I’m really excited about my guest for this post. I have been a fan of hers for many years, and it was exciting enough for me just to carry her beautiful table and kitchen linens, let alone actually interview her for my little ol’ blog!!! I’m so happy to present April Cornell–the uber-talented artist behind the empire.
Me: How did you get started in product design?
April: Well, I started drawing as a child, on the cardboard from my father’s shirts. I had a neighbor who taught me painting when I was 13, I’ve always loved nature, and our home backed on fields, so nature is one of my influences. I was a child of the sixties, when things from India came into the market I swooned and loved them.
Fast forward to me travelling across Asia in the early 70s, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and a visually rich feast–an artistic background, a love of nature and appreciation for textiles–the beautiful Koochi women in their patterned and embroidered dresses–it was a short step from seeing, touching, loving, to making and showing.
Me: Were there any obstacles that you had to get past to establish a successful business?
April: So many! Every day! It is all about finding solutions, what ideas to cling to, which to adjust or change. One of the early problems was how could we sell enough quantities to meet manufacturing minimums. Our wholesale business got born out of that need. That’s why I always straddled wholesale and retail businesses. Designing a collection always has a lull point- you have worked hard, felt good about the designs and suddenly everything looks horrible, you hate it, and are pulling your hair out. How can you ever finish? Why are you in this business? It can be difficult to make your ideas heard–new ideas are less likely to be accepted than familiar ones- but new ideas are needed to keep growing.
Sticking to an idea for an artist is difficult–especially new ideas–they are so fragile, they need nurture until they are fully realized. There are hundreds of designing and manufacturing challenges that perseverance, collaboration and sheer doggedness resolve. Seriously–this is a book in itself.
Me: Besides all the other products you design, you produce two large catalogues of table & kitchen linen collections every year. What process do you go through to come up with a new pattern? Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
April: Travel brings inspiration–a recent trip to the Adirondacks yielded a treasure trove of design ideas from an old family camp. Old hand-painted parchment lampshades, and old tufted cushions with nature inspired designs inspired me too. A trip to Mexico and its lively colors contributed to the Fiesta Colorways. Antique textiles offer softly faded colors and embroidery inspirations. Eyes open everywhere–inspiration is all around–I am always looking, always touching, always eavesdropping on people’s lives.
Dinners out, especially in different cities have me checking out how people are dressed, their conversations, their styles. I love to go to unique places and soak up the creativity of others. Concerts, being in the presence of creativity is very inspiring. I admire the bravery of performers and find it stimulating.
Me: You started the The Giving World Foundation ten years ago. Can you tell us about it and how you’re helping disadvantaged people in the countries where you operate various parts of your business?
April: We fund Street schools in New Delhi for slum children. They are first generation learners whose parents don’t read or write. Their lives are lived on the fringes of society–literacy gives them a chance to be participants, and forge different opportunities for themselves. It is truly giving a hand up–not a handout. We fund programs for women in prisons, teaching them a trade so that they can leave prison employable. We fully fund a school for 350 students outside of New Delhi, from pre kindergarten to 10th grade- giving rural children, many who are first generation learners an excellent education, imparting a sense of pride and optimism for their futures. We have had children graduate and come back and teach at the school. A true accomplishment.
We also support Doctor’s Without Borders–Medicins Sans Frontieres–these doctors go to the trouble spots of world. Healing and dealing with the ugliness of war, poverty and loss, when nobody else dares. Mobile Crèche is another program we have been involved with–a daycare set up for children of construction workers on construction sites in India. From infant babies to 5-year-old children we help supply a safe room, with caring individuals, medical check ups, vitamins, toys, singing, games, counting and learning, all below the swinging cranes and mountains of bricks on these massive building sites.
We contribute to a Refugee Resettlement Project in Burlington Vermont- reaching out to New Americans, coming from difficult global situations, and helping them get established here. My factory in India hosts food distributions to the neighbourhood. Funded by the factory workers, where shoulder to shoulder the staff serves food to hundreds of neighbours–it is a wonderful and heartwarming occasion that makes me very proud.
Me: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Me: What is the best part of your day?
April: My days have so much variety…I love working with my team–I love rich coffee in the morning with my boyfriend, feeding my cats, the gentle activities of life. Beyond that–it’s a secret!
