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How a letter opened a door…

I thought about titling this post, “How a letter changed my life” but that sounded a little overstated. Maybe it changed the course of my business, though, and helped plant the seed of creating heirlooms that hold memories. One of those occasions involved a letter from my grandfather.

A huge part of creating our monogram collection came from a very important person in my life, and the fine china we’re offering wouldn’t have come to fruition if not for my grandfather, more affectionately known as Pop. Pop was a an amazing painter and sculptor, creating detailed, realistic carvings out of stone and wood, lovely landscape barn paintings (one of his specialties) and for many years, beautiful florals on fine china. Pop taught china painting for over 20 years, to dedicated students in northern California. As a child I received special pieces from Pop; more memorably a plate only brought out at christmas, and a delicate mug, covered with pink roses and rimmed with gold. I thought it was pretty special to receive such pieces. But it wasn’t until I was married in 2000 that he started sending me plates; you had to be married to receive such beauties. They are exquisite, and I have a variety of dessert plates mostly: a set of four autumn-themed in browns, golds and reds, a sweet set of purple toned flowers with more gold rims, a teapot.

Knowing how special his talents were, I wanted to learn, and as he got older, I realized I had better ask soon. So I wrote to him and asked and received this letter back, telling me where to buy china, and how he would be ready to teach me the following summer I was in California. This undoubtedly has played a huge part in our offering, in the inkling to create it and we actually have our china manufactured at the very place he recommended and used for his own china.

What about you? Has a letter ever brought you a new opportunity?

Posted on September 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Living Outside

I’m still on my mini sabbatical; refueling before getting back to work on Tuesday. We returned from our road trip out west, and the change of scenery and even all the driving really did my soul good. Just seeing the different colors and scenery was vacation enough, but we spent so much time outside, and it just felt good.

Of course just spending time in Yellowstone National Park was great- to see the amazing landscape and the animals that I never see was so much fun. We’d be driving by a meadow or river, and then come across a herd of Bison pretty regularly while we were there. On the way, we even saw a mom and baby moose. And bears! We saw four off at a pretty safe distance- it was definitely a highlight of the trip. I was actually terrified that we would be eaten by bears. That may sound irrational, but all the places we camped had really strict food storage requirements that I took SUPER seriously. Everything had to be packed up when not in use, even stoves and water and toothpaste. If a blueberry fell on the ground I’d be searching around for it on the ground, and then scanning the horizon for the bear it would lead to our camp. I learned later how rare it was for a bear to even want to come near people, but while I was there I was sort of obsessed. And the water- I get in water whenever I can- it’s my thing, and we found a boiling river that fed into a cooler river, that created a natural hot springs. We had to force ourselves out of this place, after two hours in the water.

But, aside from all the driving, we spent every moment outside. We camped most nights, once even on the side of the road in a beautiful canyon by a river, and because of the strict food storage requirements mentioned above, wherever we drove, we had everything we needed to stop, cook or make lunch or dinner, if we were too far from our camp when we were hungry. So, we would see a beautiful spot, and pull out our food, and make sandwiches, or boil pasta, or prepare one of the super crazy freeze dried space food concoctions my husband purchased for the trip, including the ice cream sandwich pictured here.

There’s just something about having everything you need to survive with you, living outdoors for a while. Definitely not living off the land. I mean, we had ice, and grocery store food, and NEEDED our car to survive for sure. But that sense of respecting, and being so close to nature, sleeping under the stars, finding all of our entertainment from outdoors (no wifi or even cell service in yellowstone): staring at the sky, hiking, swimming, (and once instance of making a teeter totter from a tree trunk) and just feeling the senses on your skin. That’s what I love. Just being outside.

