Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Quick Walk Down Memory Lane...

I was recently reminded that it's been ten years since I graduated from design school.  I can't help but think, "Where has the time gone?"   It feels like just yesterday I was worried about getting my projects together and whining about my Principles and Elements classes and how useless they were.  (Boy, was I wrong about that!)  But then, when I look back at all that I have accomplished since then, I feel like I've taken such a fortunate, fun, and enlightening journey.

I guess since I've been back at RCC these past few years, teaching design classes, seeing my students discover design -- I mean, really discover design for the first time -- it's made me realize how deep my passion runs for it.  From an early age, I was trained for the academic path; I knew that I was college bound, and I kept my vision focused on that.  I arrived at Chapel Hill a die-hard Tarheel and a scared small-town girl.  Four years later, I graduated with a BA in American Studies and a minor in Art History (let me tell you, Dad was really happy about that!).  Two years later, though, it wasn't enough.  I registered for an intensive two year design program, and found my true calling.

When I graduated, ten years ago, I wanted to conquer the world!  I moved to Raleigh, got a job at Pier 1 Imports, and started asking every designer that came in if they needed help, until I finally found someone.  She was an RCC alum; she needed help, so I started working with her two weeks later.  It was quite the learning experience!  Working at Designs by Houseworks was challenging and rewarding, sometimes more the former than the latter.  But I wouldn't trade that time for anything.  I learned more working for her than almost anywhere else.  I got to interact with vendors, sales reps, and clients.  I worked large commercial design jobs, and small residential installations.  I learned how to be organized, punctual, focused, and most importantly, I learned how to speak up when I had ideas.

I also learned that I don't actually like being an interior designer!

Which led me to think about other paths I could explore.  By chance, I found a job posted in Product Development at Capel Rugs, located in Troy -- the county seat of the tiny rural county I grew up in.  I interviewed, we clicked, and I started two weeks later...

Capel was truly like a home for me.  I didn't have any rug experience before I started there; just a good foundation in color theory, basic textile information, and my own personal experiments in my crafting hobbies.  It was a good match because I brought a fresh perspective and a new way of looking at things.  I learned the basics -- then started working on braided rug samples for L.L. Bean and Pottery Barn Kids.  I loved the collaborative projects, and we were constantly working together across the company to create the best product we could.  Imports and domestics, design and sales -- we had meetings, arguments, celebrations, brainstorming sessions that could last hours...

Tweed Square, my favorite braid I designed.
Florali, featured on an HGTV show

I got to travel to meet with clients -- Ralph Lauren in NYC, Pottery Barn and Serena & Lily in California -- and I got the opportunity to design our showrooms and even a catalog.  I started to design more products, as well, designing imported products in addition to braids.  I created rugs for our licensees, Jane Seymour and Biltmore Estate (see above, right, Florali), and did a fabric edged braided rug for Pottery Barn Kids' Dr. Seuss collection.

I even helped create a braid that was put into the NC Museum of History!

Songbird braided rug

I loved it, but I was starting to feel like my path was moving in a different direction.  Changes were happening within the company, and I felt that it was time to rediscover what I really wanted.  I wanted to have more freedom to work with different textile mediums, and work on establishing my vintage Etsy shop.  I picked up some design classes to teach -- graphic design and interior design -- and experimented with creating a line of toys.  I had always been creating sock monkeys for coworkers and their friends, so I expanded my scope and began to sell at shows, galleries, and through word of mouth.

A sampling of my monkeys...
This past fall I expanded that even further into another love of mine -- art.  (Here's that college minor helping out!)  I decided to re-imagine famous works of 20th century art into a line of fun accent pillows.  Fabrics, felts, and textiles of all kinds are my most favorite things in the world.  And I think my greatest strengths are color, print, and scale -- and I get to use all three in my handmade items.

My art pillows.
And what of the vintage business, you say?  Well, you lovely readers, you partake in that every time you read our blog!  We think of the blog as our way of writing you our love story about great vintage and modern design, and the products that inspire us in some way, whether it's a lonely little salt shaker or an Alexander McQueen gown.  And we try to find items that you'll fall in love with to sell in our little Etsy shop.  We've been open just over three years now, and we have grown by leaps and bounds.  We've sold dresses to Samantha Mathis and Stacy London (from What Not to Wear), and sent a set of mid-century glasses to the head of hospitality at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.  Sometimes, I like to stop and think of who might have sipped from them!

You also know about our window designs at Collector's Antique Mall.  We love designing these retail windows, and figuring out how to make our visions a reality.  We have to consider what people are buying, what's available to us to use, and how to capture what we feel is relevant right now.  We want observers to stop and look in wonder -- and then come in to shop!

Christmas 2013 window at Collector's Antique Mall

I've loved the past few years of my life.  As I look back, I find that I have been fulfilled with path I chose to take.  But now, again, I feel a slight shift, and I want to take a look at that fork in the road up ahead-- and see if another path can lead me to even greater heights.  Maybe it can teach me new and different things.  Maybe I could meet great people and make new friends.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll discover a new side to myself.  One where all my past experiences, triumphs and failures, can come together to make something else great.

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