2017 marks the 20th anniversary for Willows boutique in Vancouver, Wa. The independent women's apparel, accessory and gift store has changed through the years, evolving to serve its clients and customers. Embellishments studio has been there from the beginning bringing their brands style to life.
Willows and Embellishments studio celebrate
Hundreds of partygoers helped Willows celebrate its 20th anniversary, with florals by Stem Floral Design and treats by Rosycakes to coordinate with my summer display. What may not be known to many in attendance is the origins of the boutique they love.
It was 1997 when I first met the first time shop owners Sandy McCloud and her business partner and daughter Janna Moats. Bright eyed and ambitious to realize their concept for a bedding, furniture and gift store we hit it off. Our task was to transform a rather plain and unassuming space tucked into a refurbished car dealership into something alluring and vibrant.
It wasn't too long and their success lead to their expanding into an empty retail space next door. The new area allowed them to expand their offerings to include some apparel, baby bedding and more gift merchandise. It is with the addition of this space that glimpses of the Willows style appeared.
Committed to having the, mostly service oriented, marketplace provide a shopping experience to the downtown Vancouver scene, Sandy and Janna, in addition, opened Fresh Willow, a garden and gift store. I began my exploration of their interiors being modern with industrial and vintage accents. This would include creating elements and faux finishing them for both the interior and facade. Ingredients such as concrete, "rusted" metal and wood finishes will serve them well into their 20th year.
Despite their retailing success, the two Marketplace locations challenged the two owners with heavy schedules, separate merchandise buying trips and two vastly different goals within. The decision was made to merge the two and define "Willows" with a new location, street side in the newly revitalized Ester Short Park area. Here the merchandise assortment began the flip from home dec and gift, with some light apparel to apparel with some gift. Here's where the categories of garden, bedding and furniture were shed, a precursor to the boutique of today. The response from downtown Vancouver's apparel store starved women was amazing. Willows became the guiding light and a stellar example of a revitalized Vancouver success story. That forward momentum could not be sustained too long. With the onset of the economic recession bringing about a reversal of downtown Vancouver's revitalization and growth, Sandy and Janna made the tough, but exciting, decision to close their Ester Shore Park location and relocate to their current one in the Grand Central Marketplace. As a team, we decided to take the largest space yet further in expressing Willow's style and distill their offerings to be revolved around apparel, accessories and gifts.
It is their Grand Central location that would challenge me to create the Willows experience from scratch. This will be the first time I was given the freedom to develop a completly empty retail space. No more were there going to be stairs, low ceilings and a lack of storage. My first decision was to design them an actual working back room. This marks the first time in Willow's 15 years that they can process new merchandise off the sales floor. And I, as their merchandiser, display builder was eager to have a storage area for fixtures, tools and display goods.
To further build the brands reputation for eye catching eye candy and high end department store like treatment of visual display, I carved a niche out for a window display and purchased a ton of mannequins. The tradition of rearranging the store, adding new fixtures and displays with each season was born.
As if the planets aligned just for the ladies of Willows, the two spaces adjacent to the store became available. So without hesitation, the designing of the current, expanded Willows began. The additional space allowed us to accommodate more dressing rooms, increase the selling space, add a sale area and further indulge in the textures and elements that define Willows visually. And of course I got my wish of another window, an expanded back room and a central wrap desk that could hold four checkout stations!
I'm proud to play part in this 20 year love affair with the Willows brand. The owners, Sandy and Janna are like family. We've watched each others families grow. We've watched our separate businesses grow. And, we will continue watching Willows grow further with our collaborative ways and unrelenting love for the store. I'm including some additional photos from my Willows displays below. Enjoy!- Aaron
Rose Gold, Copper, Gold and Pewter - A Custom Mixed Metal Christmas Boutique Display by Embellishments Studio
My younger self was a professional window and holiday display designer and visual merchandiser for high end department stores. 20 years ago when I left that world to start Embellishments Studio, I retained a few of my freelance clients. Flash forward to 2016, I've created dozens of trims for several clients. The trims that quickly comes to nostalgic memory are the ones I've created for my client in Vancouver, Washington called Willows. It's a clothing and accessories boutique.
Garden mural project
Flash forward four and half years, they called me back to help them with their backyard eyesore, a cinder block garage wall. Their fresh landscape and beautiful hot tub gazebo and deck built by a friend of mine, Dave Izer were fantastic. The backside of the neighbors wall not so much. It was decided to cover the wall with a landscape that extended their yard visually.
There of course was a special request by their daughter (who's nursery I painted). She wanted a unicorn. With Mom and Dad's nod, I tucked a sleeping one into the painting. It's a magical surprise when you approach the mural but its not really visible from the house or deck. That way the illusion wasn't affected by the appearance of a large mythical creature.
Time Lapse Video
Here's one reason I love my job. When I completed the mural, it happened to be one day before my birthday. Well, my lil' client brought me a card she drew and a mandala she colored in. My heart melted. Good thing it was the last day because nothing could top that moment. Thank you McClures for your faith in my work and of course treating me like family. You're amazing!
Hell bent and intent on finishing my Saturday to-do list I let the day slip by. Around 8:00pm I finally allowed myself to relax . I thought I'd treat myself to an adult beverage and sit on the deck. Having that in mind, I actually opened my eyes to the world around me. I was awestruck, I put my ale down and had to grab my phone for some spontaneous photos. The evening golden light had appeared for its brief visit. My garden lit up like a paradise. I'm a bit of a plant geek so seeing my man-made tropical oasis light up made me proud so I wanted to share it with you. Know that its too cold for most sub-tropical plants here in the wet and cold wintered Northwest. So I worked hard to recreate that look using plants that would survive here. Some marginally, so I baby them through the winter frosts
Shhhh, just between you and me... I live in a neighborhood that has quite a feral gardeners who grow nothing but native plants and I think the term native is a rebrand of the term weeds and crab grass. In this high heat summer- a freakishly long stretch of temperatures in the 90's, their yards are burned to a crisp and mine is a lush paradise ,except my lawn. Good thing I planned ahead and planted my yard prepped for global warming. Now if only I could grow pineapples and coconuts...