Posted on August 29th, 2014 | Comment »

Color Cause and Effect

Last year, when we bought our first house in Rogers Park, I spent a lot of time looking online, scouring design blogs for the perfect white to paint our new living room and dining room, because yellow and red weren’t exactly my first color choice:

I chose Benjamin Moore’s Super White, as it offset the dark wood baseboards and loved how crisp and clean it made the two rooms. The foreground is the living room in this pic, sorry I don’t have a better shot. (You can see the other white in the foyer, which I can only guess is Navajo white, haven’t gotten around to brightening up that room yet)

So… when it came time to paint our downstairs bath after a year long renovation that my husband did himself completely independently, (more on this later) I thought, why reinvent the wheel? I’m trying to keep everything simple in my life, and since I’ve already found the perfect white paint, why not just pick it up for the bathroom? So, I did, painted it, and we noticed it just wasn’t right. The new shower’s subway tiles now looked cream, which is not the color we were looking for:

Now, we had to think about it. What color would look clean and crisp, and offset the tiles, making them look more white? We got out the swatch book, laid a tile right on top of the colors, and chose a creamy white for the trim: Cloud White, and a light grey for the walls: Harbor Grey. Both by Benjamin Moore. I think it really helped the tile! What do you think? Do you have a favorite paint color?

Posted on August 11th, 2014 | Comment »

Inspiration to Invitation, Custom

We’ve been creating A LOT of custom invitation designs for our clients. We start with their ideas and inspirations, and build on that. Any successful custom design starts with a spark of an idea, and I love getting to know our clients, their loves, and their style, to help them tell their love story.

One of my favorite projects of the year (and last year too) was working with Katie and Brandon on their save the date and wedding invitations. I’m sure I’ll devote more blog posts to this great couple, but for now, wanted to share a bit of the process getting to the invitation. Katie loves paper, and we happened to be the first stop on their wedding planning to do list, after they picked their venue, which is a great place to start figuring out the direction of your wedding design overall. I felt Katie and I had an immediate connection. She was clear in explaining her style, preferences, and knew what she wanted, and trusted me to help her create that. As an aside, trust + communication makes for a pretty great client!

We started in spring of 2013, creating a vintage style postcard from a photo Katie had found of Cafe Brauer, and photos that I had them shoot in profile. They both thought their silhouettes looked pretty accurate, especially Brandon! You’ll have to tell me if you agree- see what they look like over on our site-they both agreed to model and helped me shoot our custom design process with Julia Franzosa. See, great clients!

Cafe Brauer’s architecture was the main inspiration for the letterpress invitation suite. I wasn’t getting much inspiration from photos I was finding on the web, so one sort of spring-like day, I drove over to the site and peeked around, taking photos.

We provided a whole page of patterns based off of our inspirations from this outing, and in the end, Katie chose the ones that most reminded her of the iconic prairie style building.

These were printed 2 color letterpress with Rohner Letterpress on 179lb ultra thick cranes cotton paper, and Nick and I had a tough time getting the taupe color to not look chocolate. I learned a ton about transparent inks and the mix and how paper color affects the outcome that day, as we spend a good hour, just getting the taupe right.

The details really are the key to adding individuality to any paper suite. The inner envelopes were lined in light grey paper, and calligraphed by Stacey Shapiro. We letterpressed their silhouettes under the response envelope flap, and painted the edges green, by far one of my favorite details.

Now, we’re starting on the Day-Of Details, and are incorporating these designs and more into their welcome bags, menus, programs, and escort cards. Stay tuned for more!

Posted on July 21st, 2014 | Comment »

Ship Shape

One of my favorite ways to add interest to any invitation is to cut it into an interesting shape. Depending on the intricacy of the piece to be cut, it may be done by die or laser.

Die cuts are made from metal, then attached to presses. Our letterpress printer often adds a die to our forms for simple shapes or borders:

Or even more complex shapes, like this mountain die cut:

Or this shaped Lobster Rehearsal dinner invite (could be laser or die cut):

I’m also loving shaped state cards (who wants one for California?) Like this one we created for a Wisconsin wedding this summer:

Laser is suitable for complex artwork, where details must be cut from the center of the art. A computer file is translated into a digital rendering, then communicated to a laser to cut out the image specified. This can be used in metal, leather, and other materials, but we typically use paper for our invitations. (I would love to try this on leather!)

