Aspirational Chat with Barb Clapp
Barb Clapp is the President & CEO of Clapp Communications, an award-winning communications agency specializing in public relations, media buying and marketing, located in Baltimore. I first met Barb many years ago when we both sat on the Board of Directors of the Maryland SPCA. At the time I was just starting my design business and she generously shared many PR tips and ideas with me. She runs a top-notch company (she grew it from an office space in her attic to a lovely penthouse office), she’s generous with her time and ideas and an avid animal rights activist. What’s not to love about that combo?
Barb loves giving back to her community, shares the history behind her family home and surprises me with a tale of walking a pig as part of her animal rights work. Read on to find out what she likes to read, how she spends her down time and how she starts every day. I’m sure you will be inspired by her. I know I was!
AFP: We’re in your lovely office, but I want to talk about your home. How long have you lived in your current there?
BC: We have lived in our current home, in Homeland, since I was pregnant with Brittany, so 29 years.
AFP: What was it about the house that appealed to you? That was a long time ago, what was it that drew you to the house?
BC: We had a cool opportunity. My husband, John, grew up in Roland Park, in a much bigger home than ours. His parents were much older and they retired from the home that we're living in. So his siblings were all situated, and we were living in Rodgers Forge in a rowhouse and they said, "Would you like to buy the house?" And we thought, "Oh! I don't know if we can swing it." We were still early in our careers, and we weren’t sure we could do it. It's a Palmer Lamdin house. It's beautiful. So we bought it and we are right on the lakes in Homeland.
AFP: That's a long time to live in a home and I know that most people get an itch every few years to make updates to adapt the house to your lifestyle. Looking at it 29 years later, how does it reflect you? What updates have you made?
BC: Well, the house's layout is an incredible – it's a typical Palmer Lamdin layout. So, you open the front door and the back door and you can see front to back. We have a beautiful wooden staircase that kind of winds up and we have a landing with a Palladium window that looks out right on the water, so we have a chaise there. Then we have a number of bedrooms and one bedroom on the top floor. So all of that really works. We have two bathrooms upstairs, which is unusual for a house that was built in 1924. So we've redone all the systems, the HVAC, that kind of thing. We redid the kitchen after we moved in, but that has to be done again. I've always wanted a bigger family room, an open layout, which I never had and I never will have.
AFP: Not in that style of house.
BC: It's just not going to happen. We have a library and it's wood-panelled. We haven't had to do much to it; we finished the basement when we moved in and then we have a beautiful Bluestone patio that we just redid.
AFP: When you have great landscaping and views your outside living space is just as important as the inside spaces.
BC: It is! We live outside all the time so we got the Bluestone, a new awning and new cushions for the furniture. We got a fountain, too.
AFP: Nice! Oh that's peaceful.
BC: Yeah it is! We use it all the time.
AFP: Yeah, it's so important. And so it sounds like you guys are planning to stay there.
BC: For at least another 10, 15, maybe 20 years. Who knows? We did think about redoing the bathrooms because they are that black and white...
AFP: Like a hexagon with the flower? So classic!
BC: So a plumber came in to give us a quote on something. We have the old sinks and my husband told the plumber, "We're going to change these." And he said, "You are?! People are paying to have their bathrooms look like this now." So, that nixed our idea of changing the bathroom. [laughter].
AFP: Those are classic materials that people are bringing back, absolutely. But if it is functioning for you and it's classic to the home, it makes sense to invest in the patio where you spend your time.
AFP: How does this home reflect who you are?
BC: My philosophy about our home has always been, "Bring as many people in as you can." Making it accessible to all the girls' friends, we've had exchange students over the years and we host a lot of dinners and parties. We're known for a big Christmas Eve party and its bring whoever you want, it ends up being around a hundred people. We go caroling at the lakes and the neighborhood also puts out luminaries and it's just magical. I make a big Italian dinner and everybody kind of pitches in. It goes into one in the morning. People would say our home is accessible and warm. I would come down in the mornings, when the girls went to Bryn Mawr, and there'd be a couple of kids sitting in my kitchen eating breakfast. [laughter] Because we're so close to the school and they'd be early coming from further away and they'd just stop at our house, eat breakfast and then they'd all leave.