These are not the best photos as I really do not know how to use my SLR mimicking cell phone camera. And the light was dwindling so some are grainy and I apologize. Thanks for indulging me in my moment of pride as my garden comes into full "tropical" splendor. As a plant geek, who likes to share, I'd be happy to answer questions.
For those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about when I refer to dance team props, here's a video of yesterdays performance by Parkrose Elite Dance Team. I'm their prop master and theme development guy. They compete with other teams and are accessed on the performance's level of difficulty, execution, overall concept and other categories. I work with the team and their volunteers directing the painting of their floors and creation of their props and sets. I have a tendency to take the ideas towards fantastic worlds, deconstructed environments and always try to push the envelope in one way or another. Here are my moths denied light living in a decrepit house until they discover light and the power to make it themselves. I proudly present....the Elite and the Architects of Light.
This is a high school team with members that are freshman up to senior in year. The dancers are expected to maintain good grades, be good citizens are practice together from late summer until now. This sport requires huge dedication on behalf of the students and their coaches, whom I adore.
The video is the first of two performances. Here are some close up photos by Patrick Smith Photography (used with permission), copyright 2015.
Last night at midnight, standing outside their store I realized I've designed three stores for Willows over a span of 18 years. Holy Toledo...18 years! Over on my Instagram, my friend Stacey said it eloquently "Aaron Christensen and Willows, a match made in retail heaven". I like to think so Stacey...
I've had the pleasure of working with the owners Sandy and Janna through the many styles of Willows as well. There was the furniture vending Shabby Chic period, the overstuffed bedding and bath phase, the modern steel and glass era and now our rustic deconstructed glam clothing and accessories boutique.
This latest trim is constructed of recycled glass objects, plastic utensil handles and a bit of Embellishments distressification. What was once a black wrought iron, atypical 90's chandelier was stripped of it's functioning parts and turned into a living sculpture. Its vintage blue mason jars contain plant cuttings that will grow with the season.
I'll have to stop in and check on the cuttings, as sadly despite all their style and grace neither Sandy or Janna have a green thumb. They've quickly killed every poinsettia over our 17 holidays together...ha!
For my style loving female friends out there, know that Willows will soon be opening up a web-shop. I'll share the link when it's ready to go.
If you're a customer of Willows you can look forward to a pre-summer give-a-way featuring the spring decor pieces...ooooh!
Mom's day weekend was a wild and crazy one for us. Not only was it my daughter's prom, my son needed a DIY for his college media class (of course at the last minute...ahum) and I had to gather some impromptu props for a weather dependent photo shoot for the wifey.
It's a beautiful picture huh? That's my peanut and her boyfriend. What you don't see in the picture is the mud covered prop dad. I had to lay down and wrestle plywood so the Promsters wouldn't get mud on their prom wear. The bike was sinking into the mud and the wind gusts made photographing balloons really difficult.
Between Prom and Mother's Day brunch I had a last minute calling to help my son with a DIY for his media class. With zero notice, let's make a camp stool! My children take for granted that the studio is loaded, part craft store and lumber yard. Pulling a camp stool out of my (ahem) is all in a days work. I wouldn't have it any other way....they need me. At least for now, ha!
My son's DIY video doesn't mention one should plan ahead for these kind of things.
The Prom dinner was spared rain showers. It couldn't have been a prettier evening.
I neglected to capture any pictures of the Mom's Day brunch that was squeezed in. This guy was busy eating......
Wowza, the weekend was a prop, prom and mom weekend! I had to whip up some photostyling props for the photog wifey to use in shooting our daughter's prom. Built and photographed a DIY camp stool project with my son for his college media class. Assisted my wife at her weather crazed prom shoot and squeezed in mommy day brunch with MIL. Thank goodness the work week is here, so I can relax....ha! No, I'm not going to the prom, I'm just the lighting test dummy.
Hey PDX'ers the Boys' Fort loves local. They are purveyors of art, furniture, decor and hand selected gift items from hundreds of NW artists and craftspeople. The Fort frontmen Rolfe and Jake have created this wonderful display featuring my reclaimed wood mounted art and stretched canvases. Uh...I want to move in! Stop in and tell the "Boys" I sent you! —
I had the pleasure of meeting one of my longest social media friends for the first-time yesterday! The amazing Michelle Allen! She inspires me! Thankfully, the gravitational pull of my orb head pulled her in for the selfie documentation of the fantastic moment. Thank you Michelle for the coffee, convo and of course the purchase of my birch deer taxidermy mount. Here's her facebook page, her work is amazing and so much fun!https://www.facebook.com/AllenDesignsStudio
My family loves to spot my artwork on TV for me. One of my keen eyed spotters noticed my vintage princess crown art hanging on the wall at Joey Wahl Arts Children's Boutique in LA, during Kim Kardashian's visit. While it's no ringing endorsement from the pregnant reality star, it's an art spotting none the less. My daughter thought it was tweetable. OMG!
Welcome to my Embellishments Journal, it's a new feature. I will be posting about some of our projects, sharing pictures and interesting things. Chime in, ask questions and keep your arms and hands inside the ride until it comes to a complete stop. -Aaron