Sarah is one of my biggest supporters—a best friend and my sis-in-law! She played a huge role in helping Cash Color truly take off as a company. Because I know Sarah so well, it felt a little strange for me to interview her for this post, so I have asked one of our Cash Color team members, Melody Bowers, to do the honors!
For all the supermoms keeping everyone in one piece during this quarantine period, I wish you an extra special Mother’s Day. As a mom myself, I understand the giant amount of patience, creativity, and love it takes. I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and still having fun!
MB: Hello, and thank you for speaking with me today! After seeing all the gorgeous home décor photos you’ve generously allowed us to use on cashcolor.com, I’ve been looking forward to learning more about you.
Caitlin’s husband, Scott Shirock, is your brother, but I know that you and Caitlin go way back. When did you two first meet?
SR: We both grew up in Northville, Michigan, and I met Caitlin in art class, in high school. She was a couple of grades below me, but her brother was one of my best friends, so I would be around her family and she would be with mine because she and Scott were best friends before they started dating. Caitlin and I were always running in the same circles, and we had a lot of fun together in art class—especially when it came to humor and art. That’s still true to this day! Even though we share much more in-depth topics now, we definitely had our own friendship outside of our brothers even back then.
MB: Now you live in Portland, Oregon, and have a home design and staging business called Arbor & Co. What led you to Oregon and the work you do today?
SR: I actually went to school for photography, but I've always loved interior design. My husband and I had been doing a lot of wedding photography, and that industry can be exhausting. We started looking at local real estate and plotting out a way to try our first home flip. One day, we were looking at this junk heap of a house—it was literally falling apart—and we decided to just go for it. Everyone thought we were crazy, but we bought it anyway and basically flipped the house ourselves.
I staged the whole house before we put it on the market, and had so much fun doing that. I had been thrifting and collecting things, and then used some of my own pieces to pull it all together. When the realtors we hired came over, they told me I should start staging houses—and after we sold that one, they hired me to start staging for their whole real estate office. It was all pretty unexpected because I wasn't trying to hustle any realtors for work or anything, but they liked what they saw, so I went with it! By the time we were ready to flip our next house, I went all in and started staging houses full-time.
MB: Isn’t it amazing how a whole new world can open up for you after you take that first big leap of faith?
SR: Yes, absolutely. Now we work with a lot of realtors in the Portland area, and home staging is the biggest thing we do at Arbor & Co. And some of the buyers of the homes I staged have become my clients. After they move in, they hire me to source and style their spaces for them.
MB: I know your husband, Duane Reed, is your partner on all your home flip projects, but he also works full-time as your partner at Arbor & Co. How do you guys navigate that work-life balance?
SR: He's always been an amazing craftsman. He's very, very hands-on. He also loves Scandinavian design, and we like a lot of the same things when it comes to home décor details. He really dove into that first house renovation project and has pretty much evolved into the contractor and the project manager for all of our renovation projects.
MB: Do you always work on the same projects at the same time?
SR: Sometimes we have different projects. I mostly do the interior design projects for my clients. He has other projects, like kitchen or bathroom renovations for clients that he manages on his own. Each project can be a little different based on what’s needed.
MB: It sounds like between the two of you, Arbor & Co. can provide a full spectrum of services to homeowners. I’m assuming that one of you is also still using your photography skills to capture all the incredible spaces you have created because your Instagram accounts are gorgeous.
SB: Well, I’m happy to say that the only photo shoots we're doing these days are of home interiors, no more weddings! Duane mostly takes all of the photos for our website and social media now. Sometimes we’ll do photos for realtors, but that's not our main thing.
MB: After you figured out successful flipping and staging strategies, you guys decided to get into the Airbnb hosting game. How did you approach becoming Airbnb owners?
SB: We definitely approached buying an Airbnb property a little differently than buying a house to flip, but everything we had learned from all our previous projects absolutely helped. We finally found the right cabin after looking for almost two years. We knew we had to get things dialed in as quickly as possible to get it turned around and ready to rent. We basically did a cosmetic upgrade, just some little things like paint and fixture upgrades, and then I honestly threw it all together in one day. While Duane was handling the upgrades, I was collecting all the things we needed to furnish and style the place. I literally went in with all the stuff I had bought, put everything in place, took the photos, went home, posted the pics on Airbnb, and was like, “All right, let's see what happens next!”
MB: What kind of things have you discovered that matter most to your guests, and what are some of your go-to tips or tricks that you use to keep getting those five-star reviews?
SR: My first recommendation to Airbnb hosts is to make sure you have stayed in your own rental for several nights before you have any guests. That way you can really make sure that you have everything dialed in. You need to go over the top with amenities to make the place comfortable. Airbnb really takes care of hosts—they promote the ones with the best reviews. So don’t be afraid to go over the top on all the details. I spend a lot of time on things like candles and soaps, and we even have Oregon coffee as a way to add a local touch. I make sure there are plenty of fresh towels and beach towels, and I keep the place stocked with all the stuff to make a fire. I wouldn't necessarily have known to do all those things if I hadn’t spent some time there myself. Things like that don’t always cross your mind until you need them, or wish you had them. I also think it’s good to invite your friends to stay periodically. They will give honest feedback about what’s missing. Anytime friends or family stay in our Airbnb, I always ask them to tell me what else I missed. But yes, definitely stay at your own place. You need to make sure that you would actually want to spend your own vacation there.
