lauren building in SOHO, NY
Ralph Lauren building in SOHO, NY

Bula worked out of the Ralph Lauren New York headquarters as Sales Assistant and Junior Account Executive for three years before relocating to their office in Washington, DC from 2014 to 2016. “That role was an incredibly invaluable learning experience for me,” Bula emphasizes. “I had the opportunity to work closely with the design, merchandising, planning, budgeting and production teams on a daily basis and was exposed to so many different aspects of the fashion industry; as well as learning how to run a successful business. While in DC I took the role of a Brand Manager. That is when I really learned the most about the hands-on side of the business. I was tasked with merchandising Ralph Lauren’s retail shops within major department stores such as Sax, Bloomingdales, Macy’s and Belk,” she notes.

As any brand marketer will confirm, merchandising a separate brand shop within a major department store setting is a unique challenge requiring a number of creative and business skills. It involves everything from layout and product display to point-of sale marketing, furnishing, décor and customer service. It means you have to strike the balance between standing out and fitting in. It means you’re responsible for training and educating the store staff in product knowledge, product presentation and brand messaging. And, in Bula’s case, it also meant she had to become savvy at partnering with store management to strategically drive Ralph Lauren sales.

“An important part of my job was adapting the Ralph Lauren aesthetic to all of our department store locations,” Bula points out. “That requires adapting the Ralph Lauren merchandising aesthetic to many different types of retail store looks and layouts. For example, there can be a lot of difference between designing a space for Sax as compared to designing one for Macy’s. So that taught me how to work with different spacing options, different store design themes and different customer needs.”

“My position with Ralph Lauren allowed me to become more well-rounded; in the sense that I had to learn both the business side as well as the visual side of creative and functional space design. And it was while designing those retail spaces that I realized I not only enjoyed working in a visual role, but I was also good at it! Besides, there are a lot of parallels between fashion design and interior design. So, when I decided to change directions, it was more like transitioning rather than starting over,” she adds.

From that perspective, it isn’t difficult to see how Bula’s merchandising role with Ralph Lauren had firmly laid the groundwork for supporting her transition from a corporate brand merchandising team to interior design. But—you might ask—why wouldn’t she just join a successful interior design firm right there in DC rather than assume all the entrepreneurial risks of going it alone? After all, she had developed exceptional expertise working with Ralph Lauren and would have been a smart catch for any growing interior design group. For that answer we have to travel back in time once again to that enterprising young girl from Westchester.

“I’ve always had an interest in both design and fashion,” Bula notes. “And, somehow, I always knew that I wanted to have my own business one day. Growing up, I watched my dad create and grow his own company. Although he wasn’t a designer, his entrepreneurial spirit permeated our home life. And that spirit, as well as his business savvy, rubbed off on me at a young age. But, back then, I didn’t always know that I might be running my own interior design business one day”, admits Bula.

That begs the next question: If she was inspired to do her own interior design thing, why not wait to set up shop in familiar territory like D.C. or even back in NYC? Why Charlotte, N.C.? Short answer: her fiancé, Brian, was being transferred to Charlotte. And that meant a major move south for both of them. But that also provided the perfect impetus for Bula to officially cut the cord with Ralph Lauren and make plans for a new life, a new marriage and a new business in a new city.

Fortunately, Brian had, for some time, been eagerly encouraging her to (as she recalls), “Take the leap of faith and start my own business. So, when we decided to move to Charlotte, I decided that I was going to do my own thing. I had to start over in a new city anyway, so it felt like now or never! And, once I made that decision…I’ve never looked back,” Bula adds. With that determination made, she went for her interior design accreditation from the Interior Design Institute and, a year later, was poised to launch Delphinium Design Interiors. As it turns out, her new hometown of Charlotte was very fertile ground to grow her new enterprise. After all…

Charlotte is a hot market; especially for quality of life, a booming economy, a rich cultural environment, an exploding $2.8 Trillion metro housing market and a verdant landscape for inspired entrepreneurs. It is one of the Southeast’s fastest growing and most thriving metropolitan cities and the 25th largest in the United States.

