Happy Makers Monday!
Two weeks ago, the Makers Series kicked off, and we received wonderful feedback:
“What a dope idea! I definitely enjoyed it! Looking forward to the next Makers Monday!” -Nabu
“Thank you sooo much for this series! I get souped up hearing about creatives. Your series will be a Monday bright spot!” -Vicki
Considering how much work went into getting this project to see the light of day, I’m really happy that you guys are loving it too :)
Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to another brilliantly talented maker- Nicole Crowder of Nicole Crowder Upholstery.
Nicole and I first connected on social media over 5 years ago through mutual creative friends. At that time Nicole was a photo editor and I loved her creative eye- seriously, just take a look at her instagram! As I saw her dive into the world of upholstery, I was consistently impressed and inspired by her designs, and that feeling has only grown over time. Nicole and her work have been featured in The Washingtonian, Design Sponge, Apartment Therapy, Modern Luxury DC, Washington Post Express, and most recently she was named to Washington Life Magazine's 2019 Young & Guest List 40 Under 40!
I am honored to share her feature with you today. Nicole is dropping GEMS ya’ll. On top of sharing her creative process, I love that she shares some practical tips that you may also find helpful with your creative work! I was super inspired by our interview, so I know you will be too 🧡
With your background as a photo editor, how did the shift to upholstery take place?
I shifted to upholstery because I was just a bit burned out from working behind the desk and executing the visions of other people. Working this way didn’t feel tactile, like I could really see the fruit of my labor. I initially discovered upholstery very serendipitously in the fall of 2012, and just began playing around with fabrics and some small, old pieces of furniture in my apartment. That first set of chairs set off an affinity that has stayed with me for the past seven years. Years later I left my job as a photo editor, but definitely took some time removing that title from myself as I was transitioning into furniture designer. Slowly, I became much more comfortable in a new identity, and started to identify as an upholsterer and furniture designer. That’s when I really felt like yes, this is where I am right now in my life and I can fully claim that identity and walk in it.
I love how you incorporate bold colors and eclectic prints in your furniture designs. What guides your decision-making when it comes to what your final product will look like?
Thank you so much! So much of my decision making is based on a gut feeling. I am inspired by various things at any given point, and so sometimes when I’m designing for myself I’m inspired by the color palette of fruit, or a mood, or some details that I saw on a beautiful lace or beaded dress. I’m inspired by my ancestors or by a story that I read. That’s the beauty of working in design- inspiration can be the touchstone for so many fantastic creations, and there is a well of things that inspire my decisions. But central to any creation is making sure that there is a feeling that resonates with me when designing the furniture, and then being able to translate that into the piece.
Walk us through the creation process. What does it look like from idea to final product for one of your pieces?
The creation process changes from piece to piece. For example, if I’m working with a client, I begin by asking them for a few buzz words about different types of aesthetics that they are drawn to, or about the color palettes of their home. From there I will put together a swatchboard of fabric types that correlate with those and I will come up with a few design proposal for how I suggest we reupholster the pieces. From there it’s a little bit of a volley of ideas that go back and forth until we solidify a primary print or set of prints. Once that’s done, I will order the fabrics, pick up the furniture, begin stripping it down and cutting out the patterns of the fabric, and then finally, reupholstering the piece.
The process is generally the same if I’m designing a piece for my personal collection, with the exception that I do hem and haw a lot more over fabric choices, just because there is such a wide range of color options and prints and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with ideas. That’s why I have to be really firm about the vision that I have for piece, otherwise my imagination will take me in 1 million different directions and I’ll spend months trying to come to a design idea resolution. Sometimes that’s OK too.
You have a piece that's being really difficult- the fabric's not laying correctly, you've been stabbed by more staples than you care to count... How do you reset?