MB: Have you developed any checklists or routines that help make the management and guest turnover process go smoothly?
SR: Yes, we do use a checklist. At first, I cleaned as much as I could, but our cabin is an hour away from where we live, and once we added another Airbnb property to manage it was too much for me to keep up with. We hired someone who lives near the cabin to clean the properties in between guests and to keep her eyes and ears on the place.
The turnover checklist is super helpful. I recommend going through the process yourself several times, then do it with the person you’ve hired to clean a couple of times before you hand them the list to do it on their own. Things like having two sets of sheets and towels help speed up the process when you have to turn the house quickly. I think it will be even more important post-COVID to have very clear instructions about which areas need to be cleaned with disinfectants. Guests will need more reassurance than ever that you are taking proper precautions to keep them safe. So things like wiping down the remotes, door handles, cabinet drawers—all those kinds of surfaces—will need to be added to the list. Again, I try to make sure that we do the things that I would do in my own home to feel safe so that guests will also feel safe while staying there. Hospitality is kind of an art form, and it’s ultimately what drives your Airbnb business, so it’s worth investing in that process to get it right.
MB: Now that we have the background on what you do, explain how Arbor & Co. play an influential role in the birth of the Cash Color Peace Sign print?
SR: It all started back when I first started staging homes. I would always try to find ways to include Caitlin's art into my projects—I mean, I decorate homes and she makes art, makes perfect sense, right? We had collaborated on some custom projects in the past, and have always had fun. But the Peace Sign came about because I was looking for something that was large and fun and kind of wild, but also had a welcoming message. I feel like her art is kind of wild and colorful and fun, even if it's as simple as a peace sign. When I told her I’d been envisioning a peace sign, she painted one for me.
I loved how it was simple, yet also welcoming and fun. And it can honestly hang anywhere. I started using the Peace Sign Print in every single stage, and it became our signature piece. People started to connect it to our work. Everyone always has positive comments about that piece.
MB: I completely agree about how you described Caitlin’s art. Her prints are welcoming. There's nothing abrasive or jarring about them, but you can't ignore them either. I think the Hand Signs Collection resonates with so many people because those signs send reassuring messages that we all enjoy receiving. Have any of the buyers of the homes you staged tried to buy the art with the house?
SR: Yes, some of the buyers who became my design clients actually did buy several Hand Sign Prints. And I actually use her Neutral Letters in my stages, too. I will often use the letters “PDX” for Portland, and I’ll use random letters to stage a child's room. But it’s the Peace Sign that everyone seems to be drawn to the most. Her prints also work really well in a collection of other art, with gallery walls. They add a fun addition to a grouping of art.
One time I hung the Peace Sign above the bed in the Airbnb, and I always thought it felt like it was saying, “Everybody is welcome, and you can have fun resting here.” Using American Sign Language symbols has always been a clear way to express love, and Caitlin has captured that vibe and turned it into art.
MB: As a member of the Cash Color team, I get to see all the online feedback from customers. It's very satisfying to see how people respond to Caitlin’s work. Those Hand Signs prints have generated a lot of joy.
SR: That original Peace Sign Print is actually the first thing I hung up in our new house. My husband had just painted the walls—I think the paint was still wet—and I was like, “I'm going to get it,” and I hung up.
MB: I would imagine that it’s been fun to watch both Caitlin and her art evolve over the years.
SR: I think her work is wild and strong. I would also say it's colorful—but I don't mean actual colors. There’s a colorful, positive energy that comes through and makes you feel happy. There’s something about her prints that feel like they were made just for you. Her Letter prints can make you feel like you’re the only one whose name starts with an “S” as if it were made for you specifically. And that's really cool that she can embody that even in a line of letters. I don't know how she does it. Super cool.
MB: Switching gears a little bit, I know that you have recently added “mother” to your list of titles, which is exciting and wonderful—but with everything you have going on, how has your daily life changed now that you have a daughter?
SR: Becoming a mom has been a big and wonderful adjustment. Our daughter, River, is awesome. We are so completely obsessed with her, but the months leading up to her arrival were a whirlwind. Last summer, my husband and I had just started the adoption process. Then, on June 9th, 2019, we got an unexpected call about a baby that would become our daughter. They said she would be born in September, which means we only had four months to prepare for her arrival. We had to figure out how to shift into parent mode really quickly. Now that we’ve adapted to being parents, it’s impossible to imagine what life was like before she arrived, and it’s hard to believe she's going to be eight months old in a few weeks.
Becoming a mom so quickly has been amazing, and I’m really trying to be present in her life—to find little ways to just embrace time with her. Our lives still have a lot of moving parts, but it’s been cool to see how we’ve made it work for our family. With everything going on due to the pandemic, we have a little bit less work right now, and it's just kind of pushed me to realize that it’s a good time to bond with River and learn more about becoming a mom. But we are still crazy because we are finishing up another house renovation and are about to move and put our house on the market, which means I will need to stage it again after we move!
MB: Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you for the blog, and for being such an incredible champion for Cash Color. I hope that you will enjoy your very first Mother’s Day and that you and your family stay healthy.
SR: I’m always willing to help Caitlin with anything she's working on. She's my girl and I believe in her so much!
To find out more about Sarah Reed, you can: