Back in the fall of 1999, we purchased this, our third and final home, in the picturesque outskirts of Petaluma, California. The 1970s ranch-style house, set on one acre, came with a very large out-building right next to it. During the first many years, the “storage” building housed our camping equipment, an RV, a boat, and general household overflow like Christmas decorations. As my small business grew, I suggested to my husband that we turn that building into a large studio filled with tables and chairs for hosting classes and workshops on-site. It was a big ask and a big dream, but we made it happen. I lovingly named it “Inspired Barn.”
The creation of my new studio included paint, flooring, overhead lighting, tables, and cabinets. My favorite find at the beginning of this journey into creating my dream space was the thrifted, vintage, extra-comfy chartreuse sofa—perfect for daydreaming, contemplating, visiting, and reading. I was so charmed with the sofa, I matched the paint for the back wall of the studio to it. The ’60s yellow, floral-upholstered chair headed from my in-laws’ home to the donation pile was thankfully rescued in time and is as comfortable as it looks. It has become a delightful, ongoing craft project of colorful stitching and patch-work.
I searched Craigslist daily and vintage-goods stores weekly for tables, cabinets, and old storage units I could afford. We brought in the large, three-section bookcase from our living room, fitting perfectly between two windows, to become my library of inspiration and giving our home a bit more space to move around. I have filled it with volumes of graphic design books and Dover clip-art resources from my previous career and shelves of current sourcebooks for craft, design, interiors, and sewing instruction. I’ve curated a mass of antique commercial art and typography works, vintage craft and home economic books, and early printer catalogs from years of searching old bookstores and online auctions.
In old wooden Kingsford starch boxes shelved atop one another, I tuck my greatest source of inspiration, my sketchbooks. Drawings, notes, doodles, and clippings filled over time with many Eureka! ideas and concepts. When my creativity runs dry, my past ideas can move me to create new and exciting projects and products.
During my initial studio-furnishing hunt, I found three cottage-style tables at a store on clearance and the fourth matching table at a junk shop. I drilled a hole in the middle of each table to run each lamp cord down to a power strip below and use electric cord plugs to fill the holes on the occasion I remove the lamps. Because I usually stand when crafting and walk about the studio in search of materials, a counter-height dining table works perfectly as my main crafting surface.
When contemplating the finished room with such high ceilings, I knew I wanted one large showpiece for my space to help draw the eye upward. I discovered a fabulous large, white, antique apothecary cabinet at a local antiques store. Its generous-sized drawers on the bottom house tapes, paints, string, twine, and stencil supplies. The top shelving with removable glass doors is where I group a multitude of glass jars and containers filled with random finds for future projects. After my first visit to French General in LA and seeing Kaari Meng’s store displays, I became obsessed with filling glass jars as supply storage.
Settled into my studio, I have loved hosting 3-hour craft classes and full-day workshops. I thrive in the presence of others creating and inspiring one another in my special place, and I learn so much from teaching. Guests have created everything from papercrafts and mixed media art to vintage fabric stitch-collage. All the supplies, materials, and tools needed are always supplied. I designed many of the class projects using components found while shopping flea markets and thrift stores. If an object was vintage and in good quantity for workshop kitting, I bought it.
Treasure-hunting and component collecting became my weekend adventures and evening online entertainment. Over time, something wonderful and unexpected emerged, an ongoing experience I refer to as creative keeping: the discipline of organizing and creating unique storage solutions, often constructing and decorating my own. It’s become one of my favorite creative pastimes, and my environment has become so rich with visual stimulation and inspiration because of it, a sort of mercantile-themed creative candy land.
“It’s just a theory, really, but I have always thought that your physical surroundings can shape your voice and personality.”
— K.D. LANG
More recently, I began reaching out to a select few companies in hopes of designing my own beautiful, branded products. My first products manufactured were mixed-media stencils by iStencils.com. Then I approached my favorite fabric company, Moda Fabrics, as I’d always dreamed of designing textiles in my aesthetic that not only quilters could enjoy sewing with but also those who like to craft or sew small projects and hand-stitched creations. My ideas were well received, and since 2019, I’ve been proud to call myself a licensed designer for this top producer of high-quality quilting fabric and supplies. As of this writing, together we have produced a total of six collections, with a seventh on the way, including quilt patterns, zipper charms, gift items, and jigsaw puzzles.
This year, I’ve partnered with Spellbinders, a company that produces beautiful papercraft tools and supplies, to launch my first collection of vintage-inspired papercraft products that include collage papers, stickers, die-cut ephemera, and clear stamps. This experience of being a licensed designer is like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s completely thrilling all the time.
I’d just begun organizing 2-day retreat-like workshops to the studio that included field trips and garden tours with my florist and flower farmer neighbor, and dear friend, Susan Stremlau. Over the weekend, we enjoyed scrumptious box lunches and delicious dinners in our home made and served by my husband, Jeff. Our first two retreat weekends of workshops were absolutely magical, but future ones would have to wait due to the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020. A few months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. After surgery and many months of chemo and radiation, I’m now one year out from the toughest part of the battle.
I’ve been slowly recovering from side effects of the cancer treatments and adapting to the daily medicines I’ll be taking for several years to come. As rough as it’s been these past couple of years, I’ve found so many blessings along this journey. One of which is that my creativity has flourished. Unable to share my studio space with others, coupled with my lack of energy, I’ve still somehow been able to produce a multitude of exciting designs for future products.
Until things pick up socially, and for me physically, I’ve stored away the workshop chairs, gaining an enormous amount of hidden space below the tables to store banker’s boxes filled with fabrics, collage supply, and product samples. I skirted the class tables with fabric cut from Target curtains and draped the sides of my large center table with skirts made from vintage floral tablecloths to hide the storage.
During the first year or so of occupying my large studio, neither glitter nor pets were allowed to cross the threshold. Imagine the horror of an unintended speck of shine or a stray dog hair attaching itself to my art! But ultimately, I realized it was just a shame to miss out on those glorious, glistening sparkles, risky as they be, but especially the loving company of precious pups. Now there’s plenty of colorful glitter to be found in bottles in rows of vintage spice racks. And any and all dogs are welcome to visit and hang out with me.
Our dogs, MaryLou, a Labrador Retriever, and Charlotte, a German Shorthair-Beagle mix, now have a regular presence in the studio as well as any guests’ dogs that visit our home. We even pet-sit a little Maltipoo named Louis on Tuesdays, who spends the day napping nearby. Tattered vintage quilts are kept on hand to cover the cozy sofa or chair for those who shed, and a lint roller is always handy after their visit.
No longer blogging, I share delightful inspiration, fun products, special finds, and the occasional personal moments on my Instagram feed at
@CatheHolden. I hope you’ll join me there.