I put away my tools for the day, and spend a little time just looking at beautiful inspirational photos, usually of travel or fashion. Or I will treat myself to a nice meal, probably outdoors where I’m sitting in the sun. And I try to give my mind a rest by focusing on a completely different area; nothing to do with upholstery, but just relaxing. I love taking long baths where I’m just soaking by candlelight. That is such a fantastic mental restart for me because it reminds me to slow down and be still and to be present. I used to beat myself up over mistakes or wasting fabric because I didn’t cut it the right way or I tore a hole in it. But now I remind myself that this is work but it’s also joyful work. And the energy that I create it is the energy that it’s going to be received, so I’d like to be in a space where I’m working from joy and from confidence and calm. So I essentially step away from upholstery completely until my mindset can come back to it and be fully present.
What's the most fulfilling aspect of owning your own creative business?
It is the creation process, when I’m designing and creating moodboards for a very clear idea from my imagination. I love surrounding myself with various fabrics watches, and coloring images into a Pinterest swatch board, and then thinking about how different textures will marry with one another and how various color palettes can work together. I love the process of figuring out how something will ultimately look and trying to execute a piece of furniture that does not exist anywhere else in the world. I know that it sounds selfish (because it doesn’t involve creating a piece for someone else specifically), but there is nothing like the feeling when an idea crystallizes in your mind, and you can execute that in a very tangible real way that elicits a great response from people who have responded favorably to it.
As a small business owner, sometimes motivation can ebb and flow. What slows you down and how do you overcome it?
I tend to slow down by being distracted by doing 1 million other things, when I should really just focus on the task in front of me. A lot of times when I’m upholstering I will just stop midway and then pop on over to Instagram, or check Twitter, or check my email. Just for no reason at all. Those little distractions are mini energy leaks throughout the day, and I only imagine how much more I could be finishing in terms of projects if I were distracted less. As I become older, I think more about how much time I am losing because of distraction—whether due to my own fault or someone else—and by my own mismanaging of time, and it’s something that I think a great deal about and how I can use my time more mindfully.
But distractions are very clear indicators that I’m not motivated to work in that moment, And sometimes I will push through that feeling by turning on a podcast or a playlist and putting my phone away and just keeping my head down and finishing as much of the work as I can. I also get through those slow periods by not beating myself up when I’m not as “productive” in a particular day as I wanted to be. And I’ve also tweaked my language to go away from being “Was I productive or was I busy today?” to instead asking “How was I fruitful today?” Sometimes I’m not always fruitful as it relates to Upholstery, but perhaps I helped a friend get through a difficult situation, or I did something for my self care. Essentially, I try to measure my productivity less on how much work I got done in a day and more about did I make well use of the time that I had in the day and how I feel at the end of that day.
What's been your favorite entrepreneurial highlight so far?
One highlight was definitely when I signed the lease for my first upholstery design studio just before the 2 year anniversary of my business. For two years I worked out of a 300 sq ft space in my apartment, and having a dedicated workspace in DC—on a main strip that gets a lot of foot traffic— was a dream because I was able to afford that place with the income that I made from my craft. And it was such a turning point in the growth of my business. It marked a point where I pushed past a comfort zone of wondering: can I be successful in this industry, can I sustain myself in an expensive city doing essentially a very antiquated craft, and will I be able to find spaces that help foster that? That studio space was a dream manifested, and I’m excited to grow into the next space beyond it.
What's the most important thing you've learned so far about yourself as a maker?
I’ve learned that I am extremely adaptable and open to shifting how I think and how I work and the pace at which I work much more quickly and easily than I thought I would be. I’m used to thinking and working and responding to situations very quickly, but being a maker I’ve been forced me to slow down my thinking. To be more strategic in how I spend my time and my resources and my money.
That was dope, right? Thank you Nicole for being apart of the Makers Series and sharing your creative insights with us. As mentioned, Nicole recently moved into her own studio space and it is so beautiful! If you’re in the DC area, I encourage you to go visit! We took the photos for her feature in one of the final weeks where she was working from home, just before her move.
Miss last week’s feature? Check it out here!
Want a makers photo session for yourself ? Check out the details in this newly announced service 🖤
Let me know what you thought of Nicole’s interview! Stay tuned for our next Makers Monday feature on June 3!