When Wendy Conklin wanted custom chairs on a limited budget for her home, she learned upholstery skills and made exactly what she wanted. Now she designs and manufactures custom chairs that create a cheerful focus in homes everywhere.
So, from elementary school teacher to Chair Whimsy queen. How did that happen?
I’ve always loved creating, whether it was creating a fun classroom where kids would want to learn or creating curriculum for other teachers. My days as a classroom teacher of 3rd, 5th, and gifted students showed me how much I loved preparing lessons that were engaging for both students and teachers. So, I set a goal for myself to get published and spent a summer writing a book for an educational publishing company in hopes that they would want it, and they did! That eventually turned into presenting workshops to teachers and writing for that company for many years. I loved writing because it was a creative outlet for me.
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In my personal life, I always made it a point to challenge myself by trying new things. I took an Egyptian Hieroglyphics course from the University of Chicago (failed miserably!), learned to play the guitar, and took some upholstery courses. I’ve always loved decorating, and doing my own furniture was a dream since I could not afford custom furniture. After the upholstery courses, I opened an Etsy shop and began customizing chairs. That business grew until I finally quit my day job to do it full time.
What inspires your designs?
Literally everything. Everywhere I go I’m always thinking about a color combo that I see and how it would look great on a chair. When I see clothing, I’m thinking about how that fabric could transform a chair. It’s always in my head without even trying.
Where can people find your chairs?
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I do love color and infusing lot of pattern play on my chairs. I see chairs as the starting point to decor, and then everything else in the room can compliment the chair design.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your style, what would they say?
Colorful, French, cottage, mixed with a bit of whimsy!
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
It’s part of my job, so it’s not a daily ritual or a specific time that I set aside. I have to create to fulfill orders. So it’s a lot of brainstorming, and I have to be very quiet as I brainstorm fabric combos to think through it and come up with an ultimate decision on a look for a client.
How do you start your studio day?
I start every day with a 5 minute meditation. This sets my mindset right for the day. Then, I get to work!!!
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
All my upholstery tools and materials are necessary for my work, otherwise nothing can get done. I do enjoy having a television in there as well as a sound system to listen to music, podcasts, and funny TV shows as I work throughout the day!
How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?
I have to take on one thing at at time when working. I’ve got storage bins that help me organize my fabrics, but I’m not a multi-tasker. I can’t get anything done that way!
How has your work changed over time?
I’m getting better and better at mixing patterns and finding better fabrics for chairs. It’s the old saying, the more you practice, the better you get.
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
I do a lot of DIY projects for my home. Always painting a new color on the walls, too, so I can change the color scheme in a room. Instead of buying all new stuff, I shop my house and repurpose and rearrange to get a new look.
What do you consider your greatest strength in running a creative business, and where do you welcome the most help?
My greatest strength is in the designing. But I welcome help with website design/updates and marketing. Those are outside of my realm of expertise and I don’t have time in the day to learn it. The experts are the ones who can do it best and efficiently saving me money in the long run!
What is your advice for someone starting a creative venture?
Get a business coach and hire someone who is just above what you think you can pay. Their guidance and advice will be invaluable to your growth.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
It’s definitely something anyone can learn. It takes time and lots of practice, but we are all geared to be creative individuals. There’s lots of exercises you can do to learn to think more creatively. And surrounding yourself with creative thinking people also makes you more creative.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
I loved making crafts as a kid and the earliest one I remember (and still have) is a pencil holder made from a frozen orange juice can. It’s covered in felt and has a cute bunny on it.
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
I learn that I can change and improve my craft as I work hard. We can all grow and be better humans, contributing to the beauty of this world.
What do you hope the next year will bring?
More growth, sales, and skill in my craft!
Interview posted August, 2019.
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