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Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone: Debbie Bean

by Sabrina Smelko

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Debbie Bean is a talented stained glass artist who lives and works out of her colorful craftsman home nestled at the base of the Angeles National Mountains. With a sweeping view of the hillside while doing business on her laptop — and her two cats and one pooch sunbathing beside her — daily life is often romantic, but still comes with its fair share of headaches and heartache.

From the comfort of her beloved living room in her Tujunga, CA home, Debbie is joining us today to tell us more about herself and her business — namely, not giving a crap about what other people think, her greatest fears, and what she learned from her life-changing solo trip to Thailand and years studying with a Tibetan Lama. –Sabrina

Tell us about yourself.

I am a stained glass artist living in Tujunga, CA with my husband, dog and 3 cats. We live in an old craftsman house at the base of the Angeles National Mountains and I work from my detached studio. We moved here a few years ago from Atwater Village because we longed for a more quiet atmosphere surrounded by nature, and [we] couldn’t have landed in a more perfect spot. I spend the majority of my time in my studio, except when I’m working on my computer, and then you’ll often find me on my couch or at the dining room table with one or more of our kids (pets) keeping me company and begging for treats.

My career has taken on many different forms, and last year — inspired by where we live and craving to get back to my artist’s roots — I found myself working in stained glass again. In a relatively short period of time, I had created a full-time stained glass business that has been evolving into into new areas all based on my stained glass designs. I recently created a line of pillows and have some new collections that will be coming out in 2016 that I am really excited about!

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What does home and this space mean to you? Describe it.

My home is the heart of everything I do since I also work here. It’s really my most cherished and sacred place to be. This space, for me, means rest and contentment. I grew up on a hill with a view, so living here is comforting to me. Some mornings I will grab my laptop and tea and work from my couch while my cat, Bella, sleeps next to me and just absorb the amazing view from our windows.

Most of the time, I come to our living room to disconnect and just allow myself to appreciate my life. It’s a place where my husband and I can reconnect after a long day and cuddle up on the couch and watch TV. Invariably, I end up falling asleep on him before the show has ended because it’s my happy place. Greg and I both have intense work lives, so to have a place where our family can huddle up together brings me immense joy. It’s fun to have the cats fight for where they are going to sit on our couch while my dog just snores on his bed nearby. It’s the place [where] I go to reflect on how vastly different my life once looked and how incredibly full it is now.

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What makes it so comfortable (physically and personally)?

The space is all about relaxation, which is why I think I can fall asleep there so easily. The lounge chair by design is all about comfort, so if I’m sitting there with a blanket on me, it doesn’t really matter if I’m watching TV or staring out the window absorbing the view — I’m instantly in my comfort zone. We have an arsenal of pillows from a collection I designed and a couple of blankets on all the sitting areas for optimum snuggle situations, and let’s be honest, to prevent the cats from further destroying our furniture. I’ve woken up on more than one morning to find all of our cats sleeping on our couch and it’s nice to know that at any given moment the area is being enjoyed.

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What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?

I think less things make me uncomfortable these days, but mostly people with bad vibes. It’s hard to be in a space with other folks when they’re only focused on negativity or are super judgmental. It’s easy to take that sort of negative lens that they focus on everything and turn it on yourself. As I have gotten older, I have learned to distance myself from that type of thinking, so [I] instantly feel out of place when I’m around that personality type.

As far as my biggest fear, I think it’s the inevitability of my dog Jack getting older and what that means. I’ve had him since he was a puppy and he’s lived on both coasts with me and been my constant companion for nearly 16 years, and I honestly couldn’t imagine him not being here. It’s why I love working from home so much because it means that I get to spend a lot of time with my little boy. I purposely spend some alone time every morning with him and really make a point to appreciate every second of it.

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Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?

A few months before I met my husband, I was at a dinner with friends and the subject of travel came up and someone mentioned walking the streets of Thailand, and I thought to myself, “Why aren’t I walking the streets of Thailand?” A month later I was on a plane to Bangkok, by myself, to spend a few weeks walking the streets of Thailand. I was terrified of going by myself and thought about canceling my trip a few times since I was going to a country where I didn’t know anyone, by myself, and didn’t speak the language. Since my trip happened so quickly I had very little time to plan, so I just let the country guide me. I spent my days eating street food, sleeping on overnight trains that broke down, going to night markets, riding bikes amongst the ruins and taking care of elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.

