What happens when a person trained in painting decides to open a home goods business? Beautiful things, apparently! Just a few short years ago, Tennessean RISD graduate Caroline Z. Hurley was working as a preschool teacher when, by sheer happenstance, she took a fateful trip to Bali with a few friends from art school. The experience, as Caroline puts it, “ignited something in me.” It was during this time that Caroline discovered her love for textile design and block printing, two things that she incorporated into her debut collection.
On the surface, Caroline’s work is quite simple. Her pieces typically feature hushed palettes, primary shapes, and deceptively elemental patterns. Underneath this simplicity, however, lies beautiful and poetic consideration. Explorations in form, geometry, color, and rhythm, Caroline’s works read almost as Bauhausian — informed by both aesthetic and theoretical impulses. Each collection is inspired by a different locale from Caroline’s travels — Bali, Morocco, Guatemala — and then interpreted, deconstructed, and distilled through her unique lens. The end result is work that seems both familiar and thrillingly fresh.
This is only half of the story, though. As much as Caroline’s work centers around her designs, she has found her interest unexpectedly piqued by the production process. When she launched her business, the entire manufacturing process began and ended with her, from the preliminary sketches, to the sewing, printing, and distribution. Needless to say, it came as a bit of a relief when one of her assistants (now her boyfriend and business partner) introduced her to a cooperative of Guatemalan artisans based in New Bedford, MA. In addition to helping her produce works en masse, this new method of production provided Caroline with an entirely new passion: cottage industry. Today, most of Caroline’s pieces are produced by skilled artisans around the United States, people with whom she has forged strong and mutually beneficial relationships. “Through this process,” Caroline says, “we realized there are so many people with tools, machinery and skill sets that are underutilized or not used at all.” This year, Caroline and her boyfriend, Alex will be launching a business that aims to solve this issue. Named “Bedford” after the town where most of her manufacturing is done, it is a matchmaking service of sorts that pairs designers with a network of skilled artisans and craftsmen.
Although Caroline’s Bushwick studio no longer houses the manufacturing wing of her business, there is no shortage of things to see or do there. Sketches, swatches, and color samples cover practically every surface; prototypes and books line shelves; packages wait to be shipped to far-off locations. The hub of an ever-increasingly interconnected web of makers, this is where the magic is made. Check out all of the photos of our visit to Caroline’s studio in the slideshow! —Max