Uptown Charlotte City Skyline in Charlotte, NC
Uptown Charlotte, NC Skyline

“Charlotteans” enjoy all the cultural and economic amenities of a major metropolitan market. Yet their city still retains much of its small-town southern charm and hospitality. Charlotte is a global financial center and the second largest in the United States behind New York City. It is home to NFL’s Carolina Panthers, NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte major league FC’s Soccer, and the Charlotte Hounds’ Lacrosse team plus several minor league sports teams and the U.S. National Whitewater Rafting Center which hosts over 30 different outdoor recreational activities, competitions, festivals and entertainment events each year. Oh yeah…almost forgot…there IS one other major sport that Charlotte literally helped give birth to over 70 years ago…NASCAR! The Charlotte Motor Speedway is a NASCAR legend. And the NASCAR Museum is just one of many auto-sports-related attractions in the area.

NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC
NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, NC
Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC
Bank of America Stadium, Home of the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC Soccer Team. Charlotte, NC

Culturally, Charlotte’s higher education profile includes four colleges plus a major branch of the University of North Carolina. Uptown Charlotte offers many luxury hospitality amenities and a robust nightlife. And the greater Charlotte-Metrolina zone is a true hot spot for a rich variety of live music, theater, museums, galleries, festivals and artistic venues. Plus, big-name international music superstars always include Charlotte on their list of priority world tour stops.

Dua Lipa in concert at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC
Dua Lipa in concert at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC - Photo Courtesy of Frederick Fluchel

Finally, Charlotte is also the hub of what’s known as “Metrolina”, a 3,000 square mile area that boasts a nearly 3-Million population and embraces parts of both North and South Carolina. Yes, and there’s one other bonus…Charlotte is less than two hours from High Point, NC, the Furnishing Capital of the World, the largest April and October furnishings trade shows anywhere, a Mecca for sourcing a world of furnishings, fixtures and accessories and an absolute “must” for any savvy interior designer. All-in-all, Charlotte is an ideal market for cultivating a vibrant source of interior design clientele for Jena Bula.

So, in 2017, Bula officially launched Delphinium Design Interiors. But, of course, like most new startups, Jena’s launching pad was on familiar hometown turf. “My first project was renovating our own home in Charlotte, which is much the same first step many new designers will take. From that I learned a ton of practical hands-on experience. Shortly after, I was able to put all that experience in to practice for my new clients,” Bula recalls.

With that, Bula was off to the races, so to speak. From the get-go, Bula opted for Delphinium Design Interiors to specialize in residential interior design, decorating and renovations that would include everything from full home remodeling to individual rooms to the increasing demand for home offices. She also decided to position her firm as a small, intimate boutique that could provide personal, individualized attention to each client. Additionally, she made the deliberate commitment to partner and support local contractors, suppliers, architects and craftsmen. All of these choices were designed to assure personal, hands-on oversight at every key stage of a project from concept to completion.

An integral part of that oversight incorporates a unique multi-step system (hinted at earlier in this story) that Bula designed to provide a smooth, seamless and fun experience for her clients as well as full accountability throughout the project management process. Her system includes a design book or project manual that details all the steps and stages of a project for everyone involved to follow; including Delphinium clients. That’s everything from 3-D renderings, to furnishings, fixtures, cabinetry, electrical, plumbing, links to images and budgeting. The Delphinium Design approach aims to facilitate a collaborative process that helps guarantee beautifully designed living spaces that her clients will enjoy for many years to come.

A classic expression found within the styling of Delphinium Design Interiors is how Bula artfully blends the influence on her own design tastes with those of her clients. As she likes to describe, “My personal design aesthetic reflects a refined coastal color palette. For example, my home is decorated by mixing materials and textures. I like to incorporate neutrals with layers of muted colors…specifically blues and greens. I typically gravitate toward clean lines. And I love mixing vintage and current pieces to create interest in my space.”