That trip forever changed me, and now I can just reference those experiences when I might be fearful about a situation and I am able to take a leap into the unknown instead of hiding out where I feel comfortable.

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What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?

That’s a good question! If I stayed local, I would spend a lot more time at my yoga studio and, when not there, at the spa nearby getting a Korean body scrub and living in their saunas. It’s really the only indulgence I allow myself and I rarely make time to do it, so if I did actually find myself with a free day, that’s where you would find me.

However, if I had a month all to myself I would definitely go back to Thailand and spend more time taking care of the elephants. Although, I suspect that that I would miss my husband too much to be gone for that long, and end up having him meet me there.

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What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?

What I know now and deeply believe is that I have to focus on the things I love and, in doing so, everything else just falls away and doesn’t matter. When I made the decision to do my art full-time, I took on the mantra, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I think it can be really hard, especially when you are younger, to question yourself and worry about what other people or your family will think of your decisions.

The people I love and respect all embrace the unknown. I was very fortunate to spend a handful of years studying with a Tibetan Lama and he always talked about the impermanence of life. In a way, it took years for me to understand the sort of practical applications of that to my everyday life. It is easy to see the bigger context, but for me, letting go of some of my fears took a while and today I see the importance in his teachings even more so. I realize it’s rather cliche to live each day as if it was your last and some days it’s just not possible to act as if that’s true. But every morning, I wake up and I take time to reflect on the things that I am grateful for, which usually includes snuggling up with my dog and my husband for a few minutes before I get up and start my day.

How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?

Yoga and hiking. A big part of the reason that I reconnected with my childhood love of stained glass is because of my yoga teacher, Tony G, so my yoga practice is where I go to recharge. I love that after a long day in the studio, I get to take off my shoes, turn off my phone and for an hour and a half, just breathe and get in touch with how my body is feeling. I also get to challenge myself on a physical level, but in a playful way with a supportive and loving community. No matter what my day is like, I always leave there feeling better than I did walking in.

I am also super fortunate to live near some great hiking trails, so I try to go hiking at some point during the week in the morning. It seems counterintuitive to take time out in the morning to go hiking for an hour, but by the time I come home I feel excited about the day ahead and ready to get to work.

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Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?

I have absolutely experienced burnout on more than one occasion. As anyone can tell you, running your own business takes long hours with very little down-time. I have to carve out time for myself away from my studio, phone or laptop and refocus. I think travel is always the answer for me, but it doesn’t have to include hopping on a plane and going somewhere far. We’re fortunate enough to live in LA, which means we can drive an hour or two in any direction and find ourselves deep in the desert or staring at the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

There will always be work for me to do, and [it’s] the argument for why leaving [is] possible. I planned a weeklong getaway for my husband’s birthday this year and we visited dear friends in Portland and Port Townsend and ended our trip secluded in a cabin in Carson, WA. I came home excited to get back to work with a head filled with new ideas and a new collection of work I couldn’t wait to get started on.

What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?

I always think of that saying, “Inhale the good sh*t, exhale the bullsh*t.” I try to always keep the focus on my life and spend less time worrying about what other people should do. When I practice that in my life, I know things seems to go better for [me].

What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?

I often find myself wishing that I knew what my animals are thinking!

Comfort Zone: Debbie Bean
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Comments

  • I love this! I’ve been following Debbie on Instagram for a while now. So cool to read her story!

  • There’s something magical about seeing colored light in a tranquil space. The manic worker bee part of my brain that seems to never stop cycling on what I did yesterday, what to do now, what to do next is switched off and the other side switches on, the awe inspired, wordless space that lets everything else take a break and allow creative inspiration to seep in. I’m super grateful I ran across Debbie’s work. It’s changed my life. I never knew how simple it would be to transform a corner of my small apartment into my own little inner sanctum.

  • I love Debbie’s stained glass! It’s great to hear her talk about her process and how she continues to find and seek inspiration.

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