This tiny window cut outs and other architectural details worked out great laser cut into this Chicago skyline invitation:

The inticate beauty of ceramic tile translates beautifully for a destination wedding:


What about you? Do you like the idea of a special cut shape in your wedding invite?

Posted on July 1st, 2014 | Comment »

How to connect in your Community

Inspired by my trip to Alt Summit last week, I was reminded of the importance of getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things to feel inspired and connected. But you don’t have to attend an expensive conference or travel across the country to do so. It’s even better to build that support in the city you live in, no matter what your industry. The following list comes from things I’ve learned from marketing consultants, business advisors, and the trial by fire business knowledge that 9 years of running a small business brings.

1. Create a Support Group. I started a monthly group with other small business owners a couple years ago, where we discuss the challenges and successes in our businesses. And eat a lot of cheese while doing so.

2. Host an Event. This can be anything from teaching a class relating to your expertise, or even asking another maker or designer to teach one in your studio. We’ve got a fabric dyeing class in the works right now, taught by Nora Renick-Rinehart this summer. Also, we taught a card making class at West Elm, pictured above.

3. Donate your Time. This of course, could be relating to your business again, or just doing something you love to find other like-minded people out there. Whether you volunteer in a community garden or tutor kids in your neighborhood, it’s just getting involved that helps you feel connected.

4. Collaborate. The wedding industry is known for creating beautiful inspiration shoots to showcase their work, which can be a really fun way to get to know others in your field. Or collaborate with another business owner who can bring something to the table you can’t, like a great calligrapher and stationery designer, an illustrator and fabric weaver, or a writer and photographer.

5. Say Thank You. This might be the most important. I think saying thank you does so much more than just lets the recipient know you appreciate their action, gift or time. It’s a reminder of our connectedness to each other, and, is often neglected. And what better way to feel connected, than by personally putting pen to paper on lovely stationery, finding that special stamp, and dropping in the mail- it’s just intimate to share our appreciation this way.

Posted on June 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The importance of Real connection (Alt Summit RECAP)

Photo courtesy of Alt Summit

Inspired by our friend, fellow Californian, and official Sarah Drake photographer Julia Franzosa’s recent blog post about unplugged weddings, a recent conversation with my husband about the importance of making the effort to see family, and all of the time we all spend “connected” on social media, I felt it was really important to just share a small reminder of how important it is to truly connect with people, in real time, face to face.

What better reminder of this was last week’s Summer Altitude Summit in Salt Lake City. For those of you who don’t know, Alt is a conference held by bloggers and designers for bloggers and designers. There are break out sessions, design classes, amazing speakers, and roundtable discussions on everything from publishing a book to tackling wordpress. I just got back, and already, I’m blogging. (If you’re paying attention, you’ll know I haven’t posted in about a month, which is far too long- I’m sorry!)

To further foster the importance of connection, it’s a tradition at Alt to share business cards.

So many bloggers/designers/entrepreneurs I know are overwhelmed. They are working crazy hours, trying to juggle family and clients, while striving to remain their best possible selves. There’s so much pressure (usually self inflicted) to be the best in our fields, produce amazing work, and look chic (or at least have a cute mani) doing it. But, it sort of turns out we are all pretty similar. Even the people with the shiny websites and perfectly styled living rooms, tens of thousands of followers, and big press pages have insecurities, dirty laundry and bad days. We are all part of a like-minded community together, but unless you get out from behind the laptop, you may not know it. (almost) EVERYONE I met at Alt was friendly, open, eager to share their knowledge and experience, along with their contact information, to follow up. EVERYONE wanted to learn, have fun, and be honest.

New Friends, Christina and Kristen.

The most important thing I took away though, was something I already know: for me to feel sane running my business and being a mom, is to make the effort to stay connected with real people, in real time.

You don’t have to fly across the country to do it though. Later this week I’ll be sharing ideas for entrepreneurs to connect with like-minded people in their community.

Thanks, Alt Summit!

