Of Scruples, Scams, Divas, and My Evil Twin


NEWS FLASH, 10/30/2009 – Thanks to the wild popularity of this post – 554 visitors in the 6 weeks since it was published – the Evil Twin has written a goodbye note and is signing off! Thanks to all those who read and supported Nicolette Toussaint’s and Wendy Hoechstetter’s blogs!

Years ago, in the middle a huge matrimonial argy-bargy, my ex accused me of having an Evil Twin. The notion struck me as so funny that it entirely derailed my anger.

The real T. Nicolette Toussaint

Now it turns out that my ex was more or less right! This week, I learned that I have an internet doppelganger. I found out when a respected interior design colleague, Wendy Hoechstetter, called to ask me – in the most diplomatic and gracious way – if I had lost my mind.

What Wendy was wondering was why my taste had turned to schlock? And why I had sold out to a company that was abundantly represented on websites warning of internet ripoffs?

Let me hasten to add here, that I feel a professional kinship with Wendy. She and I share a strong set of ethics, a similar view of the role an interior designer should play, and mutual devotion to using design to enable those who are aging or disabled to become healthier and more independent. We both blog, comment on one another’s blogs, and belong to a Bay Area networking group affiliated with LinkedIn. I admire the legislative work Wendy has done on behalf of interior designers’ rights to practice.

Like me, Wendy changed careers in mid-life, and as a former paramedic, she has a gracious “beside manner.” She would never have put her concerns into the words I used in the paragraph above. It took the better part of 45 minutes before before I was able to figure out what prompted the undertone of concern in her voice. It was only after she mentioned the term “design diva” the second time that I started to catch her drift.

What’s in a Name?

My Evil Twin
My Evil Twin

The bottom line was that Wendy was uncomfortable with the links that “Nicolette, the Design Diva” had left in her blog’s comments section. And knowing my penchant for alliteration, Wendy had assumed that I had actually left those links. Therein lies the rub. If Wendy was confused, then others are too.

For years, I have enjoyed having a first name unusual enough to allow me to be a one name wonder like Cher, Madonna, and the artist formerly known as Prince.

But here’s the downside: If you have a common name like Susan Black or Jack Smith, everyone knows that other people share your name. They also know that everything they read that seems to be associated with your name isn’t necessarily about you.

There are very few other Nicolettes around. I have met only one since I began using Nicolette at the age of 14, when I came home and announced to my startled parents that I had changed my name. I had introduced myself at my new school using my middle name. Because my teachers would never learn to pronounce my first name, I had decided to stop using it. I would sign legal documents with the initial letter of my first name and my middle name: T. Nicolette. (No, I won’t say what the “T” stands for. And yes, my initials really are TNT.)

Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

But wait! The plot of this mistaken identity caper thickens even more, giving me yet another thing to bitch about. It turns out that Other Nicolette is also “Nicolette T.” S/he, the Design Diva, is purportedly “Nicolette Teek.”

But what’s in a name? Why should I get my knickers in a twist about Nicolette the Design Diva? In some ways, this mistaken identity is a bit absurd. Not in my most absolute, atavistic attack of alliteration would I assign myself the appellation of Design Diva! Those close to me find it a ludicrous label. My friend Coral’s comment was, “A classy lady like you doesn’t need such a ‘diva’ title.” My client and friend Alexei, said, ever so succinctly, “Never in a million years!”

Exactly. I have serious scruples about design divas. To know why, you need look no further than the Urban Dictionary. Here’s an excerpt of what it says:

  1. Diva – a bitchy woman that must have her way exactly… Often rude and belittles people, believes that everyone is beneath her and thinks that she is so much more loved than what she really is. Selfish, spoiled, and overly dramatic.
  2. Diva – female version of a hustler…

Friends, if you ever suspect that I’m becoming a Diva, please, throw a bucket of cold water over my head to try and snap me out of it!

Divas v. Decorators v. Designers

Nicolette Sheridan. People frequently get confused between us.
Nicolette Sheridan. People frequently get confused between us, but she's taller than me.

A diva, is, my opinion, the last thing my potential clients need when they’re thinking about making changes to their homes. Speaking as a survivor of three remodeling projects, I can testify that it’s a pretty stressful business, and it can be costly. You don’t want to do something that quickly becomes dated, falls apart, or otherwise needs to be redone in a couple of years.

You do want to wind up with a design that’s functional, that lasts, that meets your needs, that promotes health and safety, and that respects the environment in addition to being attractive. Designing to those standards requires training, professionalism, project management expertise, and a willingness to put one’s own ego aside in favor of attending to the needs of others.

If a person who purports to be an “interior designer” is in a rush to tell you what’s in style, what the new colors for this fall will be, or is otherwise pushing you to keep up with the Joneses, my advice is to run the other way, fast! The person you’re talking to is probably an “interior decorator” – someone whose skills are largely limited to picking out colors, curtains, and fabrics – rather than an interior designer.

Interior designers, by contrast, are trained to follow building codes, fire regulations, and federal disability access standards (in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act), to anticipate the environmental impact of various architectural materials, and to apply wear and flammability standards to meet your needs. They are taught to read and create floorplans and blueprints and to apply formulas to determine whether hallways and flow patterns are safe and practical. They know how to find reputable contractors, how to manage projects, and how to save you money and multiple patches of new gray hair.

They start work not by jumping in and recommending trendy products, but by asking questions about your needs, your frustrations, your budget, and your plans for the future. Come to think of it, that’s true not just of interior design, but also of graphic design, and internet design, all of the forms of design that I practice!

Internet Marketing and Transparency

    Remember the movie "Paper Moon"? I loved this exchange: Moses:I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples?  Addie: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!
    Remember the movie "Paper Moon"? I loved this exchange: MOSES: I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples? ADDIE: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!

