Following her intuition, Nicole Crowder made a transition from full-time photo editor to pursue her true calling in upholstery and furniture design. In this lesson on Soul Work, we talk about her brand new collaboration with World Market, her practice of slow creation and why using her lineage to tell a story through her work creates pieces that are generational.
Nicole Crowder Upholstery is a Black-owned furniture and upholstery studio creating commissioned, generational, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture and home furnishings like meditation pillows, poufs, and more. Nicole’s work has been commissioned by the leading hotel chains, restaurants, and spaces, such as Osteria Morini, the British Embassy, and Ethel’s Club in Brooklyn. She also has created bespoke pieces for private clients and has been featured in design publications, including Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and Martha Stewart Living. Nicole began her journey into upholstery design after spending her childhood traveling and often moving with her family.
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TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS EPISODE:
- How Nicole’s photo editing career opened her up creatively to different arts.
- Nicole’s transition to upholstery was non-linear and allowed her to adapt, grow and change.
- The difference between intuition and ego.
- Nicole’s slow creation ethos.
- Why Nicole’s vision is to create generational pieces that can be passed down and turned into heirlooms.
- How her career trajectory shifted when she started having a bigger conversation about how to serve through her work.
- Forming partnerships that are mutually exclusive but also ones that will help share and amplify your larger message.
- Nicole’s collaboration with World Market.
- What are you leaving behind?
- Nicole’s mission to highlight the work of Black designers and Black history through her partnerships.
- Recognizing vehicles for reducing waste in the design industry.
- Being clear with what you love and what’s important to you.
- Women’s leadership is about nuance and a combination of experiences and every culture reflects those differently.
(4:59) And that transition from photo editing to upholstery didn’t feel really seamless at the time. But I think there’s a lot of interconnectedness with kinds of crafts. I’m still taking these sort of disparate parts, one being photos, another one being fabric, and trying to tell a story through them that resonates with people, that does just as to the piece itself.
(6:22) And so I went back to photo editing briefly, but upholstery was just always there. It felt like a calling, honestly, something that was in my bones, and in 2017 January, that’s when I decided that I really wanted to try this thing as part of my livelihood, I wanted to make this lifestyle transition, for myself, for my career. And I went full-time with it in DC.
(9:19) Ego was certainly baked into when I first started upholstery in 2013, it was that desire to be seen. It was the desire to just create, even though I was tired, I was stressed, I was worried. I didn’t have a sense of peace about me. And I was also asking too many people for their opinions, for their input, which to me is always the first sign as well that like I’m not settled in something because I rarely need to ask someone else for a decision on how I move that impacts my life or my business decisions.
I feel like a bit of my ego, it’s not completely gone because I think we all have a bit of it there, that gives us that confidence and lets us know that what we’re doing, you know, is significant. I don’t have the ego of, I need my work to be seen, that I need people to validate it, that I need to be the best at it at all. I’m all about knowing who I am and wanting to share that gift with others and hopefully that energy resonates and that people look at me as someone who is creating from a space of deep, intentional love, who is really connected to her ancestors who is really tapped into her gift. And it’s not about a need to force that on you, I need to make you see it as well, it doesn’t really resonate with me, but in terms of recognizing it’s so personal, it’s so intentional.
(12:43) That slow creation was basically an ethos that I learned to adopt over time because when I first started upholstery and even just my personality previously was talking very fast, working very quickly, making really quick decisions. And with upholstery, it’s such a craft, even though you’ve been doing it for years, it really requires you to slow down and pay attention to details. And I was making a lot of mistakes. Simple, easy mistakes when I was first starting, but I wasn’t catching them either. My client would catch it. And the worst thing to hear is a client who was saying like, oh, the quality wasn’t sharp, and that’s when I but that’s when I was like, okay, everything has to slow down here. There’s no rush with this process.
And the slow creation is me giving myself time from A to B to be inspired by a project, to call photos for inspiration and references, to look for the right fabric that fits a piece rather than just trying to find, any sort of fabric to reupholster something with. It comes through the process itself, making patterns, making sure that my cuts are right. It’s that whole adage of measure twice cut once is absolutely apt in this work and doing that really slow, deliberate quality control check so that all the details have been thought about. I’m not just rushing something out for the sake of productivity, but it’s really like it’s seeing and taking time, spending time with the piece to produce the best work that I can, and the best vision for it that I can.