AFP: That's great! I love hearing that. That's really by far my favorite answer about a home. I always say it's about the people and the things you do, it's not really about the things. Time and time again that's what I hear from these types of interviews. That is I always love about design. I love designing, but what I love about it is designing so that it supports peoples' lifestyles. So design becomes the background to all those great things. Understanding how people live and what they do so that I can help make the home function toward that end goal and look pretty, too. So I love hearing you say that.
BC: It is! Sometimes my girls still come home and spend the night. We keep their rooms; they look like guest rooms. I love it at Christmas Eve when they're both there. We all go to sleep and I know everybody's heads are in their beds and they're tucked in. That's what I love about it.
AFP: What's your favorite room in the house?
BC: Well, I think it's actually the patio – the outside space. But also, I guess, my other favorite is the kitchen, because a lot of people just gather in the kitchen and hang out. The dogs are in there. I love all of the spaces, it's such a pretty house.
AFP: You have two dogs, right?
BC: Yes, two, a yellow and a black lab.
AFP: I have a chocolate lab, isn't that funny?
BC: Yeah, they're both rescues. Briggs came from a kid who went to College of Charleston and didn't think it was bad idea to get a dog his senior year. And then of course, nobody wanted him. So we got him. And then Daisy came from the Humane Society.
AFP: What is your most favorite chair in your home?
BC: We have a loveseat in our living room with a big, tufted ottoman. And that is a good one to cozy up in and read a book, and you can also see through the windows – all the green trees and it's peaceful.
AFP: So we've been talking a lot about the people and the memories you have in your home. Do you have a favorite treasured item? Maybe from your travels?
BC: I actually do, on our landing up the staircase. I had a portrait done of each of the girls, an oil painting, when they were about 5. They're large and they're just beautiful and they look just like them. Both of them are painted sitting on a bench in front of the window, and I I just love those.
AFP: That's great! When you guys travel, do you tend to collect things to remember things by? Do you have a favorite travel find?
BC: We have traveled all over the world and try to get a little bit of something here and there. My most favorite thing recently is, we were in France year ago, and some of the linens. Beautiful table linens, we got some of those.
AFP: Yeah, I love bringing things back from trips, because then you remember the trip and it's something different and unique. It speaks to that culture or that country.
AFP: I've been in business 10 years and I've been doing some new things via these interviews and trying to go a little deeper in talking to people about their homes. I've been doing a little bit more giving back through the business, too. These are some of the aspirations for my business. That's also what I talk to people about their homes, "What are your aspirations for your home? What do you want it to look like? What do you want your life to look like?" What are your aspirations for your life? In your home? And even, your business?
BC: So, my home, I've been thinking about that a lot. I love it just the way it is, but I would like to add like a second home by the water, maybe looking at Lewes or someplace like that. Just kind of a little getaway.
The other thing is, in terms of business and just life and all my volunteerism, I feel I have a certain amount of time left in my life to make a difference. It's been really important to me to be involved in my community and support lots of non-profits. We do a lot of pro-bono work here at the office. And I think that I just have this deep, deep, deep desire and need to make an even bigger impact in my world. I've been very blessed and I feel like it's my responsibility to give that back. So one of those things I'm working on right now is what's my path in making a difference in our world?
AFP: Well, you certainly have done a lot of volunteer work. It's a great thing to put your energy into — giving back.
BC: It's really important to me. This business is very high-stress, with lots of deadlines and lots of clients and lots of employees with their own sets of needs. I've been working really hard on peacefulness and gratitude, and finding that grounded place where I can find myself and give even more.
AFP: This isn't one of my official questions, but do you meditate?
BC: It's hard for me to just meditate without something, but I started two years ago. Somebody who is a very spiritual person shared with me that she writes in a gratitude journal. I have always heard of that and I decided to do it. She showed me what hers looked like and I started doing that every morning. I get up and I write "I am" and then you leave space, and you can't say, I'm totally stressed out and not looking forward to today, even if that's how you feel. [laughter] I am strong. I am determined. I'm evolving. I'm hopeful. I'm peaceful. I'm driven. I'm grateful for the day. Whatever it is, and then you put "I am grateful for.” and make a list. I've been through a bunch of journals and it has really made an impact in my life because I notice everything. Because I know I have to fill that journal out, I notice the smallest things. It has really been amazing. And then I do read a meditation every morning, I have a book called The Promise of a New Day. So I write in my gratitude and read my meditation and that takes about 15 minutes.
