I have spent my life in the act of creating.
The beauty and gift of being creative is that our world provides us with limitless opportunities in which to create and express ourselves. On life’s winding path, we find ourselves pivoting in varying directions. I have found this to be true of my relationship with being artistic.
As a young girl, any sandy beach, a backyard rock garden, or a drawer in one of my grandmas’ homes was always considered for a thorough investigation. I collected everything … from pretty shells and stones to floral hankies and vintage gems. I loved it all.
I spent days and hours participating in a myriad of magical art classes at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ceramics, clay, painting, batik, welding … I simply couldn’t get enough. I’ll forever be grateful to my mom, who has encouraged and supported my artistic soul since the beginning.
My grandparents were florists. Nothing can quite describe the feeling of walking into a giant misty floral cooler, layered with buckets of vibrantly colored flowers, and deeply inhaling the sumptuous fragrant scent. I can still conjure this memory and feeling. As kids, we would run up and down the aisles looking at the multitude of beds of flowers and plants. This explains my deep love for the movement and hues in flowers that are found in my paintings. And why I always have a vase of fresh flowers brimming on my kitchen island.
My young adult years were filled with painting, endless sketching, sewing clothes from old sheets and “found” fabrics, and tie-dyeing everything possible (my poor mom!). Many weekend afternoons were spent digging around in local vintage shops with my sister … our intentions always of turning something old into something cool.
Jump ahead a few and pivot.
With a master’s degree in elementary education, my work as a creative and artist filled the classroom. To share the gift of clever stories, the written word, illustrating thoughts and turning history into a story with children of all ages filled my soul.
Eventually, I became a mom to Ben and Lily and departed from teaching in the “formal” classroom.
Kalen’s Place started as an artistic “side gig” of sorts. With my littles, I was able to paint during naps and bedtime. I was primarily focused on custom artwork for children’s spaces, as the majority of my audience was like me … decorating nurseries and children’s spaces. The scope of my work included custom children’s name plaques, wall hangings, painted furniture, toy boxes, step stools, growth charts and wall murals … and as my business grew, my pieces could be found scattered throughout various local boutiques.
In 2005, at the age of 35, I became a single mom. Ben was 6, and Lily was 4. Hard pivot. Nothing can quite prepare you for life as a single parent … especially when you’re far away from your family in the Midwest.
While I continued with Kalen’s Place and selling my custom artwork, a regular, consistent income became imperative. One of the local boutiques that sold my artwork was in need of a full-time designer for custom children’s spaces. I’d always loved design and knew this career would pair well with my current work as an artist/entrepreneur. Though not formally trained as a designer, my inclination for designing fabulous spaces happily found its way into my life. I loved the challenge of learning this new trade in a hands-on, learn-as-you-go fashion. And I was able to continue providing my custom artwork to clients and local boutiques.
Make your bed every day. No matter how unruly life can feel, a made bed starts your day with a sense of organization.
— One of my favorite thoughts that I often share with our children
Throughout my life, particularly after having gone through my divorce, I have frequently given this advice to others (and deeply believe it myself): Send out your message and intentions to the universe. It will respond. It hears your voice and will guide you. Never be afraid to recreate yourself. Recreating yourself adds inner depth, deeper perspective and layers of experience, insight and knowledge. Oftentimes, I find that universal messages and recreating yourself go hand in hand, and it’s up to us to give a keen ear and understanding to that.
I have remained good friends with my ex-husband, Andrew. Outside of my creative work over the years, having been divorced so early, I have helped “counsel” many friends and acquaintances through divorce and encouraged all to work as hard as they can to maintain as healthy relationships with their ex-spouses as possible — for themselves and their children.
As orders began to stream in, my pieces of artwork began taking reign over our kitchen, as it was the only place large enough to spread out and work. Pieces were propped up on chairs, hanging from doors and draped over tables!
Then a pivotal “life changer” presented itself to me …
I had a carport that seemed like a perfect possibility. I created a plan to convert this space into an art and design studio. It only required enclosing two sides of the space, filling in windows and adding pretty French doors. I kept the walls white, like a clean canvas. The floors were left concrete to capture the many colorful paint splatters that throughout the years gave it life and personality. Over time, I added unique finds from local vintage shops like industrial shelving, chippy stools, metal bins for supplies, old silver dishes and brassy pots to hold treasures like well-loved paint brushes, weathered keys and, of course, paint bottles.
One day, I received a serendipitous phone call from a dear friend whose daughter asked her, “Mom, could I have my birthday party in Ms. Mehlman’s art studio?”
Thus began Kalen’s Place, which created custom artwork, hosted children’s birthday parties/events on the weekends and provided after-school art classes. This space became a compilation of the various talents, careers and education I’d experienced up to this point. Kalen’s Place welcomed children of all ages with open arms to come in, sit down and express themselves through the myriad unique art lessons, summer camps and group events that I offered with encouragement and passion. Many of those students spent their young lives creating with me every week for years.
“An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break.”
— Chinese Proverb
My world was brimming with the things I loved most. And I was home … what a blessing! I could work and be near my children. Additionally, I was able to continue my work as an interior designer at the boutique while the kids were at school.
In 2016, I married my best friend, John, and we merged families. At this point, we had become small local restaurant owners (The Beach House taco shop in Phoenix, Arizona), and I was able to strike out on my own as an independent entrepreneur practicing interior design, teaching art classes/hosting creative events and continuing with my artwork.
Those first few years of us being independent business owners, starting and growing new businesses with four young children, all while trying to make ends meet, were some of the most trying and scary times for us and our family. The amount of work needed to build our restaurant following and to grow my design business was extraordinary. Many days (and years) were filled with utter exhaustion as we pushed forward to build our dreams.
“Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”
— Max Ehrmann from Desiderata
I remember one particular morning quite vividly: As I was cleaning tables at the restaurant, bone tired, I found not one, not two, but three pennies scattered in various places. Again, the next day, more pennies. I started collecting them, popping them into my pockets and keeping them in a little vintage dish at home where I could see them every day. Surely, this is a universal sign to stay the course and have confidence that we will survive, we will find success.
More pennies … in different places, day after day after day. It was uncanny! But I kept collecting them, tucking them into my pockets and putting them in my special dish. I keep these pennies close by to remind myself to have faith and that if you listen, the universe will send you signs of hope.
For years, my days started with client design appointments in the mornings, working the lunch hour at our restaurant, then hustling home and wrapping up the afternoons with children’s art classes. While I loved every minute of it, I was really worn down and something “had to give.” I found myself feeling less and less inclined to paint. My creative soul was struggling.
At one point, I remember confiding to my three best friends that I had lost my spirit to paint. I just didn’t have it in me nor felt like anything I created was worthy anymore. I will never forget their honest concern by this. For over 25 years, they had known me as an artist, and they knew how it filled my heart …
Something in my world had to shift.
It was time to pivot again, but this one was going to be the most difficult of all — deciding what to let go of in my world. To make a choice was nearly impossible because I loved it all! The thought of not having my studio filled with giggling students joyfully creating, connecting with each other and the world of art — or not having the ability to challenge myself as an interior designer with exciting projects — was simply too much.
Well, the universe made this very difficult choice for me.
Just as we were going into full construction mode building a new, lovely studio in our backyard for Kalen’s Place interior design/art classes — and building an addition onto our house using the old studio — along came the pandemic. And with it came a very sudden end to my children’s art classes and events.
As things began to open up and the world came back to life, so did people’s desire to change nearly everything about the homes they’d been cooped up in for so long! It was “ON” for interior design, and it hasn’t slowed down much since … and I love it that way. I am challenged by design’s diversity. No person’s home is the same. Each has its own individuality and style. It is my inspiration to honor their lifestyles by offering unique insight into the various ways we can update, refresh and add character to their homes — no matter the budget or aesthetic.
My clients become my friends, and I am blessed with the ability to work closely with them and their families for years. Design is a thoughtful and intentional process that takes mindful time.
I did start painting again. Whittled down, painting is my true love and spiritual outlet. But at times when we walk away from the things we enjoy and have done for so long, we lose confidence in ourselves. It was with lots of inner coaxing that I allowed myself the freedom to just go for it and paint from my soul — not for anyone, not to sell any pieces, not for the approval of others — just for me. And those who’ve seen my artwork have said it feels like it came from within, somewhere deep — but colorful!
The added “bonus” to my world of creativity is the ongoing invitation to participate in local television segments where I highlight ways for viewers to incorporate trending and clever design ideas into their homes on their own — on any kind of budget — from a variety of local shops and online resources.
“Know your audience. It will serve you well.”
— Kalen to her children
Two of the most important people in my life passed away this past year. My grandma, Lorraine, died one day after her 103rd birthday. She is very much the reason I am who I have become as a person and a creative. She walked this earth with grace and kindness. She loved flowers (she wore one pinned to her dress every single day) and sunshine, dainty handkerchiefs, pretty teacups and lifelong friends. There was never a day that she didn’t say, “I am so blessed.” She surrounded people with endless love. She adored the color pink. Everything she wore and sat on was a lovely shade of pink!
My creative and deeply talented 15-year-old niece, Liesel, fought like a champ against cancer. She was my “mini me.” My brother, Steve, told me that her entire life. She turned their basement into an art studio, always inviting her friends over to create. She painted and collaged and glittered just about everything. Mason jars filled with gems, and canvases and brushes lined her shelves and art tables. She shared my deep love for all things vintage and love of true friends. I am sure if she were still with us, she would have grown up to be the most fabulously stylish and creative girl boss.
They are with me in this studio and everywhere I go. I feel their presence when I am painting or vintage shopping or designing. And to honor them and this gift of creativity, I will continue on this universal path with gratitude for the rest of my life.
No matter in which direction I choose to pivot.
Favorite local trade, retail and vintage spots I love to support:
Tierra Del Lagarto (amazing worldly & unique decor)
Everything Goes (endless vintage treasures)
Scottsdale Marketplace (vintage & new finds galore)
J Squared Studios (lovely fabric treatments)
Brandt’s Interiors (a showroom packed with my favorite fabrics & wallpapers!)
Lisa Moore Beauty (incredible makeup artist)