Before becoming an interior designer, I spent 20 years in marketing and communications, collecting BAs in journalism and English, and master’s degree in graphic design, and additional training in radio reporting, public speaking, web design and social marketing. I have designed and launched no less than eight websites, created a social media campaign notable enough to have landed a front-page mention in the San Diego Union Tribune, and have a long record of success in running paid and “natural” search engine campaigns. I conform to professional standards in all those activities. Specifically:

  • Authenticity – I am who I say I am. I never post to my blog – or anyone else’s  – under any name but my own, real name. I also identify myself with either the link and name of my blog (Living in Comfort and Joyhttps://nicolettet.wordpress.com) or of my business website (Comfort and Joy Interior Design – www.comfortandjoydesign.com)
  • Transparency – I am often asked to promote or endorse products and websites. I find dozens of links in the comments section of my website. (I too got a comment and link from Diva Nicolette.) I delete most of these. On the rare occasion that I do include a requested product or link on my website, I do so only because I find it worthy of interest. I have never been paid to write about anyone or any product. I strive to disclose conflicts of interest, affiliations, activities, and personal agendas.
  • Truthfulness – I tell my readers the truth, in so far as I am able to determine it. I state facts when I know them, and when I’m stating an opinion, I try to make sure readers know that it’s only my opinion.
  • Fair Attribution – When I write about someone else’s work, ideas or opinions, I attribute them to the originator.
  • Accountability –  I will admit mistakes and correct them promptly. I resist sources that offer information for favors, and if I ever do accept favors, I will disclose them. I will also expose unethical practices of other bloggers when I discover them.

These ethical standards, by the way, are my adaptation of a Blogger’s Code of Standards developed by Cyberjournalist.net. That organization adapted its code from the ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and Sigma Delta Chi. (I became a member of Sigma Delta Chi years ago as an honors graduate in journalism.)

Buyer – and Reader – Beware!

Nicolette Larson. People get confused between the two of us too, but she sings better than I do. A LOT better.
Nicolette Larson. People get confused between the two of us, but she sings better than I do.

Up to this point, I have been somewhat lighthearted about this case of mistaken identity, but I also want to sound a “caveat emptor” about the Other Nicolette to my readers.

Wendy and another reputable interior design colleague – I will call her Carly – did some investigating after Diva Nicolette left a comment on Carly’s blog. For reasons none of us can discern, Diva Nicolette affiliated herself with Wendy’s business, Hoechstetter Interiors. This is misrepresentation, fraudulent, and illegal, and Wendy has contacted her attorney about it.

Carly was the one who called our attention to the problem. In her words, here’s what happened:

I have a blog and receive several emails a day from manufactures and PR companies that would like me to insert a press release or review a product and write about it in my blog. I do not respond to everyone and am very selective in what I choose to talk about. I responded to Mr. L from company C who requested to write a guest blog on bathroom design on my blog.

After reviewing the article I rejected the offer due to content and the multiple SEO links placed within the body of the article. It was a pure commercial endorsement for Company C which I was not interested in promoting… Immediately after rejecting his offer, I received an onslaught of emails indicating that comments were ready for moderation on my blog. They were always from “Nicolette” and always had a link to Company C’s sponsored web site. I deleted them once I noticed the link and simply treated them as an irritation. The last one that caught my attention. The sender name showed my friend Wendy’s business. I thought, “that’s weird, why is my friend Wendy calling herself Nicolette?”

When I complained to Mr. L in a recent email, he told me that several people write under the name “Nicolette” for his company’s blog. He was unable to identify what writer is responsible for assuming my friend’s identity…

In other words, not only do we not know who was fraudulently using the name of Wendy’s business, we don’t even know whether Diva Nicolette is singular, plural, masculine or a genuinely feminine Ms. Teek. (This is starting to remind me of the plot of Ken Follett’s novel The Third Twin in which a man discovers that he not only has an unknown criminal twin, but also that he has been secretly cloned 13 times to evil intent.)

But Wait! The Plot Thickens!

Nicolette Teek's Facebook image. It's an illustration, not a photo. Is she real? Or is "N Teek" a hominym and play on the word "antique"?
Nicolette Teek's Facebook image. It's an illustration, not a photo. Is she real? Or is "N Teek" a homonym and play on the word "antique"?

My colleagues researched the links that Diva Nicolette had left on their respective blogs and dug up more unsettling facts:

  • A Google search on the name Nicolette shows that this “entity” has commented on hundreds of blogs
  • Many of those links lead to a furniture company named “Cymax”
  • A Google inquiry on the name Cymax turns up dozens of web links from rip off report, fraud links, and consumer complaints
  • Wendy’s attorney discovered that the Better Business Bureau has given Cymax a “F” rating

Holey Moley! You’re known by the company you keep, and Ms. Teek certainly hasn’t been living up to my professional standards as blogger, a journalist, or an interior designer.

Is it too late to go back to using my first name? And no, I’m still not saying what that “T” stands for! 😉


Resource Links


From Othello

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

“Othello”, Act 3 scene 3
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)


4 thoughts on “Of Scruples, Scams, Divas, and My Evil Twin

  1. Wow, shame on them! I think it’s so sad that there are people that spend their energy toward such things. Kudos to you for taking it on with a smile and a sense of humor (and honor).

  2. Hi, Nicolette,

    Great blog post, as usual, and thanks for getting the word out there about this entity trying to impersonate me.

    Your readers might also be interested in the post I made on the subject, which contains a list of tips to people about how to protect their own selves from being scammed or impersonated like this, which can be found at http://hoechstetterinteriors.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/ive-been-impersonated-warning-about-impersonation-and-social-media/


    The real Wendy, from the real Hoechstetter Interiors

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