When I started this Workspace series I knew it would open doors to share creatives here in San Francisco and the west coast, but today I’m taking you to Brooklyn. When I first started following Rebecca Atwood’s journey creating her beautiful pillows and one-of-a-kind artwork, I knew her debut collection would be stunning. With the help of Nicole Franzen, who captured Rebecca’s inspiring workspace, I’m thrilled to share photos of her space, process and lastly a few photos of her look book shoot. What first drew me to her collection was the stunning color palette of blues (my favorite) that was inspired by living and growing up in Cape Cod. But what completely had me was that each pillow is created by Rebecca and her team in New York – I think it’s incredibly important to produce as much as possibly locally and Rebecca definitely embodies that.
Enjoy Rebecca’s lovely interview of where her inspiration and where she sees her line going in the future – she has big plans!
When did you decided to take the leap and start your own line of pillows and one-of-a-kind artwork?
If you asked me 3 years ago if I would ever want to have my own business I would have said no. The idea to start my own collection started with a little tiny thought that became something I couldn’t shake. I’ve designed home products for 6 years but needed a change career wise, and wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next. I wanted a new challenge, something that would really push me…and I also wanted to create product that I feel passionate about. There is a lot of product out there, but honestly I often can’t find just what I want.
Where did the inspiration come from in this debut collection?
So much of this collection comes from my personal history and memories. I grew up on Cape Cod. The water and soft neutrals of the coastal landscape became so much a part of my sensibility. I think that is one of the biggest influences for me. My family also saves everything, so I was always surrounded by antiques. My Mom has dresses from the 1920’s, beautiful hand painted china, and an attic full of interesting objects etc. We weren’t a family that never used the good china and silver – my mom taught us to live with these beautiful things. Why have them if you aren’t going to use them? She let us play with the antique dolls, even if we did play a little too roughly. I think this idea of wanting to create product that is truly special, but also not so precious you can’t use it comes from my Mom. My pillows have been made with a lot of care and attention – but are meant to be lived with, and can be thrown in the wash if they are dirty.
You know I love blues – did you always think you would start with a blue hued collection?
It’s definitely happened naturally, and I think that’s again because of where I grew up. Blue was so much a part of the landscape that for me it is a neutral. I wanted to use colors you can layer and live with, and that you won’t be sick of in 6 months. I’m not sure I realized how much I do love blue until I started putting this collection together.
Can you explain your design process? It’s so interesting!
There’s the practical part of my process, which means really planning out my calendar and starting with a deadline and working backwards. Once I do this, it gives me a bit of piece of mind and allows me to create the time for spontaneity.
I try to build in a bit of time every week to paint in my sketchbook – time that isn’t necessarily trying to create a design but to get ideas down weather they relate or not. I go back to my sketchbooks constantly. For me everything starts there. The next thing I do when starting a collection is to pull together an inspiration board – sketches, colors, fabrics, little notes with reminders, all of that goes onto it. Then I begin working on the color palette. I usually have some general ideas in mind, but I start by playing around with different dyes and fabrics to see which colors really sing together.
Once I have that framework set, I start playing around with artwork ideas and seeing what colors they work with. I start making swatches – testing out dyeing techniques, prints on different base fabrics, in different colors, etc. I generate a lot of different ideas on a small scale pretty quickly. I try not to think about it too much and just make. With the swatches I can start to see the collection really taking shape. Sometimes something unexpected happens in this process and things fall out and new ideas come in. I usually make another board with my favorite swatches. I like to try and let this sit for a week or so to give myself time to edit, see if anything is missing, etc.
Once I decide on the swatches I start making fabric and designing the pillow layouts. I usually make loose thumbnail drawings of each design in my sketchbook so I can see how everything will look together.
When did you decide to add artwork to your shop?
I actually had the idea to sell artwork before I decided to start my own collection of textiles. I’ve always painted, for as long as I can remember, and actually studied painting in college before falling in love with textiles.
When you first launched was your goal to produce everything in New York?
One of my intentions with the line is to bring back closeness to the production process. In a lot of product development today the relationship between the designer and the maker is very disconnected. I want to really be a part of how my product is being made, because that comes through in the final result. Of course, for the first season that means I’ve been making everything myself, and having it sewn in the garment district. It’s been about as close as you can get and I love it!
Another objective is to do a small part in supporting the tradition of textiles. Right now this means I’m making a small donation to Aid to Artisans for every pillow sold. With time I want to work with artisans around the world to bring awareness and admiration to their areas of expertise. I’ve worked in India a lot for previous jobs and absolutely love my trips there. The soft voile quilts from India just can’t be replicated anywhere else, and they are my favorite quality of quilts. The hand embroidery and beading is also amazing. I think every sourcing decision should be because you want to bring the best product out there. When I do expand my sourcing routes, paying workers a fare wage and doing everything as ethically as possible is very important to me.
When designing a pattern or collection, where do you go to get inspired?
So many things inspire me, and it’s often a mixture of very different things. A pattern idea can come from anywhere – a vintage scarf from my great aunt, the shadows on a sidewalk, an idea in my sketchbook, or even painting directly on to the fabric with dye (that’s where the spots print came from). Giving yourself time off to do the things you enjoy – going to a museum, seeing friends, cooking, all give you time for the ideas to come. I think the big thing with inspiration is to keep making, keep looking, and give yourself time to edit. We live in a world where the internet allows for such an instantaneous sharing of ideas and images, which is amazing, but I also think getting away from that is crucial.
Where do you see Rebecca Atwood in five years?
It’s so hard to know where things will go, but I can’t seem to help having big plans! With every collection I would like to expand the product range, until eventually I have all home products covered. I am so excited to create a real bedding collection, but also want to develop tabletop, upholstery, bath etc. I am lucky that I’ve had a chance to develop hard goods as well as soft goods in my previous jobs and I am really passionate about making home products for all areas of your life. I just need to keep reminding myself one thing at a time! I hope that in 5 years I’ve been able to realize a bit of this dream. I also love the idea of having a storefront combined with studio space, so that people can see a bit of the process and I could have the occasional workshop.
Where do you see Rebecca Atwood in five years?