Julie Rogowski Brings BDC to the People
by molly trifflin
Julie Rogowski, the woman behind BDC To Go, opening the Boston Design Center to the public.
In 2010, when Julie Rogowski was appointed vice president and general manager of the Boston Design Center (BDC), a 550,000-square-foot mecca of interior design and architecture, she thought hard about what she intended to accomplish. "Any time you take on a new role, you want to make your mark. Bringing in the public was one of the things I targeted," she says. "Designers are our core clients, and we've always been good at engaging with them. But as the general population became more involved in home décor, we looked for ways to reach out to them, too."
In pursuit of that goal, she launched BDC To Go, the center's only sample sale showroom accessible to retail shoppers. For the program Rogowski resurrected the Filene's Basement pricing scheme: Every item comes into the 4,000-square-foot showroom at a reduced price; after 30 days on the floor, the cost drops 15 percent; after 60 days it falls another 15 percent—a sales strategy that motivates customers to return in pursuit of better deals. The introduction of the showroom responds to a change Rogowski noticed in customer behavior. "Consumers are much more active in home design than they ever have been," she explains. "Everyone is more schooled, and they want to participate."
Rogowski oversees every aspect of the center and its 80 showrooms of antiques, flooring, kitchen fixtures, textiles, and furniture, negotiating about a half dozen new showroom leases per year, interacting with decorators, and overseeing a celebrity lecture series. Her next big project is The 342 Club, set to debut in May. It gives participating designers access to a lounge with two conference rooms, a kitchen, and a dining room, where they can collaborate with each other and meet with clients.
Although she's immersed in the glittery world of high-end interior design, Rogowski's career background is less glamorous. Prior to working at the BDC, the Boulder, Colorado native sold industrial computers for manufacturers and EPA compliance tagging systems for oil refineries. "I've spent more time in steel-toed boots than Jimmy Choos," she jokes. Despite her lack of design experience, the BDC hired her in 2005 as a part-time consultant. They wanted someone with a strong sales history, and for Rogowski the job was a perfect fit—she'd always been passionate about fashion and design. "When I was 10, I got my first sewing machine," she remembers. "My favorite thing was to go into a fabric store and wrap myself in all the fabrics, the colors, the textures." Shortly after nabbing the consulting gig, Merchandise Mart Properties bought the BDC and promoted her to director of leasing. Five years later, she assumed her present role.
Now, Rogowski seems totally at home inside the BDC. The center's modern vibe in an industrial space with a backstory echoes in Rogowski's own home, a 200-year-old farmhouse that's had a gut renovation and is surprisingly contemporary inside. "People expect an old farmhouse to have antiques in it, but that is not my style," she says. "Right now, I have my eye on a huge, dark wood dining table in BDC To Go that's a mix of modern and rustic."
Her secret weapon for succeeding in such a fast-paced environment comes from lessons gleaned from being mom to five kids, ages 13 to 20. "Nothing goes as planned," she says. "You learn to be flexible, because the minute you look at someone else's kids and judge them for something their child has done, your child does the same thing." Rogowski has mastered the balancing act, letting things unfold and fluidly handling the onslaught of invoices and renovation requests flooding her way. "I thought this job would be draining, but I find that if I bob and weave, things just move forward."
Her approach has been working, because the center has never been more popular. Case in point: Rogowski's "taxi test." "The BDC has always been influential, but one of our goals was to make it a true destination," she says. "Ten years ago, if you got into a cab at Logan and said, 'Take me to the Boston Design Center,' the driver would have no idea where that was. Now he'll know exactly where to go."
photography by eric levin
Dress, Philosophy ($590); Jacket, Ralph Lauren ($2,498); Necklace, Asha ($700);
Shoes, Jimmy Choo ($665). Saks Fifth Avenue, The Shops at Prudential Center,
617-262-8500. Hair by Renee Wesley.