Posted on June 23rd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

custom wedding invitations

Each season, I’m continually surprised at how our clients are my biggest inspiration, and this wedding season is no exception. Case in point: when Emily and Angelo brought an image of a watercolored laurel wreath to their consultation last fall as inspiration for their save the dates. During the meeting, I wasn’t sure I could paint it, actually. I hadn’t watercolored anything since 2011, when we first experimented with the watercolor wash we now offer as a ready made invite and thank you notes. Angelo even asked me, “would I paint this?”, and, I answered him honestly, that I would try, and if I didn’t like the outcome, would ask one of our freelancers to handle it.

I was excited to learn that, after a few pencil sketches, a couple different paper experimentations, and two new brushes, that I liked what I was seeing!

We recently added some photos of their entire watercolored invitation suite to our site- BIG thanks to Julia Franzosa for her beautiful photos!

Posted on May 13th, 2014 | Comment »

Spring Brunch, photographed by Julia Franzosa

This year, in appreciation of our relationships with the folks who support our business, we hosted a spring brunch in our Chicago studio to say thank you. I loved designing this event, and got to pull together elements that I wished I had the budget for at my own wedding! It was interesting to see really how much went in to planning, even for a small event. I really feel for all you who are planning your weddings right now! The decisions are, at times, overwhelming. But you know that.

I was lucky to be able to pull some great tabletop decor from my office mate/vintage rental company, Nimble Well. Her etched glassware was really the icing on the cake for me. She also lent me all of her vintage silver, which really added texture to the table. Sarah from Plate also was kind enough to lend me her beautiful vintage dish ware for the event.

The food was prepared and designed by Boutique Bites. Working with Elaina was just great; she was super helpful, patient and polished, and together we came up with a four course meal: scrambled egg cups, her parisienne melon salad, corvina with lemon risotto, and finished with a campari sorbet. She also created two fresh juices to pair with prosecco. Her team was so professional, and everyone (including me) was well taken care of!

We used the Belgian linens from our monogram collection, the light grey Vence. My favorite. The runners and napkins are lightweight, and so airy and springy.

We took this time to describe what it is to host our custom clients in our studio for their wedding consultations, and introduced this process to our planners in a new offering, Love Notes, a guide to creating custom correspondence. We have a limited supply of these little letterpress books, and would love to mail you one! All of our guests also received a letterpress notebook to help with the planning.

These offerings, along with our menu, calligraphed by Stacey Shapiro, were tucked in a linen bag our friend Linda made us especially for the event. We embroidered each of our guests’ names in light grey onto the bag for a little keepsake to take home.

My studio manager moonlights as a floral designer, so we picked up some floral from Pistil and Vine and Emily pulled it all together. We used the vintage bottles from my own wedding, and ran an olive branch runner down the table. The cool blue green reminds me of the California colors I grew up with, and I loved the bright pops of yellow from the mimosa and roses.

It was so great to connect with everyone at our spring brunch, in such a meaningful way. I truly think our invitations helped set the tone for this, as they were handwritten to each guest, and we asked guests to respond in turn, with our response cards. See our last post for the images!

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 | Comment »

Spring Brunch Invitations, Photographed by Julia Franzosa

This year, in appreciation of the work our friends in the industry send our way, we hosted a brunch to say thank you. I wanted my guests to feel personally appreciated, and felt the best way to show this was to handwrite each invitation.

I kept the response cards blank so guests could handwrite their responses. It was so special to receive those in the mail, and I highly encourage all of my clients to do this for their wedding invitations. Even if a guest couldn’t make it, it was great reading their personal notes back to me.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with yellow this last year, so I lined the envelopes in yellow tissue, and edge painted just the bottom edge of the response card.

My handwriting isn’t the prettiest (as you can see) so I asked Stacey Shapiro to calligraph the invitations for me- much better outcome than I could have done!

The photos from the brunch are back- check in on Tuesday for the beautiful photos from Julia Franzosa featuring our spring table ideas and brightly colored food and drink!