White bathroom counter top with two mirrors
Walk in Shower with glass walls with a single mirror vanity and stool
Blue cabinet with white sink and round mirror
Walk in closet stocked with shoes and clothes
Photos Courtesy of Michael Blevins

When you visit her website at www.delphiniumdesign.com you’ll immediately get a sense of the distinctive Bula design palette. And, as you breeze through each page, the phrase “bright, functional, refined design aesthetic” comes to life. One example of that “refined coastal” theme shows up on the site’s Portfolio link called Beaver Dam. This project illustrates a total bathroom and powder room re-design. The whole redo is a work of art. But the new shower room is truly masterful; converting a tub and separate enclosed shower stall into a luxurious shower room with fine artistic touches all the way down to the smallest detail.

One of those details is small teak bench by Westminster Teak that fit perfectly within the master bath setting. “I found Westminster Teak online. I wanted to use a teak bench because it works so well around water and damp areas, plus it provides a place to sit, place your towels etc., and looks really beautiful in the enclosed shower room setting. I chose it from Westminster Teak’s Laguna Beach line in part because they had great quality teak, plus I really liked the style of their bench. But another reason was because they offer both finished and unfinished pieces; and I especially wanted to use an untreated teak bench. I also recently purchased one of their Pacifica Corner Spa Stools. And I’ve always found them to be both helpful and knowledgeable to work with,” Bula offers.

3 ft Laguna Backless Shower Bench in white walk in shower
Westminster Teak Laguna Shower Bench - Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald

Early on, Bula decided to run her business out her home. “After having worked in a larger corporate environment, I definitely prefer working from home. It’s easier to stay focused without the distractions of that corporate setting. Of course, it was a necessity to have a home office due to COVID. And, at some point, it may be nice to have a small office somewhere for all of us to work from. But I find we’re much more productive and creative working from my home office. We have plenty of room here with individual workspaces for each of our small team,” Bula explains.

Currently, that team includes Associate Designer, Darby McGee. “Darby joined us last year and has been an amazing addition to Delphinium Design allowing us to handle more projects and provide even better service to our wonderful clients,” Bula notes. McGee came aboard after relocating to Charlotte from Bethesda, Maryland where she had been the lead SketchUp Artist and Project Manager with a residential design firm. Darby had earlier graduated from High Point University with a degree in Visual Merchandising Design. During her four years at High Point University, Darby also worked at the High Point Furniture Market, becoming familiar with trade vendors and gaining a deeper understanding of the retail furnishings industry.

Darby McGee and Jena Bula in a white colored walk in closet
Darby and Jena - Photo Courtesy of Michael Blevins

Another teammate from the very beginning is Susan Knapik of Compose Design & Environments. “She’s a ‘Jill of all trades’. She designed our logo, designed and manages our website plus creates all our graphics,” notes Bula. “The most recent person to join our Delphinium team is Jaclyn Yarusso, Delphinium’s manager for social media, blogs and newsletters. She’s also indispensable,” Bula adds. Between Knapik and Yarusso, all web, social media platforms and press coverage are kept current and packed with both information and imagery about their latest projects, design themes, furniture market discoveries, design tips, special events and latest trends.

At present, that’s about as big a team as Bula prefers. “I definitely want to keep Delphinium Design a smaller, more intimate boutique operation,” she notes. “However, I do eventually want to add maybe one more designer to my team just so we can work on more projects at a time. But, for now, being a new mom and already being booked a good six months out, this operation is just the right size.”

