Conversations With...Erika Buchholtz
All pictures of Erika's home by Anna Routh/Anagram Photo
I love reading articles about what makes people successful and always hope I'll unlock the secret. I am a sucker for articles like, "What the Most Influential CEO's Do Before Breakfast". I send links to my kids in hope that these habits will rub off on them but apparently they don't have the same enthusiasm for them that I do. They kindly asked me to stop sending articles since they do not have time to read them which proves they will be more successful than me!
Erika Buchholtz is one of those people that seems to have what it takes to rise to the top of everything she chooses to do. Erika is one of the leading brokers in the country, having sold over 1, 500 homes with close to 1 billion dollars in sales. I am always so curious about people like that. Were they born that way? Did their parents push them in a certain direction?
I have known Erika for a long time, but have recently gotten to know her better. I adore her cheerful disposition and she is someone I really admire. She is always gracious and kind but is not someone who over shares or likes to talk about herself too much. I was thrilled that she said yes to the blog post and that she really opened up about her dreamy childhood in California. She also brings out my design alter ego. I love a dark and cozy palette, but whenever I leave her home I want to go back to mine and paint everything white! She has amazing style and knows how to execute a white and modern palette like few people I know. She mixes in antiques, art and personal pieces like a pro to create a modern and bright, sunny space that is warm and not at all cold. I think you'll enjoy seeing her home, hearing her journey, her perspective on work, and life with her adorable children Chloe and Theo and her biggest cheerleader, her husband Chris.
Tell us about growing up in Beverly Hills.
Growing up in Beverly Hills was idyllic. For most of my childhood it was all I knew and I didn’t realize, until I was older, that it often carried an unpleasant connotation about living in excess. From high school on, when asked I where I was from, I would routinely say “West LA” instead of Beverly Hills. I learned that saying Beverly Hills led to automatic assumptions. While large houses, manicured grounds, movie-star sightings, gorgeous stores, shi-shi dining and fancy cars are the norm, my family instilled mid-western values. My mom was Dorothy from Kansas (she changed her name to Dori as an adult) and my dad was a doctor’s son from Brooklyn. We made the weekly trip to Costco just like most people. While surrounded by crazy luxury, my family was super grounded.
Tell us about the house you grew up in?
My childhood home, 9900 Sunset Boulevard, was a stunning 1932 Mediterranean we all adored. My parents spent the entire forty-five years of their ownership renovating and expanding. It was a thoroughly loved home- grand, elegant and supremely comfortable all at the same time.
A cumquat tree grew outside our back door, a peach tree in the back yard and lemon as well as grapefruit trees in the front – of course amidst tall, skinny as well as stout, palm trees. My mom also had a large rose garden so the house was always filled with fresh citrus and vases of roses. Our doors and windows were open to the outdoors everyday. Believe it or not, bugs flying into the house are not-a-thing in California. At night the scent of Night Blooming Jasmine would permeate the yard and the house. Divine.
Every holiday was a big celebration with my mom in the kitchen for days and a houseful of friends and family. My mom and dad enjoyed entertaining and mom hosted everything from gourmet dinners, showers, milestone celebrations to dance parties where she made most things from scratch. My favorites were seeing the freshly made pasta roll out of the pasta maker and her famous Boccone Dolce cake – which I relished because I got to munch on every broken meringue. There were inevitably quite a few. One of the best days of my life was when Chris and I got married in 1996 in the backyard by the pool. We had cocktails under the pergola and the reception in the garden.
Sounds like your mom loved to entertain!
Absolutely, she never let an occasion go un-celebrated. Very young I started helping her decorate tables for entertaining –arranging flowers and vases; placing mom’s collection of Baccarat crystal animal figures down the table; carefully folding cloth napkins; selecting just the right candles, place mats or chargers, silverware and china. My mom and I had so much fun collecting new table décor and positioning everything just right to maximize the festivity of the gathering.
Did you live near any movie stars?
