After we moved to our present neighborhood in 2013, Kristy, her husband Matt, and their two sons quickly became part of our “extra family”—the friends and neighbors you meet on your journey who get inside your heart in all the right ways. Kristy was a teacher by training, but she’s had an unrelated part-time, work-from-home job since the kids came along. Then, not long ago, a light went off, and Kristy took a very different turn. Working with another neighbor, and with the support of her family, she turned her near lifelong interest in art, craft, and design into a new business.
On a sunny late fall afternoon, safely distanced on our patio, Kristy and I chatted about how an avocation became a business. “I’ve always liked working with my hands. In college, my electives were art classes. I started making my own greeting cards so long ago that I can’t remember.” For a time, she satisfied her creativity making wreaths, centerpieces, and jewelry in craft sessions with her mother-in-law, who shares her interests. She found herself always wanting to do more, learn more. The possibilities bubbled up when Kristy discovered that our neighbor John had the same interests. Before long, they were meeting every Monday for “craft night.”
The two were more productive than they expected. “After a while,” Kristy said, “our projects started to accumulate, and we were both running out of space. There’s a limit to what you can use in your own home. I’d thought about finding a vendor booth but was afraid to do it on my own. John and I talked about it and decided to pursue it together.” It wasn’t long before an opportunity presented itself at an embryonic antique mall nearby. While they waited for the mall’s completion, they built up their inventory and designed their display.
When the time came to open, they picked their booth and their business was launched. Sutherland Decor has been operating for about a year-and-half now. It’s survived the retail chaos inflicted by COVID and has been building its brand identity along the way. Last spring’s lockdown, when everything ground to a halt, gave the new business partners time for acquisitions and makeovers that grew their inventory.
Kristy acknowledges that it’s a big commitment to stock a retail space, watch what sells and what doesn’t, refresh for the holidays and change of seasons, and, of course, tend to administrative matters—especially when both she and John have other jobs and responsibilities. She makes time to forage at flea markets, thrift shops, and estate sales for objects and furniture crying out for a fresh look and new life. “I’m always looking for things to work with. Before I buy something, I ask myself if it could become a piece I‘d like in my own home. If I decide to buy it, I start looking for ideas right away.” She researches extensively and keeps a vast store of supplies that provide inspiration, but there’s no mistaking her artist’s eye. Along the way, she says, she’s grateful to have learned new skills and methods, to have found new products, to grow in her ability to see the possibilities.
I’ve always believed that creativity is innate, that it’s in your DNA. During the long days of the lockdown, Kristy’s older son, ably encouraged by his parents, set up his own woodworking business, My Mini Wood Shop, for which he creates and executes all the designs and regularly produces live shows and promotional videos that air on social media. I’ve bought several of his creations, which are beautifully thought out, functional, and well made. He’s not only creative and skilled, like his mother (and, truth be told, his father) but also a born entrepreneur.
I asked Kristy about the DNA business. She said she believes that interest is at least as important a motivator as inborn talent. “I think if you have the interest and want to put time into something, you can do anything. My son took his first woodworking class in school. I knew nothing about it, and my husband had no woodworking experience. But if my husband wants to do something, he gets totally into it and researches painstakingly until he figures it out. My older son has always been the same way.—ask him how he got to this point, and he’ll just say, ‘I’m really interested’.”
As for their younger son—the one who used to cuddle up with me in the afternoon to watch Snoopy movies—he’s gotten the creative bug as well. Ably aided by his big brother (who is a natural mentor), he created his own piece to add to the collection of handmade Christmas ornaments . His contribution was a beautiful star of Bethlehem, gold on a blue block, and quite perfect in a year when the planets aligned to produce one in the nighttime sky for us. I was proud to be his first customer.
At a time when everything seems so crazed and out of whack, isn’t it good to know that there are people out there, of all ages, who are still willing to follow their stars?
Note: You can also find Sutherland Decor and My Mini Woodshop on Facebook and Instagram.