Today, we will be visiting the home of Kristin Loffer Thesis of KLT:works. Kristin’s shop is filled with hand-printed tees, mobiles, and plushies for little ones. And her background in fine art has helped her and her husband provide a creative and inspiring space for themselves and their son. Enjoy the tour…
1. You live in the beautiful state of Washington. In what kind of home do you live (style, decade built, etc) and with whom?
We have a Craftsman style bungalow that was built in 1927 (what some may call a fixer upper). I live with Chris (my husband of 10 years), Sayer (my 21m old son), & Kiki the kitty (my first muse).
2. You received your MFA in Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts. And you currently own and operate KLTworks, which encompasses both your artwork and a children's collection of wares. How has your experience as an artist influenced your other work designing tees, mobiles, and other housewares? Was it a smooth transition?
My business started from me fiddling around in my art studio during a job transition, while I was searching for another job. I just made things that I enjoyed without worrying about why I was making them. It was a form of art therapy I suppose. I had recently been the curator of an art museum store where I had made some connections with some wonderful artisans who had their own businesses. In 2006, a woman who had her own line of cards and products (Truly) that I used to carry in the museum store, invited me to have a show in her Seattle storefront. Her only request was that I make things that were inspired by spring. I approached it like a fine artist would, but I actually ended up making “products”. I made my first Flights of Fancy mobile for that show along with my first owl and bird plushies. It really did blend the concepts of artist and product maker, which is still how I work today. My thread drawings were also in that show both as framed portraits and as pillows that at that time had images that were sewn (now they are silk-screened images). From that art show, I really paid attention to peoples reactions and that is really when I started focusing on making children’s products. It appeared that children responded positively to my designs/art.
I think that artists have been making “products’ for years. The idea of business and making products seemed to be something “artists’ really never admitted to doing though- at least when I was in school. However, one of my art idols, Alexander Calder, was sort of my inspiration to do what I am doing. He was the artist/person that coined the word “mobile” and did amazing mobiles that were called “art”. What some people didn’t know is that he loved making things for his kids and other children. He made toys all of the time…. even a play circus and put on performances for friends and family. I mention this because it is really how I go about stuff now. I observe what my son enjoys and that informs my design ideas. The business part determines what the products might be. I would say that I make what interests me, and then figure out later if it would make a good product. I also still work like I am still in graduate school. I work all of the time. I am extremely disciplined and truly enjoy getting into the creative bubble. So, I guess you could say that the transition from artist to owner of klt:works was smooth and it happened somewhat organically.
3. What is your favorite thing to create for KLT: works?
This is a tough question because I enjoy making and creating everything. Ever since my son was born, I have really loved making things that get a big smile out of him. My husband and I designed the Critters Mobile when I was pregnant so that was a favorite creation. I have to say that I enjoy making plush and mobiles. It is great knowing that something that I made is making a child smile and giggle. I get the most wonderful emails and pictures from customers about their mobiles and plush in particular. It is an amazing feeling. But I do need to say that I am very proud of my slug plush or as Sayer would say the “Gunk Gunks”. Sayer LOVES his and takes it everywhere with him. I get a real kick out of that.
4. How do you balance being a mom and a career woman?
Wow, this is a question that I will answer the best that I can. Balance is a constant challenge for me because I do every aspect of the business. I am lucky in so many ways. First of all I have a really strong circle of people helping me out- namely my family. My parents live really close so they look after Sayer 2-3 times a week. My husband and I really work as a team. He helps in a ton of ways- from making dinner to helping stitch and stuff critters. He also makes the wood structure of the mobiles along with stringing them. My husband is an artist too and is a nice sounding board for me to throw out ideas. Not to mention, he is really helpful technically.
I work when Sayer sleeps. The trick is getting any sleep myself. One of the biggest hints, is that I absolutely love what I do. I actually get energy from the business. It would even be hard sometimes for me to tell you what part I like best about the business. I love the creating /making and the social marketing. I have also met some wonderful women through this business that have really kept me going through the times of feeling frazzled and alone.
In a nutshell, I am proud and love what I am doing. I can’t help but think that it makes me a better mom because I am energized and happy. Plus, Sayer knows how important he is to the process.
5. Your house has an artsy-modern feeling to it. How would you describe your design style (in regards to your home)?
We love the clean and simple lines of the modern aesthetic along with the concept of form following function. But we also really like the character and stories behind old found objects. Maybe a good descriptive phrase would be, modern nostalgia…. It is a serious challenge to maintain a clean, modern look when you are two artists that (at the core) are crazy packrats.