AFP: I've been reading a meditation book. I've danced around it and I'm going to start doing it. So now I’ve started asking everyone I meet if they meditate!
BC: It's hard...
AFP: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is the book I'm reading, by Dan Harris, who's a news anchor. It's interesting because I’ve also been reading that what you focus on you drawn to you. So you say you are trying to focus on positive and great things, so then you're constantly aware of them more because it's on your mind. It's an interesting philosophy.
BC: And then create the positivity around it. The truth is life is really hard. Hard things happen, bad things happen. But you learn to say, "That is part of the journey." And there's an end for every beginning and you will get through it, easier said than done sometimes.
AFP: It's that daily practice of noticing and doing. I think that's why they call these things a "practice" because you have to keep doing it. It's never done. It's never perfect. It's a practice, it's like weightlifting for your mind and for your outlook.
I did a little research on you and your business and The Daily Record, who loves you, recently voted your business “The best company culture,” “The best media buying company” and “The best digital marketing firm.” Congratulations! What is your proudest work accomplishment? I know you've built this firm from your home office in your attic.
BC: The "Most Influential Marylander" award that I got was really meaningful to me because that's based on success in business and also on commitment to community. And so knowing that you have a little bit of power to make change, that was really, really important to me. It meant a lot to me.
AFP: Yeah, that is great. Congratulations! Because its broader than just your client work, it’s the work you're doing to give back to the company.
AFP: What’s the best advice you've ever received?
BC: I would say there's two things. Which I just referenced, "Life isn't fair." And as soon as you accept the fact that life isn't fair you do a lot better job of moving forward. And the other one is from my publisher that I worked for before I started my agency and he said, "If it isn't fun, don't do it." He was my mentor and he was very irreverent. He was all about , "If it doesn't serve you and it isn't fun, you were wasting your life." And it doesn't mean that has to be fun as in going out and having a vacation every day, but it's fun doing the hard work that you're doing.
AFP: There has to be some enjoyment to make it worth it all. So we met when we were both on the board at the Maryland SPCA, and I read that you're on the State Council for the Humane Society and attended TAFA, their conference for animal advocacy. That's big! Tell me about your work and what you're doing with them?
BC: That was amazing. It was animal advocates from all over the country and some from other countries. The Humane Society is really effective in their work. They support companion animal shelters and that kind of thing you and I were involved in, but they also change the lives of every kind of animal in this world. They're working on farm animals, doing some ballot initiatives for that. A big one in California, where the they collected enough signatures to get it on the ballot about humane circumstances for the lives of farm animals. That they have to be raised cage-free. Elephants; We're working really hard on saving this great species. In 10 years we won't have elephants if it continues the way it is. It was hard to hear a lot of this stuff. I lobby for them, so that Monday after the conference we went to Congress. My job was to lobby for the Endangered Species Act, it is under attack by our current administration. It it is the most important thing. It saved our bald eagles. It has saved a lot of other of the species that would be gone by now. When you reduce the number of farm animals, you reduce the number of greenhouse gases. If you help encourage people to ban straw plastic straws, you encourage oceans to be thriving. They've changed the lives of animals. They've gotten Starbucks and McDonald's to commit to cage-free eggs. It's incredible work and I'm proud to be part of it.
AFP: That's really impressive, I love it. It's funny because my oldest is on an anti-straw kick. We were on vacation in Maine and we were banning straws at every restaurant we went to. We found that there a lot of places that have paper straws or compostable straws. So every time we'd get a drink we would say, "We don't want any straws.” It's just little things, right? It's interesting when it catches on.
BC: I carry bamboo straws with me. I ordered them from Amazon.
AFP: That's very, very nice work you’re doing and good to hear there are good people working on that.