As for the rewards that come with running her own business, there are several personal stories that ring Bula’s bell. “In my first couple years I had one client who suffered a dryer fire in her home. She was a mother of two small children who shared a bedroom. They had to move out of their home and into a rental until we could complete their renovations. It was a 1930’s bungalow home with a lot of walls and closed-off spaces. So, we redesigned the whole place, opened-up the kitchen into the living room and redesigned the children’s space so each had their own bedroom. Our client was thrilled, her children were excited to have separate bedrooms and it felt really good to see their satisfaction,” Bula recalls.

Other equally gratifying rewards include the many accolades and awards Delphinium Designs has received since first opening in 2017. From the Best In Houzz Service and/or Design awards in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 to the Charlotte’s Best Blue Ribbon award in 2020. And then there are all those glowing stories in SouthPark Magazine, Charlotte Home/Design, Charlotte QC Exclusive, various Houzz spotlight features as well as other media.

But Bula’s biggest fulfillments come from the satisfaction in the eyes of her customers. “What I love most is seeing how much our clients are enjoying their new living space, how much better it functions for them and how happy they are with the results,” she emphasizes.

The Delphinium Design Interiors team seems to be making big waves and big news from a small home-based boutique in the highly competitive world of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Not a bad track record for the firm’s short, 5-year history! And it’s all because an inquisitive and creatively inspired 12-year-old girl from Westchester, New York with a flair for design and a fancy for delphiniums decided to “take that leap of faith”.

Jena Bula in the Beaver Dam Kitchen
Jena Bula - Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald
White kitchen with stainless steel appliances
Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald
White kitchen with grey marble countertops and stainless steel appliances
Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald
White kitchen with white marble counter tops and blue center island cabinet with 5 pc light green and white kitchen dining set
Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald
White round pedestal table with 4 stone green dining chairs
Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Ringwald
Delphinium Design Interiors logo

If you are a previous or current customer and would like to be featured in our “Trade Stories” series then please contact us!



 




 
 
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Renees

RENEE’S in Mattituck is the premier fashion and furnishings retailer on the East End of Long Island. As a third-generation family business offering men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, and home furnishings and accessories, RENEE’S is in touch with new looks and changing trends. Impeccable customer service elevates your North Fork shopping experience.

Renee's
10095 Main Road
Mattituck, NY 11952
reneesmattituck.com

Renee's
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National Marine Suppliers is a worldwide yacht support group providing their customers with exceptional service and industry-leading reliability.

National Marine Suppliers
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Twisted Elements

International Market Square is the largest home and commercial interior design marketplace in the Upper Midwest. Open to both the home/commercial design community and the public, visitors are invited to explore our more than sixty showrooms, studios, shops, galleries, restaurants and other distinct amenities.

Twisted Elements
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275 Market St
Minneapolis, MN 55405
1-612-305-0456
http://twisted-elements.com/

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https://www.gorsuch.com

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Westminster Teak California, Inc.
1350 S. State College Blvd
Anaheim, Orange County
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Cox Pools is a family owned business that has been serving Northwest Florida for more than 50 years, since 1958. With their specialized crews they have the experience and knowledge to build the pool of your dreams!

Cox Pools
36074 Emerald Coast Parkway
Destin, FL 32541
1-850-650-9138
http://www.coxpools.com

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Cox Pools is a family owned business that has been serving Northwest Florida for more than 50 years, since 1958. With their specialized crews they have the experience and knowledge to build the pool of your dreams!

Cox Pools
12216 Panama City Beach Pkwy
Panama City Beach, FL 32407
1-850-235-7957
http://www.coxpools.com

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Summer House Lifestyle is a lifestyle boutique located in Uptown Grayton in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Their store offers a beautiful selection of bedding, lighting, furnishings, artwork, children’s gifts and accessories for the home.

Summer House Lifestyle
57 Uptown Grayton Circle
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
1-850-231-0133
http://www.summerhouselifestyle.com

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Marco Island Furniture & Design
713 Bald Eagle Drive
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Premium Outdoor Products LLC
16215 State Road 50
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https://www.premium-outdoorproducts.com