6. I absolutely love your studio/ workspace, especially those framed chalkboards. Did you make those yourself? If so, how did you make them/ where did you come up with idea? If you didn't make them, where did you get them?
Thanks, I love the space too. My husband made the framed chalkboards for me. I really needed a way to stay organized with orders. It’s up for debate as to who came up with the idea but it was when we were painting our hallway with chalkboard paint. I had those old funky frames from a window display I had made at the museum store. I got them from an antique/thrift store. Chris just painted a smooth wood with chalkboard paint and then framed them.
7. I noticed that your use of color on the walls and floors of several rooms in your home, are balanced with white accents (furniture, shelving, fireplace, moldings, etc). And your studio is the exact opposite: white walls with bolder pieces of furniture bringing color in. Was that a conscience decision? Do you find it easier to work in a white space? If so, why?
It was a conscience decision. We actually had used that studio space first as our bedroom. We had painted most of it white because of wanting to lighten up the space (given it is in the attic). But we had painted two of the walls red. After Sayer was born, we moved the studio upstairs (so our bedroom was on the same floor as his). We painted the red wall that was red closest to my workspace, white. I work with a lot of colors and I didn’t want the color on the walls to compete with the work. I like the walls either a white or natural color in my studio spaces for that reason.
8. The hanging artwork behind your wassily chairs in the living room is a great way to bring added interest to the space. What is your favorite decorative element in your home?
The artwork in the living room is a screen that I made with block prints. It is really nice in the window like that. It is hard to pin point my favorite decorative element in our home. It is sometimes a rotating gallery space. However, the things that stick out to me are the black & white pictures of Sayer and the chalkboard in the hallway.
As far as my favorite art on the walls, I would have to say that I really like seeing my tea creature paintings (one over the fireplace and another on the left wall.) I made those as an exercise to relax when I was in grad school. I painted one a night for a month with tea water & watercolor. I didn’t allow myself to think too much about them and only spent a half hour on each. My husband encouraged me to frame them for our first faculty show exhibition together (my husband and I met teaching at the local college art dept).
9. As a very creative woman and mother of a young boy, how are you able to encourage creativity in Sayer, your son?
Both Chris and I really want Sayer to grow up understanding the importance of creativity and making things by hand. The chalkboard in the hallway is a way to keep creativity accessible and not too precious. I don’t want Sayer to ever feel like he needs to create masterpieces or edit himself when he draws. A chalkboard is a great way to document ideas, tell stories and just play without feeling the need to be perfect. We also create with him along with giving him plenty of space and resources.
We are all very into music and dancing which is always happening around our house. Sayer is growing up watching both Chris and I make everything. We have made a lot of what your see in our house. If we need, like, or what something, we generally try to figure out if we can make it first. Because we love all things modern, we gravitate towards things that are expensive. Being on a budget also encourages us to be creative. Chris and I like to cook. Admittedly, Chris does most of the cooking these days, but we try to get Sayer involved in that as well. We both tend to give Sayer toys that are very simple and generally don’t have batteries. He has lots of opportunities to use his imagination. I do give him a calculator to play with too… you know, for balance.
10. What has been the best advice you have received as a small business owner? (anything about starting out, how to promote yourself without going crazy, whatever you would like to mention) What advice can you share for moms (or anyone for that matter) on getting a business started?
I actually started my business before the days of Etsy, Facebook, & Twitter, etc. The month I started my website, was the same month Etsy was getting off the ground. So the advice I was given was a little different then if I was just getting started now.
I think one of the best things that I was told was to do to stay true to myself and to work REALLY hard. This is advice that I have held dear both as a fine artist and a business owner. Making sure that what you create, is really speaking to who you are as a person and what you enjoy rather than what you think may be popular. Being a small business is tough enough, adding the mom factor is just icing on that cake.
My advice is to make sure what ever your business is, it is something that you really love doing. Because it will be your social life, and the reason that you don’t get to take that nap you so desperately need and want. Also, make sure before jumping into such a venture, you have a really strong support network, such as partner, family, friends. They will be what keep you motivated, on those days that you are exhausted and your perspective is out of whack. I also think remembering that you are human is important and that your child (and husband) will love you even if you don’t get all of your emails answered right away or if you wear the same thing everyday.