Our front lawn was a giant grassy hill and I spent countless hours rolling from top to bottom. I would often be interrupted by the Seeing Stars vans that slowly tour Beverly Hills streets telling tourists where the movie stars live. I always wondered who they said lived in our home. My mom and I promised we were going to take the tour one day to see. We haven’t yet. While I was growing-up various stars did live on our street or on the road behind us: Julie Andrews, Eydie Gorme, Lionel Richie, George Segal, Bijan, Dorothy McGuire, Kiki VanDeWeigh and Randolph Scott. One of my all-time-favorite actresses, Lucille Ball, lived a few blocks away. I walked by her house hoping to hear her scream “RICKY!” more than I should admit.
Your mom sounds wonderful. Tell us about your dad.
We just celebrated my dad’s 86th birthday. Six years ago he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His slow decline has been very painful for my mom and me. It is a brutal disease. The only saving grace is I don’t think my dad is aware of his struggles. He was brilliant, easy-going, generous, devoted and got stuff DONE. A world-renowned ear, nose and throat doctor, he loved going to work everyday. I got my pull to the ocean from him. He adored cycling, boating, fishing and scuba diving. My favorite vision of him is captaining his boat with ever-present jazz music, the wind blowing his hair and a huge smile on his face. He loved cars and relaxed by tinkering with them so we often had fun sports cars like the Maserati and DeLorean. My favorite of his car collection was a brown van with a desert scene painted on the side that my dad fondly called “Van-Go.” They used to drive up the coast in Van-Go to go antiquing in Northern California. I still have some of the pieces that rode home in Van-Go – a gorgeous armoire with 1801 written in inlaid wood across the top and an antique wood-frame mirror.
My parents love dogs and we always had Great Danes - usually two-at-a-time named by my dad (Chester I, Chester II, Albert, Oliver, Winston, Lili and Morgan) except for one Collie he christened Boswell and a Poodle my mom and I named Coco – after Coco Chanel.
It sounds like you had a sublime childhood!
It really was. The public schools in Beverly Hills were great and I went from kindergarten through high school with mostly the same kids. I am still close with my core group of four girls. We grew-up fast and were exposed to things earlier. Not many people can say their wildest days were in elementary school (our school went from K to 8th grade) but I can! I will leave it at that! Everything was bigger and faster with a backdrop of endless sunshine.
I took piano lessons from a wonderfully wise woman who dispensed sage advice and made a lasting impression on me. Unfortunately I loathed practicing so I can only play a few refrains today. Years of ballet and jazz classes were enjoyed in the moment but, alas, I was never passionate. The highlight of my ballet career was performing Swan Lake at age 7 in front of Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner as their daughter was my neighboring swan.
What is one of your favorite memories growing up in your home?
The 80s brought shoulder pads, big hair and weekly bar and bat mitzvah’s, which were always lavish dance parties. My sweet sixteen was the grand finale of my childhood. My whole grade was invited and we notified the neighborhood we were going to be loud. The theme was “black, white and read-all-over” – the invitation was printed on newspaper print. Everyone wore black-and-white and I wore red. My parents had the huge wall in the motor court painted to say “Happy Sweet Sixteen Erika.” We had a ginormous dance floor, amazing DJ, my mom’s incredible seven-layer dip and we danced the night-away. Unforgettable.
How has growing up in California influenced your lifestyle?
California’s sunny-relaxed vibe runs in my veins. I was definitely bit by the health and fitness bug. Completely drawn to the ocean and all things beachy, I also love the carefree, less-is-more aesthetic of California style.
Where is your favorite place in your home?
My favorite place in my home is my bed when the whole family piles-on for a chat, snuggle and inevitable laughter.
Erika's beloved pup, Dash.
What does your home say about you?
I hope it says that I am open, warm, together, somewhat stylish and not fussy.
Erika's moms' blue and white china displayed in a fresh, modern way.
The same blue and white china in her childhood home.
You are such a highly accomplished person. You were a summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate and valedictorian of your college at UCLA. You are one of the top agents in the country with over 1 billion dollars in sales volume. I am always interested in why some people reach for the stars while others are afraid to take chances and afraid of failure. Were you always driven or did you develop some of those characteristics later in life? Was it your parents influence, is it innate…give us insight!
