what's in your toolbox

What’s In Your Toolbox: Malene B

by Annie Werbler

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

Handcrafted custom carpet enthusiast Malene Barnett is a frequently-appearing face on D*S lately, generously sharing her expertise on everything from solo entrepreneurship to playing the PR game. As president and design director of her company Malene B, she works on all facets of the business, and today gives us a peek into the tech tools and creative inspiration that keep her entire operation running smoothly. Though she learned her craft drawing by hand, Malene has embraced the utility of choice software programs in combination with the backup of her tactile yarn poms, and paper to-do lists are still a daily routine. In order to bring joy to the work in her Brooklyn-based practice, Malene has at times immersed herself in different cultures throughout the world, subsequently inspiring many collections.

If it were possible, Malene “would love to have the magical power to give everyone a passport to travel,” and experience the same. A visual thinker, the designer has proven equally adept at bootstrapping a growing business by staying “open to opportunities as they may not present themselves in the package that you envisioned.” New tile and wall art offerings based on her signature vibrant patterns are just the latest result of her singular perspective. —Annie

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

What’s in your toolbox?

I have a digital-heavy toolbox to create all of my designs: carpet, tile, and wallpaper. During school, I used to draw everything by hand and I was so against designing anything on the computer. But as technology advanced, so did I — and now I create all of my designs on a Mac computer. I use a variety of design software to accomplish this, including Pointcarre (print design), Galaincha (carpet design software), Adobe Creative Suite, and a Wacom tablet. Plus, I have a few non-digital tools to assist with color selection — ARS color poms and a Pantone book.

Since I have a fine art and illustration background, I start with a sketch using my Wacom tablet (I can’t draw without it) in Pointcarre, then I continue to play with repeats, layouts and color. Pointcarre is a great tool for working out design layouts, repeats, and selecting colors. I recently upgraded to Galaincha, a carpet design software that allows me to fine tune my carpet designs and create realistic renderings. The ARS and Pantone color systems are on the computer, but I still revert to the actual yarns to work on colorways and finalize colors. Once the design is complete, I use Adobe Illustrator to create spec sheets for all of my manufacturing partners. I love creating on the computer. It allows me the freedom to turn any concept into a final design anywhere…plus I can change colors and layouts with one click.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”

Unstoppable, inspired, creative, confident, successful.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

I rely on a collection of books on textiles, travel, culture, interiors, and photography from around the world to stimulate ideas. These books always inspire me to fantasize about taking a trip abroad. My current sources of inspiration are my Inside Africa books. These books are covered with wax fabrics depicting various African hairstyles. The covers are stimulating pattern ideas to celebrate the beauty of African hairstyles.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

How do you keep yourself organized?

Even though I’m a gadgets kind of gal, on a daily basis I handwrite a to-do list on a pad. I love the idea of writing a list and crossing off completed projects. From time to time, I doubt myself on the amount of work that I’ve accomplished. A handwritten to-do list allows me to review past weeks and confirm completed tasks. I feel accomplished and impressed with all that I’ve done.

I was so resistant to using a CRM (customer relationship management) system to keep track of contacts and projects, but I was desperate to find an affordable solution. When I found Insightly, I instantly fell in love and can’t imagine working without it. It’s important for me to be mobile — I use the program on all my devices (iPhone, desktop, and iPad)…it’s truly been a lifesaver!

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?

I would love to have the magical power to give everyone a passport to travel. The world has so much to teach us, and I wish everyone could share the experience and connect with our global community.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

What is the best advice you have ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?

I have been bootstrapping my business from the start, and after operating for a few years I had the opportunity to introduce my growth strategy to angel investors. One of those investors advised me to continue bootstrapping and not partner with an investor, sharing [that] once the “big deal” comes through, the rewards will be all mine. To this day, her advice is still sage and my business continues to grow organically with me reaping its benefits.

My advice for young artists is to slow down, don’t be in a rush to become a “superstar.” First learn about business by working for an individual artist/entrepreneur or creative company. Be eager to learn, do something different, and be open to opportunities as they may not present themselves in the package that you envisioned.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

How do you combat creative blocks?

I take a trip! I wish…When I’m in a creative rut I call my girlfriend to gab. Our conversations take me away from the block issue and allow me to create without pressure.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?

I love exploring farmers’ markets, yard sales, flea markets, consignments shops, small boutique home furnishing stores, art shows, and walking around different neighborhoods. Brooklyn has so many sources of inspiration that you never run out of sources to inspire you. Recently, I’ve been inspired by the explosion of wall art around Brooklyn, especially in Bushwick.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

I would be eager to take a peek inside the studio of Australian Aboriginal artists. Their dot paintings are amazing works of art enriched with history of the aborigines. I would love to watch the design process and learn the stories behind each painting.

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?

Whenever I’m in creative mode I have a go-to international playlist featuring the sounds of reggae, soca, or mbalax music from Senegal. And if I really like a song, I keep the song on repeat and play it for the entire day.

My playlist:

  1. “Wanted Dread & Alive” by Peter Tosh
  2. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
  3. “For I” by Luciano
  4. “Cover Me” by Tinga Stewart and Ninjaman
  5. “Give It All You Got” by Beres Hammond
  6. “Kaokokokorobo” by Papa Wemba
  7. “I Am Soca” by Kerwin Du Bois
  8. “Wining Queen” by Denise Belfon
  9. “New Africa” by Youssou N’Dour

What's In Your Toolbox: Malene B, on Design*Sponge

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