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Pattern Players: Stephanie Housley

Coral & Tusk has been a favorite brand of ours for years; as a fellow woman-owned business that came up around the same time we did, we’ve always felt a sort of kinship with founder Stephanie Housley. Her charming designs, unique voice, and meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship have made every Coral & Tusk piece she’s created instantly recognizable as her own. We have great respect for the aesthetic and brand Stephanie has built, and the powerful woman behind it all.

Though we long admired Stephanie from afar, it was only by chance that we met in person. While traveling in Paris, we realized after the fact that Stephanie had been in the same cafe at the same time. This connection evolved into a loose correspondence that quickly inspired the idea of a future collaboration. In the meantime, we were delighted to be able to include Stephanie’s gorgeous Wyoming cabin in our book. Now, we're thrilled to finally introduce our new Coral & Tusk for Hygge & West collection. Keep reading for a look at all the new patterns, a peek inside Stephanie's process, and more.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how Coral & Tusk came to be.

I grew up in a beautifully wooded suburb in the Ohio Valley, about 30 minutes from Cincinnati. I went to neighborhood public schools, and then transferred to the School for Creative & Performing Arts for my senior year of high school. The teachers and curriculum opened my eyes to a whole new world and I saw opportunities that I never realized existed. I took a year off in between high school and college and worked as an apprentice making stained glass windows. I applied to Rhode Island School of Design with zero hopes of getting in. Much to my delight, I was accepted and received enough scholarship money to attend. I am the first one out of anyone in my family to attend college. I received a BFA in Textiles from RISD and moved to NYC in February of 1999.

From then through most of 2004, I worked for a woven textiles mill in NYC. After that, I worked as a textile designer for a fabric mill based in India that produced interior fabrics, and stayed there until October of 2012.

I began Coral & Tusk with my husband at the end of 2007 as a side business. I spent all of my free time cultivating the company while continuing to work full time. We grew very modestly and organically with the limited capacity we had in terms of time, focus, production capabilities, and distribution points. Eventually, we started to hire a team in 2011, beginning with Alija Craycroft, who still remains an integral part of everything we do. After some success showing at the NY NOW trade fair, I made the decision to leave my textile position and focus on Coral & Tusk full time in October 2012.

Since leaving my job in 2012, Coral & Tusk has expanded more meaningfully into the home market, offering a broad range of embroidered pillows, table linens, and fabric by the yard. We now have four employees in Brooklyn that captain different divisions of the business: wholesale, retail, trade, and Japan, along with all of the branding and marketing. We opened our sister office after my husband and I moved to western Wyoming a few years ago, and now have four employees who manage order fulfillment and accounting in Pinedale, WY.

What drew you to the craft of embroidery?

I never saw a woman in my family with idle hands—they were always making things. My great grandma did tatting, even after she went blind. My grandma had a thriving, huge vegetable garden and when she wasn’t in it, she was busy making dollies out of found objects and old socks. My mom inherited her mom’s gardening skills and is also an incredible southern style cook. So working with my hands just came naturally. I taught myself how to embroider when I was little and I’ve always loved to draw. I was naturally attracted towards embroidered samplers, which were prevalent in the Ohio Valley area.

Everything about texture attracts me, which is why I own an embroidered line of home goods rather than a printed one. For me, stitches alone on cloth naturally create a fascinating surface and texture. Stitches tell so much about the process that exudes their own story, and their carriers are our animals, characters, feathers, or geometric shapes and stripes. When designing our fabric collection, I considered the scale of each design within a color story and how they work in a room together. I love finding one common denominator, like a single color story, and then telling that story through a variety of scales. 

Your style is unmistakable. How did you discover/craft "your look" and what advice do you have for people looking to define their style, whether it's at home or in their work?

Our aim is to create designs that are timeless and classic that also surprise and delight the viewer. We believe in making heirloom pieces that we feel super excited about, are made to enjoy daily, and are so well crafted that they are able to be used and enjoyed for many years.

As for advice, it would be to stay true to you...YOU are the only YOU! Those are the artists and brands that stand the test of time. Staying in the game is a challenge on so many levels, that making sure you are authentic and passionate about what you are making, and more importantly why you are making it, is necessary.

We're so excited to launch our brand new collection with you! Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind each of your new patterns: Plumes, Quill, and Evil Eye. 

Our Plumes design is inspired by my own collection of found feathers. Often when I am hiking or on a walk I’ll pick up fallen feathers along the way. I’ve collected a variety of quills over the years and love identifying them. The feathers seen in Plumes are loosely drawn from actual feathers; I’ve added my own hand and embellishments. We strive to celebrate nature with many of our designs at Coral & Tusk, and the Plumes design is an homage to the unique creatures of flight, sky, and air.

Quill was inspired by a Lakota garment that used porcupine quills for adornment and patterning. I created this design years ago and it’s still one of the most important ones in our line. It fits seamlessly into any interior.

The sentiment of the Evil Eye first made its mark on me while vacationing in Greece many years ago on our honeymoon, and then on a more recent trip to Turkey. I’m drawn to auspicious objects and the evil eye is a fascinating one. An eye that wards off bad spirits is consistent in cultures around the world, and I find it so interesting when one motif is seen in many places.

How do you envision these patterns being used? Do you have any tips for mixing them with other patterns?

It is super exciting since we have had very little experience with our designs on a vertical surface. More importantly, we have never seen our designs interpreted as prints. We see these designs fitting into a variety of spaces, whether it’s a powder room or the main design element in your dining or bedroom.

Often, people’s gut reactions to our signature irreverent animal characters found in our designs is to decorate children's rooms. We see our designs expanding past the playroom and bringing joy to every room of your home with this wallpaper assortment. Given that this capsule collection focuses on non-animal motifs, we are thrilled to see how users begin to incorporate our design elements into their homes.

Naturally, we see Plumes paired with cozy soft textures and materials in a warm environment with a hearty, earthy color palette. Evil Eye we love thinking about in a more spare and clean space, paired with harder materials like marble and brass. And Quill, as always, is our use-it-anywhere graphic! It is a perfect support, having a distinct personality while not needing to overwhelm any other stand-out elements in a space.

Our advice for mixing patterns is to take scale into account first. How does the design on your wallpaper relate to the pattern on your duvet or dining table? Are there enough compliments happening in a space to balance out material, color, scale, and vibe? We believe what is most important is that you surround yourself with the patterns and pieces that you truly love and that the space makes you feel good! So having a positive feeling being in a space while these elements are constantly in your eye field is necessary for happiness at home.

Pattern is clearly a huge part of your identity. What does it mean to you, in work, in home, in life?

Being a trained textile designer, "pattern" became one of the most, if not the most, important aspect of my job and an endless, challenging, yet fun, lifelong puzzle to pursue. Making a good pattern that checks all the boxes is actually really difficult and something I take seriously. With access to computers, it became really easy for everyone to become a designer by mirroring and flipping any single element. I am old school though, and so to me, while some of those designs are easy to live with, they do not do the hard work of making a successful pattern from scratch. Articulating a motif is simply one aspect in creating a great pattern.

At home, pattern for me is pretty minimal for two reasons: 1. I love in a log cabin with exposed interior logs, which is a lot of natural, gorgeous pattern; 2. Other than the log interior walls, my pattern is my constant inspiration I see out the large windows, which is the landscape my husband and I chose to immerse ourselves in—mountains, trees, sky, and wildlife.

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