Good question! Not sure I have a good answer! I always had to work hard to realize success in school. Along the way I learned that most good things don’t come without focused dedication. The rewards from effort in school brought the drive to achieve more success. Through that process I slowly learned how to be effective and efficient. Hard work and good organization is a winning combo. I was also born with a desire to please others and the perspective to see how I might help or be needed. I don’t think I have reached for the stars as much as put my head down with a single-minded focus. I am fortunate to have the stamina and perseverance to do the hard stuff coupled with really caring about making my best effort in every situation. My parents and upbringing instilled a strong moral compass. I go to bed each night knowing I have always tried to go high even when others may go low. When something goes wrong, as it inevitably does, I will go to whatever lengths necessary to fix it. I don’t compare myself to others. I do my own thing. I finish what I start, love the gratification of getting stuff done and have tons of energy. Chris jokingly started calling me the Energizer Bunny shortly after we met thirty-years-ago (gulp!) and calls me Bunny to this day.
You were admitted into law and medical school and instead chose to go into real estate. What made you choose to take that path? Secondly, what did your parents think of your decision!
That was an interesting time! After graduating from college I had an early-life crisis. After merrily going on the expected route of elementary, middle, high school and college, I found myself floundering without an expected next step. The world and all its possibilities were completely overwhelming. Too bad I didn’t realize that for the glorious opportunity it was! My dad was a physician and being a doctor was completely enmeshed in his entire persona. He loved helping people and knew being a doctor was his calling from childhood. He was most in his element taking care of patients - or being in the ocean. I didn’t have that same passion for one particular path. So I tried a few on for size! I was a communications major and was offered a post-graduation on-air reporting job at NBC, I applied to medical school and got in, I applied to law school and got in. So, Chris and I ended up moving to Chapel Hill and I became a cocktail waitress at The Washington Duke in Durham. Yes, my parents were “thrilled”! When I look back on how they handled it, I hope I am as cool with our kids when the time comes. While they “weren’t sure” I was making the best choice, they had faith that I would figure it out eventually. I never mastered the art of carrying a food-and-drink-laden tray but did end up being offered a position in hotel management – which I also realized wasn’t for me.
Growing up, my home, along with my family, was a wonderful, stable and ever-present comfort. While I realize home is more about the people than the structure, I do believe that having a space we identify with as supremely ours envelopes us with peace and is an invaluable foundation, as well as uplifting presence. I have always appreciated architecture, interiors and differing styles – the things that create one’s home as a representation of who they are. My mom has a great design sense. As a teenager and young adult I spent a lot of time watching her handle one renovation project after another - from designing the space to arranging every last detail. I soaked-in all aspects of the process, especially appreciating the wonder of the newly completed space. Chris helped me finally crystallize my natural interest in what is involved in creating home – it could have led me to building, interior design or something similar. I ended-up enrolling in real estate school with Chris in 1994. It was something fun we could do together before graduate school. Afterward, Chris went on to law school. I deferred law school for two years after starting in real estate and then never looked-back.
You are literally at the top of your game in real estate. You are the #1 agent with Berkshire Hathaway in North Carolina and in the top ½ of 1% of Berkshire Hathaway agents in the country! What advice can you give to new agents entering the field of real estate?
Onsite new homes sales are a great way to learn the business because it is a more structured environment with available inventory and, typically, great training.
I think it is so fascinating that you have little social media presence in this day and age where we are all told you MUST have it to be successful. Was that a conscious decision?
HA! I certainly did buck that trend. It was a conscious decision. I genuinely feel social media would not make me more productive or effective and would likely be a distraction. One thing I don’t have is time to waste! Social media does not sell homes. The best personal promotion is doing your very best work for the people you are fortunate to represent. 99% of my business is referral based. Full disclosure: I have been known to look over Chris’s shoulder on occasion to see what is happening on Facebook.
What is the biggest piece of advice you can give to a homeowner to prepare their home to go on the market?
Follow my advice.
What would you say is the biggest selling point in a home?
Erika's vacation view.
You have amazing style and I love the way you have designed your home. Have you always been interested in design? Where does that come from?
Thank you! Yes, I have always been interested – even before I realized it. I remember, as a young child, having a sense of pride about my home. The way it looked and felt. My mom was a successful interior designer before she became a fashion designer. She created a stunning environment for our family. While our living spaces were very put together and stylish – they were also warm, comfortable and creative with a touch of whimsy. As I grew up I increasingly appreciated my mom’s ability to design such spaces and realized the emotional effect well-done surroundings have on your psyche. Eventually I started helping my mom redefine rooms in our home – make selections, organize furniture, pick-out accessories. To this day I find home-making an incredibly enjoyable and relaxing pastime. Whether it is selecting a new pillow to freshen a space, finding just the right spot for a splendid orchid or taking everything out of my utility cabinet to purge and make it more organized and efficient – that is pure joy.