(15:25) And what I want to do more is create these sort of new heirlooms for people like myself who are creating our own families, who are beginning our own legacies, who are looking at our furniture items as reflections of who we are, where we are in our lives, our personalities, and hopefully carrying those things forward. Whether you decide to have children or not, you can still extend your own legacy and have your family in whatever form you want and carry these pieces forward. And so I started to really think of the furniture as having its own continuing lineage and storyline and that being part of someone else’s story as well. And the designs just shifted for me.
(16:52) It almost felt like this shift that I was making personally through my work was converging with things happening in the US specifically. Because this was probably around March, April of 2020 when everything was changing for everyone, but particularly, fast forward June of 2020 during the uprisings because of the George Floyd death, there was such a shift for me in terms of how I wanted to think about my work, create the work and who I wanted in terms of publications or brands to engage with that work.
A lot of brands were reaching out and it was up for me to do my due diligence in making sure that these partnerships were not just mutually beneficial, but that they also understood this work is rooted in deeper than just visibility. This is about reflecting that I’m a Black designer wanting to create in a way that feels like that is coming or pulling inspiration from an African diaspora that I am a part of. And I wanted to amplify all of that work and pay homage to some of these early styles of furniture where you had African designers, creating pieces that would later inspire a lot of designs by European designers. And so once I started doing that, it became so much more than just I’m using this print to put on this piece of furniture.
(21:00) With World Market, which is a brand that I already just stood behind in many ways. And I shop there myself and when they reached out, it felt so aligned because they wanted me and my signature. It wasn’t about fitting into their brand, but it was like we want you to bring yourself here and put your stamp on the pieces you want to create and partner in that way. But also that freedom, like you said, to partner with American textile brands.
(27:56) Most of my mentors anyway are all women. And I feel like it’s not just because they’re women, but me looking at who reflects where I am and who I reflect, I experience a bit more overall as a woman. It’s a similar way that I choose a woman for my therapist because there are certain nuances about women. In general that I feel like that context is already built-in. I don’t have to explain that or read into it further, but where the nuance has to come in is that our backgrounds are very different. Our experiences are different, as varied as our Zodiac sign. So I do think women do lead differently.
(29:25) Sometimes we fall into this othering and this might be a broader point that I was thinking about, but when it comes to categorizing, or how publications would do lists like 10 Black women designers to follow and 12 culture-shifting Asian people in tech. That to me feels like an othering that doesn’t allow me to just stand and present my work to a wide audience. And that was something that was happening a lot around 2020 when lots of publications were doing lists to promote and amplify Black designers. But I want the space for that, again, the nuance to have a singular profile of this person where you can learn about them and their ethos and their practice and their stance versus just being lumped into a group.
(31:50) My wish for every woman is to feel supported in every aspect of her life. Her personal work, her professional life, her spiritual growth, her mental health. That for me, has made such a world of difference in even how I create, how I show up, giving space to be vulnerable, to have questions, to change your mind and pivot and say, you know what? I’ve been in marketing for 20 years. I really want to now get into baking cakes. And to have that support, from people, even if it’s just one person, but to have that deep, genuine support that isn’t just like blank where there’s no sort of questions, but that curiosity is there. That investment is there in who you are, how you live, how you show up because it’s rooted in care and in love. So that is my deep wish for every woman, to feel supported.
The EPA estimates that 9 million tons of furniture are tossed every single year.
Spring 2022 Meditation Pillows Nicole Crowder Upholstery x World Market Modern Upholstery Design Studio specializing in custom statement furniture. I design furniture that is the spirit of you. So, whenyou come home, you can truly sit with and enjoyyourself.
Founded in New York City in 1957, P/Kaufmann is one of the world’s largest producers of decorative and woven textiles for the home and hospitality markets. With design ranging from traditional to contemporary, our fabric collections are as inspired as they are well made.
We’re excited to collaborate with upholstery designer Nicole Crowder on this exclusive furniture collection showcasing her expert eye for prints and color. Each signature piece has its own personality and is exclusive to World Market! Nicole Crowder Upholstery is a modern furniture design and upholstery studio that designs custom furniture and soft furnishings centered on connecting people to themselves and their home space.
Nicole Crowder Upholstery™ custom meditation pillows are made with 100% organic buckwheat hulls, and are designed to support your meditation practice from start to finish. Spring 2022 Designs come in 7 different vibrant styles made from a printed textiles from Nicole’s vast collection. Details: With Designer’s Choice,
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