BC: It's amazing. Maryland SPCA asked me to come back on their board and I'm thinking about it.
AFP: I was there recently. My youngest is in Girl Scouts and every year when they sell cookies, they have a bunch that they get to donate somewhere. So an animal shelter was what they came up with. So I contacted the Maryland SPCA and they brought cookies to their volunteers. They gave us a tour of the shelter. It was fun to go through and see everything and let the girls experience it. It's a great facility.
BC: I also did a cool thing. I went out to Best Friends Animal Society, out in Utah, the past two years and volunteered a week each time. Pigs, horses and dogs. I worked in admissions the second year. I think pigs are the coolest animals in the world, we got to walk them.
AFP: That would be something I'd like to see! You walking a pig. [laughter].
BC: It was amazing. I really like my work with animals. I also am very interested in getting more involved things without voices. I really am concerned about abused women and also human trafficking. There are so many things to worry about, you know? And it's all things without voices, and that's what matters the most to me.
AFP: So, how do you spend your free time?
BC: I love to work out. And I love to read.
AFP: Do you read for pleasure or for business? What's your favorite type of book?
BC: Most people would say I like to read heavy stuff. I was an English major and cannot tolerate bad writing. I am just not a romance novel person or really light stuff. I just read Exit West, which is pretty heavy, I think Obama said it was his favorite book in '17. A Little Life, I just read. Oh my God. it was like 900 pages and brutal to read, but is so beautiful. And so I guess I like the kind of heavy, intellectual types, but I prefer non-fiction. I just download Educated, a non-fiction memoir about a woman whose family lived off the grid. They were raised not being educated and she ends up finding her way around. I think she goes on to law school? It's supposed to be amazing.
AFP: You said you traveled a lot, what's your favorite vacation spot. Can you pick just one?
BC: Turkey. It's hard, because I also loved Florence and Prague. I love those beautiful, old cities. We went to Alaska last year and it was incredible. That totally appealed to me because of the nature and animals, that was amazing.
AFP: So when you're having a bad day, what do you do to help yourself turn it around?
BC: Exercise and then drink red wine.
AFP: In that order, right? [laughter]
BC: Get the exercise in so the calories don't count. [laughter].
AFP: It's a bad place when you get to drinking wine on the treadmill, right?
BC: Or if just you just skip treadmill. [laughter] At least get the exercise in first then make a nice dinner and have a glass of wine. And then I read.
AFP: So now we're going to do some fun questions.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Cats or dogs? Dogs.
BC: Every person here owns one or two animals, at least. Somebody here has three cats and we have this big split among us. I don't think I ever hired anybody that doesn't have a pet.
AFP: I was going to ask you, is that a requirement to work here?
BC: I always ask the question, "Do you have pets?" I don't know, I just I think it says a lot about people.
AFP: I think anyone who would interview here that was worth their salt would know coming in, "If I don't have an animal I better have a story about one. I better have something!" Do your homework, people. [laughter].
Morning or a night person? Morning.
Cake or pie? Pie. Coconut cream pie.
Netflix or a movie theater? Theater - I love The Charles and I love The Senator.
Summer or winter? Summer.
Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? Vanilla.
Online shopping or shopping in person? I do more online shopping, but I prefer shopping in person. I just don't have the time. Because you end up sending a lot of stuff back.
Favorite holiday? Christmas. I also like Thanksgiving!
Favorite food? A piece of good chocolate. Dark chocolate.
Favorite restaurant? Tagliata in Harbor East.
If you could live in a different state or country where would it be? Alaska. I loved how quirky it is! But, I also would love to be in Paris, which is very different than being in Alaska.
AFP: Clearly, you need to live in two places. [laughter] Well, those are all of my questions!
BC: Thank you, I'm glad we could do this!
My favorite take away from this chat is one that I hear again and again — our homes are about the people and memories we make. Barb’s story about waking up to a kitchen full of her daughter’s friends really exemplifies that sentiment.
I hope that you enjoyed learning more about Barb and her work with animals as much as I did. Talking to her inspires me to create my own morning routine to set my day off on the right frame of mind. Please let me know what you think in the comments! What was your favorite thing you learned about Barb, her home, life and her business?