The Dori Collection, Erika's mom's line of jackets, wraps and scarves.
Do you have a morning routine that is important to you?
I have a fairly new morning routine that I treasure. Our almost ten-month-old puppy, Dash, senses when I am waking-up. He is usually sleeping beside my head or feet and he groggily makes his way to plop his face and most of his body on top of mine for his morning snuggle and rubdown. I can’t help but start the day with a smile on my face. My next stop is the perfect mug of Nespresso. I am then ready to face anything.
Are you working on any projects or events that are exciting to you? Yep!
I hope to spend more time working with A Lotta Love. Founded by Lotta Sjoelin, A Lotta Love improves the living environments, one room at a time, of local shelters. I am on the Board and have been able to re-do several bedrooms – painting, fixing, buying furnishings along with bedding, art and accessories to transform the space for an individual or family trying to move forward. It is an incredibly rewarding experience.
I have always been a sponsor of the Super Cooper Little Red Wagon Foundation, supporting the needs of children and families fighting pediatric brain cancer. This year I am joining the auction committee and am really looking forward to working with a group of wonderful women on such a meaningful endeavor.
Last year, every week I met with a group of six fourth graders from Scroggs Elementary School, including my son. I worked with them on an advanced reading and writing analysis program called Jr. Great Books. Their enthusiasm, earnestness and engagement fueled me for the rest of the day. I loved my time with them and got such a kick out of the zany things they think and say. That experience has also fostered my endless respect and admiration for our teachers.
My family also alternates doing the monthly PORCH pick-ups for Southern Village. It fills me to the brim collecting the generous food and monetary donations from neighbors. I also hope it helps give Chloe & Theo some perspective on how fortunate we are to take for granted that we always have good food to eat. We walk into St. Thomas Moore carrying the contributions from Southern Village and see the sea of tables filled with food from communities all over Chapel Hill. It is a powerful visual that reinforces how great the need is and how much good is being done to fill it.
I also LOVE identifying, purchasing and renovating rental properties. We currently have seven and each one has brought me countless hours of FUN. It is as much a creative outlet as an investment. I am always on the hunt.
What is the one thing you can talk about all day if given the chance?
I love asking people questions. I prefer listening.
What would you love to be doing in 10 years?
My idyllic scenario would be traveling our country and the world with Chris - for exploration sake but also spending time doing good works for others. Our home base will be a small cottage with endless marsh views. I already have it designed in my head. Envisioning that cottage, tweaking the layout and enjoying my imaginary view is where my brain wanders when I am trying to fall asleep. It is usually therapeutic and sleep-inducing except for the nights when it isn’t! Hopefully the kids will join us on our travels a few times a year and they will always have rooms to come home to.
I do try to stay present, focused and appreciative of all the wonders of the here-and-now rather than looking forward toward what is to come.
What would you give to a person that has everything?
A memorable experience.
Name 3 things that are essential to your well being:
My family, healthy habits and finishing what I start.
Who has been a mentor to you or an important figure in your life, personally and professionally?
My Funny Grandma, Mary Ellis Carlton, who turned 100 years old on May 13, 2018. She is the epitome of optimism, professionalism, dedication, resourcefulness, independence and joi-de-vivre – all wrapped-up in a 5’7”, long-legged with a preference for super high heels and pencil skirts, blond-haired, green-eyed, beaming-smile package. Mary had a tough childhood. She was raised by a single mother who supported them by cleaning hotel rooms. They moved constantly. Mary loved school and devoted herself to learning. She became the editor of her college newspaper, Homecoming Queen and married the star of the football team. They had three daughters – my mom is the oldest. She worked as a newspaper journalist for most of her life – and was the only one of her daughter’s friends’ moms that worked outside the home throughout my mom’s youth. She has been an inspiration personifying how women can excel at motherhood while having a successful and fulfilling career. Most of all though, she has impressed me with her steadfast appreciation for life, as well as the beauty that surrounds us, her sole focus on the good that lies within everyone, and her ability to find the funny in every situation. She radiates joy and is always ready to sing, dance or bring out the sillies.
