Everyone loves a great DIY Project as a creative way to fill an afternoon or weekend. Karen June Grant and Zandra Zuraw, however, love DIY so much, they built a company around it. Their beautiful site, Little Yellow Couch, teaches people how to develop their own unique style in their homes, and their stunning Vintage inspired projects have graced the pages of some of our favorite publications. Today, we sit down with Karen and Zandra to discuss the evolution of their company, their individual design styles, and the inspiration for their most creative projects.
Karen and Zandra, thank you so much for sitting down with us today to talk about your site! Little Yellow Couch is the brainchild of two friends looking to share their sense of style and creativity with the World. Where did the idea for your site come from, and did either of you have any previous experience in this field?
We’ve been friends much longer than we’ve been in business together. We met when our kids were in preschool. I [Karen] spotted Zandra dropping her son off at school and she was covered in paint. I immediately knew this was a person whom I could relate to. As it turns out, Zandra does paint at least one room or piece of furniture probably 12 times per year.
The first thing I [Zandra] noticed about Karen was actually the bag she was carrying. It was beautiful and I’d never seen another one like it. Turns out, Karen was making them for her new business called “Simply June,” where she sold a variety of handmade, sewn, and embroidered items. Soon after, I started my own handmade business called “Zeal,” consisting of painted and decoupaged home decor items.
For several years, we met to share business information, marketing tips, and to help trouble shoot creative blocks. We were like own mini mastermind group, but we were really focused on our own, separate businesses. Eventually, we each found ourselves at a crossroads in our companies. We were getting burnt out as makers and would need to take some financial and personal risks to grow bigger.
In 2013, during one of their informal meetings, the idea started brewing that we could join forces and create something completely new, using each of our strengths and doubling our productivity. Little Yellow Couch has gone through a few different iterations since then, from curating handmade gifts to be sold as monthly subscription boxes to full time blogging about DIY, lifestyle and home making, to their current focus, which is on teaching others how to develop their own personal style in their homes.
You both knew you wanted to work together in a capacity that didn’t necessarily involve making and selling items. When deciding to start your company, what initially attracted you both to the idea of building a website in the Interior Design Space?
We are both always changing up our own homes and developing our personal aesthetics. Home is very important to us. It’s the space where we express our history, our eye for design, our family stories, what’s currently interesting us [and so much more.] Our homes tell the story of where we’ve been and who we are becoming. It gives us a lot of joy (we frequently emit high pitched squeals of delight) when we envision something and then are able to make that vision a reality. It can be something as small as rearranging a bookcase to fit a family heirloom or as big as a full-blown renovation.
Speaking of your love for design, your vintage inspired style had us immediately smitten at first site. How would you define your individual and collective tastes in design?
We often say that there are a lot of things in each other’s homes that we could easily incorporate into our own spaces. We have very similar tastes. But there’s still a difference in our styles. I [Karen] lean a tiny bit further toward vintage and Zandra can be attracted to modern design. I love dark and moody while Zandra is a bit more pop and colorful. What we have in common is that above all, we love the mix. Combining different eras, mixing up patterns, layering imagery, it’s the act of composing seemingly disparate styles into something that visually expresses a personal narrative, that’s what we share.
You guys are so creative! Where do you find the inspiration behind your amazingly imaginative crafts and projects?
Ha! Well, this one is kind of funny because after creating original content, 5 days a week for our blog, we got a bit burnt out on the act of creating! For a few months, we didn’t want to look at another ball of yarn, paintbrush or piece of fabric. But we felt a lot of pressure to be constantly coming up with projects [no one has ever] seen before. The truth is, there aren’t a lot of truly new ideas under the sun. Once you realize that, you feel a bit of relief and can start enjoying making something for the pure happiness it brings. But, in terms of our process, we used to have a monthly theme that would direct our efforts. For example, in the photo you show of the silhouette made of the spines of books, that came from our theme on literature. The throw pillows made of napkins and placemats came from our month on using found objects. It really helps to focus your brainstorming when you have parameters and limits to what you can use or what theme you’re trying to embody. Not that we’re big in to theming our lives! Since we love to mix things up, we almost never go for a matchy-matchy look. The themes we used were broadly related to different aspects of our lifestyle. They just helped get our creative juices flowing.
You’ve appeared in numerous publications featuring your stunning DIY projects and blog, to what do you attribute your huge success in the blogging world?
This is another one that kind of makes us snicker! We don’t consider ourselves a “huge success,” at least not yet! But we are grateful for every bit of recognition we receive and it means the world to us when we hear from someone that they love what we do and are inspired to get creative on their own. The truth is, building a business is a slow process full of lots of diligent work. We actively pursue opportunities to partner and collaborate with others, and we spend a great deal of time learning the business of marketing. We have regular meetings to discuss our priorities and divide up our to-do lists. We work during the day when the kids are at school and in the evenings after they’re in bed. Weekends you’ll find us doing at least a few social media updates, catching up on other blogs, doing some editing and listening to entrepreneurial business podcasts. Thankfully, our husbands are supportive!
It sounds as though you both are as interested in the business aspects of your blog as you are the creative aspects. As two women in the business community, how do you feel being female has affected your overall growth and position as a brand?
Honestly, we don’t think about it much. We’ve both believed, from a young age, that we could do anything we set our minds to, regardless of our gender. That said, we happen to be in an industry that skews female, both in terms of industry leaders and consumers, so there isn’t an inherent discomfort there. The times when we feel most uncomfortable are when we’re asked about our business by someone (often a man) who has no idea what it is we do. There’s certainly a stereotype about “decorating” as a frivolous activity of the old school house wife. But those encounters end up helping us clarify how we define ourselves. If anything, we want to be careful that we don’t exclude men from our consideration when thinking about who our readers and clients are. Both of our husbands have very particular design sensibilities and they have opinions when it comes to the aesthetic of our homes. They remind us that, just as all women aren’t the same, men can’t be thought of as monolithic creatures that closely resemble our cave men ancestors. Sure, some men are completely uninterested in the nuances of a visual life, but many men are interested. It’s important to remember that.
As small business owners, we are all consistently learning and evolving as our business grow. If you could go back and tell yourself anything about the process of starting, growing and building your site, what advice would you give younger you?
We have to admit this is a tough one for us. We have both always taken a creative approach to everything we have gone after in life from our personal style to our educational pursuits. We both get a certain high out of coming up with a vision and bringing it to life and this often gets us in over our heads! Our biggest challenge in the beginning of our business was learning to focus our creative energies and not follow every good idea but to learn to stay focused on whatever strategy we’ve decided to pursue.
You have so many beautiful projects and inspirational tutorials on your site. What is the one thing you hope readers walk away with after visiting Little Yellow Couch?
We want people to feel inspired. We want people to see a photo, read an article, watch a video or listen to a podcast and come away with the energy to take on a project, no matter how small, in their own homes. And we’re not only talking about DIY projects. It could be clearing out clutter, pulling out your beloved china on a regular old Tuesday or hanging a few candid shots of your family to replace the unflattering posed shots of your kids. We want people to start developing their own personal style, with confidence, because of the tools we have to offer.
Thanks again to Karen June Grant and Zandra Zuraw of Little Yellow Couch. For more information about them or their creative projects, please visit their site www.LittleYellowCouch.com