My display building services were challenged with a contradiction. Can you combine a masculine window and store trim theme with a female sentiment?
The concept of a mechanic, automotive theme combined with some positive affirmations was the winning idea my boutique client chose. Off and running, I had a great time rummaging, replicating and altering automotive parts and car related goods.....continued
Ideas are easy to come by, harder to realize. I sold my clothing boutique client on the idea of a dimensional cactus themed summer window and store display. I've been drawn to tissue art as of recently, and liked the concept of watercolor like tones of tissue combined with the harder cacti form. Figuring out how to bring the concept to life became the mystery. It was my mission to find a simple way to create cacti plants that are lightweight and life like in shape.
After a stint of head scratching and store wandering, the idea came to me when I saw a display of foam fun noodles and little swimmer kick boards. I quickly grabbed a shopping cart and loaded up 20 noodles and 20 kick boards. In the checkout line I was asked by the cashier about my pool party. Still excited by the idea, I blurted out that I was going to turn them into cactus. Why I expected anything more than the half smirk and a random direction head nod from those around me, is beyond me. Huff! I guess my prickly pear making high was clearly a one man's journey.
If you can decoupage and cut shapes with scissors you can have a cactus garden! If you can climb over the fence and take your neighbors fun noodles and kick boards you can have a cactus garden for free, or the price of a misdemeanor. Relax, there is no need to pilfer. This time of year many big box and dollar stores have "polyethylene foam" swim noodles and boards for sale. Plastic suppliers like Tap often carry it in large rolls. It's used as a packing material and insulation, you will want 1/2 inch or thicker sheets.
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.
Often when I design props for store displays or fixtures for merchandising they are purely from my imagination. The challenge lies in bringing those ideas to life. I recently proposed a farmhouse chic style trim for one of my apparel boutiques. In my mind I saw old water/wind mills, old barn doors and abandoned relics.
To create vintage look props its easiest to find old wood and supplies to build them out of. One of my local haunts, The Rebuilding Center serves me well. There I can find treasures to build my ideas from. For this particular trim I came across old packing crate supports, degraded galvanized flashing and oddities, old cast wheels and a ton of reclaimed bits of wood.
Staring at the items in my checkout cart I decided to build a windmill out of the flashing, an old hoe and the packing crate supports which were rich with rusty character.
The wheels, some old mahogany wheelbarrow handles, old galvanized channel and 2 x 12's would become a vintage look florists or fruit vendors merchandising cart.
Random chair parts, old wood, part of a tv roof antennae and miscellaneous bits of hardware would become an abandoned swift bird house.
The studio is filling up with projects, so I must be better about selling off a few things. So, heres some gems from previous displays. They are one-of-a-kinds.
This one-of-a-kind anchor was built by the studio for use in a seasonal display. It's in pristine but vintage looking shape. How great would this be used as a photography prop, a signature decor piece or as a theme element in a restaurant. Due to its size, I'd be hesitant to ship it. I'd recommend it find a home in the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington metro areas. For more detailed information:
These mixed whites fabric sales are a perfect photo booth backdrop, prop for a kids room or as an accent in a nautical themed space. Due to the weight I wouldn't recommend shipping. But then again anythings is possible.
The following three lights are available. They are made from reclaimed glass containers and glass ware. They're fun, vintage and bohemian.
The workshop is hot today. Not only are we hitting weather highs in the nineties , I have found myself under a welding mask creating fireworks welding. I have to be careful I might just slip on my own puddles of sweat.
I'm welding together framework for a faux bois table. You often see faux bois in historic gardens as benches and archways and in theme parks as railing and fake trees.
While I've sculpted many things in my life, this is my first attempt at cement furniture. Hey, I just dive in with both feet. I've worked with cement before. I sculpt trees from other materials all the time. Why not combine the two?
This table is destined for a retail boutique. It will be merchandised on as a fixture. I'm personally handling the store design for the owners. I want a variety of textures, finishes and hand wrought signature pieces throughout. I'll journal about the store soon, as we are just beginning construction.
Here's my finished armature. I will be wrapping it in metal mesh to provide stability and a surface for the cement to adhere to.
As a feature in the garden, faux bois was very popular in the 1940's. If you own a vintage piece you are very lucky. Given most pieces were exposed to the elements, many have degraded and sadly disappeared.
I'll pop back in and update this journal entry with progress pictures. I'd love to hear from you if you own a piece. I'd be curious how you came to own it.
Update- July 3rd
I neglected to take a picture of the piece wrapped in metal lathe. I was just so excited to get into it. The first coat of cement was to cover the rebar and the lathe. I also shaped the first coat to start creating some of the twists, turns and scars one would see on an old branch. In the photo above you can see the rough first coat in the back (the darker horizontal branch) The two foreground branches are after the second coat which is a finer mortar mix. Once that mortar sets up a little I started carving, brushing and stamping details. I'm excited how much they look like old driftwood with the natural cement color. Once the finished piece is stained they will look more like a wood in tone. More updates soon...
update - July 7th
The legs have dried thoroughly so it was safe to finally flip it right side up. Now I will start applying mortar to the top and sculpting it.
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!
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
SHOP MY FABRICS ON SPOONFLOWER.COM