Favorite 3 places to eat in the Triangle?
Lantern, Brewery Bhavana and JuJuBe; favorite for a quick pick-me-up: Clean Juice
What do you collect?
I collect random items that strike me as beautiful and serve to remind me of a cherished experience. Here are a few of my faves: the black carved ballerina figurine that my mom and I came across at a New York outdoor bazaar; the zany Baccarat elephant from Gearys Beverly Hills; a luminous antique green glass compote discovered in a quaint shop in Greensboro with my sister-in-law; shells from my childhood added to from our family travels – my favorite of which are the sand dollars from Sea Island; an antique carved-wood box my mom purchased from Johnny Rosselli when she was living and modeling in New York in the 1960s; select treasured pieces from my mom’s extensive collection of blue and white Chinese export porcelain and a small but adored grouping of decanters gathered from all over the world. Best of all: family pictures. We have over 20 black albums lining our playroom shelves that document the lives of our children - both mundane and monumental moments - from the womb (yep, the ultrasound photos) and beyond.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
Find a comfy, peaceful spot to read a travel magazine from cover-to-cover while listening to music. Heaven.
Chris and I try to go on two to three getaways a year. Our go-to is either Fearrington House or The Umstead for one or two nights. We take long walks, lounge in the spa, linger over dinner, sleep late, read the newspaper and usually watch a movie from the long list of movies we want-to-but-never-have-the-time-to watch. There is nothing more relaxing or recharging.
Erika and her super-nice husband, Chris!
Architecturally, what is your favorite style?
Modern. But I am pining for a dilapidated small beach cottage with a standout view that I can renovate.
Erika's inspiration for her dream beach cottage. Source Unknown.
Who inspires you design wise (any artist, clothing designer, interior, architect, painter etc.).
Barbara Barry. She is a style goddess. I am so moved by her points of view:
Design is perceived through our five senses. It is a conversation between things. Subtle differences taken in: the differences between smoothness and texture, dark and the not so dark, the plain and the patterned, and how those differences make us feel.
Beautiful process generally begets beautiful product; just as food cooked with love tastes better.
Everything is composition...your face, my face, a room...any room. The skyline is a composition as is the view from the plane window. Food on your plate is a composition as is the work on your desk. Everything is composed in a way that is pleasing...or not.
Design is connection and the pleasure taken in, in making those connections.
What would you like to be an expert at if given the chance?
Yoga and meditation.
Any new discoveries you want to share?
Johnny Was has been around for years but I feel newly connected to the brand and am a huge fan for summer attire – Eli Levite’s clothes bring a bit of California cool to my day. Also, the Harry Josh Ultra Light Blow Dryer is revolutionary.
What is something you look forward to everyday?
Seeing my kids after school.
How do you describe your style?
Simple, chic and classic with a casual bend.
What inspires you?
Truly connecting with another person. Reading. New experiences. Nature. Being inside and watching really bad weather outside.
What is something you love to do for other people?
Reach out and touch someone everyday. If you think something nice, say it. A simple meaningful compliment can make someone’s day. I also try to be a positive force in people’s lives.
Erika’s favorite things:
Spotify on my Sonos, green olives, Dr. Rogers Restore Healing Balm, Lacefield Designs pillows, Diptyque Paris perfume, fresh white hydrangeas, my mom’s art collection, Eric Javits floppy sun hats, Baccarat crystal, Live Oak trees with Spanish moss, Nespresso Volluto, anything designed by Kartell, the Morgan vest designed by mom, ripe mangos with chili powder and lime, Nest candles, Barton Perreira sunglasses, anything painted by Jacob Cooley, Skingoop Body Butter, frozen grapes, Johnny Was embroidered gold sneakers, everything Apple, the sheepskin throw from Annie Selke on my office Ghost chair, Janet Stoltz’s almond roca, the kids baby teeth, hanging chairs & hammocks, NPR, Roberta Roller Rabbit PJs & swim cover-ups, ice cream sandwiches from Robert’s Grocery in Wrightsville Beach, Knoll outdoor furniture, the marsh and family photos.
Nest candle, soap or diffuser. My favorite scent is Bamboo. Although I recently found these smart navy and white catchalls that say: Hello Gorgeous. I bought every one they had for all the gorgeous ladies in my life.
Favorite gift given to you:
A glass heart from my mom that says “I love you all ways, always” and the Baccarat candle-lit chandelier from the dining room of my parent’s home on Sunset that now hangs in my dining room. Growing up the chandelier would tinkle throughout the house when I would play in my bedroom above the dining room. Now the room above the dining room belongs to my eleven-year-old son, Theo, and I still get to hear that wonderful tinkling.
Favorite go to color palette to use in your home:
Whites, neutrals, natural fibers, sage green, different shades of blue and grays.
Most cherished item:
Creating memories with her family.
I equally adore the peony, hydrangea and orchid.
Book you think should be on everyone’s book shelf:
The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary
Favorite TV/Netflix obsession?
This is Us and The Handmaids Tale. The kids and I love an “I Love Lucy” marathon.
Favorite Travel destination:
I am still working on that! Traveling is a passion. I love every place I have been fortunate to travel. My top contenders in no particular order are: Portofino, Tokyo, Nantucket, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Tuscany, Rajasthan, London, Paris, Burgundy, Lucca, Kuala Lumpur, Squirrel Island, Marblehead, San Francisco, Napa, Santa Barbara, Wrightsville Beach, Nevis, Chicago, Martha’s Vineyard, Lake Forest, Bald Head, Boston, Vancouver, Madrid, Cairo and Sea Island.
During the day I drink water with a little lemon juice and cayenne pepper. I love Sangria with fresh fruit.
What would you tell someone to do if they were visiting Chapel Hill for the first time:
Stroll the Upper Quad and Arboretum on UNC’s campus, grab a bite at Al’s Burger Shack, meander down Gimghoul, find a way to attend a UNC basketball game (or second best, checkout the basketball museum), lounge on the Carr Mill lawn, browse the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, checkout an author reading at Flyleaf books, don’t miss the Ackland Art Museum, visit the belted cows and charming gardens at Fearrington Village and soak in the vibe at Fridays on the Front Porch at the Carolina Inn.
Picture courtesy Al's Burger Shack
Something you crave daily:
1. Be the first to say thanks and the first to say sorry. 2. The floor is not a coat hook. 3. Family meeting once a week on Sundays. 4. If it’s full, empty it. 5. Only touch something once. 6. Put others first. 7. You are allowed to be mad, but you aren’t allowed to be mean. (#2, #3 and #5 get broken often)
My favorite local shop:
South. I especially love their selection of gift cards. Some of my faves are: “Sup Buttercup” “Viva La Groovy” “You Brighten My Life” and the one I got my thirteen-year-old daughter “You’re posting a lot of song lyrics and we’re all worried about you.”
Favorite place to shop outside of the Triangle:
The Malibu Country Mart and the local boutiques on Lexington Avenue in New York.
My golden rule is:
I have Golden Rules: People will forget what you say or do, but people will never forget the way you make them feel (Maya Angelou). AND Why put-off what you can get done right now? AND You will pass this way only once, do it right.
Best advice I have received:
Even if you have pains, you don’t have to be one (Maya Angelou). AND There is nothing more valuable than putting a smile on someone's face. AND Are you a problem solver or a problem maker?
When you sit down at your desk in the morning, what’s the first thing you do?
Review my to-do list for the day created the night before.
Are there any lessons from childhood that you still carry with you today?
Yes! One of the few things that we can control is our attitude.
Someone you admire:
Humanitarians, Doctors Without Borders, teachers and civil-rights activists and My Funny Grandma.
Favorite memory with your family:
This is a favorite recent memory. We were in Keystone, Colorado this winter at the Kickapoo Tavern for an après-ski dinner. Chris and I savored margaritas-on-the-rocks and the kids sipped mock-tails. Drinks rolled-into a greasy, but so-hungry-after-skiing-food-never-tasted-so-good dinner. We sat there for more than a couple hours talking, being silly, laughing and ribbing one-another. Walking back after dinner, both kids exclaimed, “Wow, that was so much fun!” There is nothing better than simply enjoying one another’s company.