Me: What advice can you give for setting a beautiful spring or summer table?
April: Go outside! Grab some of nature and make her your centerpiece. Be unexpected. Mix up your dishes, mix vintage and new. Don’t save anything for that special occasion. Make the special occasion now. Spoil yourself with color, use a different napkin for every guest. Don’t be subtle, or too careful or precious, live life today.
Spoil your guests. Treat them visually and with little gifts of food. Serve a silver bowl full of gumdrops. Light candles even in the daytime. Write your menu on a card and prop it on the table. Wear lipstick.
Me: Easter is just around the corner. Do you have a favourite food or drink that you like to serve at spring luncheons or dinner parties?
April’s Satisfying Salad…Place your salad bowl on a pretty cloth, or if the table is small, a colorful tea towel. Set up your plates and forks, your warm bread and be prepared to hear, “this is the best salad I have ever tasted! What’s your recipe?”
In a large and pretty salad bowl mix:
* Greens – I like to use mixed baby lettuces with the addition of arugula for its nutty flavor.
* 1 large avocado sliced
* ½ large apple [Honeycrsip, McIntosh, so many tasty ones to choose from!]
* 15-20 cherry tomatoes sliced
* ½ cup of raisins
* ½ cup extra sharp cheddar cheese [Cabot if available!] bite size
* Small container blue cheese crumbles or feta cheese crumbles
* Pine nuts
1. Mix everything together- making sure some tomatoes and raisins and crumbles remain on top for a colorful presentation.
2. In a frying pan – fry sliced mushrooms and pine nuts [or slivered almonds] in butter.
3. Top salad with mushrooms and nuts before serving- finish with a salad dressing of choice- preferably a vinaigrette [raspberry is lovely with all of the mix of tastes] – having a great neighbor, I occasionally use ‘Marti’s Magical Maple’ dressing – also yummy!
(Me: This salad sounds amazing!!!)
Me: Why do you think so many people love your products?
April: I think we have an artistically inspired product that appeals to the artist within many women. Women tell me it brings them joy and makes them feel happy. The colors light up their homes, and make them feel good. I like to think the inner values, the care and craft, the integrity and sincerity that we put into each item are somehow invisibly evident–and people feel attracted by that too.
Me: What do you think about social media? How has it impacted your business? How much time do you spend on Facebook, Twitter and blogging each day?
April: I think Social Media is a great connector–it brings together people of like mind. There is an immediacy to it that is unmatched. Often people are less shy and reach out more honestly in these interactions. I think it has its dangers too. There are people who manipulate for their own twisted reasons. Like in real life, you should have some savvy about what you say, and who you say it to. It is important to not forget the people who are next to you, and nurture those relationships too. I usually post on Facebook every day.
My blogging has fallen off a bit. I am truly a designer and businesswoman, mother and grandmother, and managing all of the aspects of my life is pretty hectic.
Me: Can you share the links for some of the blogs you love to follow?
Me: Last but not least….please answer the burning question of all time…imagine you’re sitting in your office on a rainy afternoon at around 3:27 p.m…do you choose the delectable chocolate bar or the steaming hot cup of tea/coffee?
April: Coffee, and dip that piece of chocolate in it–delicious. A little later green tea…but 3:27 p.m. usually calls for a WAKE UP!
So there you have it…I think we can all agree that April is our kinda gal! I just got my hands on the Fall/Winter 2011 April Cornell catalogue (bet you’re jealous) and I can tell you that it’s FAB-U-LOUS! I’d like to thank April for taking the time to answer all my questions and for sharing a glimpse into the life of a truly creative spirit!
GIVEAWAY TIME!!! To celebrate April Cornell’s new Spring/Summer 2011 collection, I’m giving one lucky winner a $100 worth April Cornell products. That’s right…you get to choose what you want!!! The only catch…you have to live in Canada or the U.S.A. and be at least 18 years of age (or the legal age in your state/province to participate in draws).
HOW TO ENTER:
1. “Like” the Nicole Jane Home Facebook page
2. Visit my website www.nicolejane.com to see all the new April Cornell table and kitchen linens. Then come back here and leave a comment to let me know which pattern is your favourite.
I will draw a lucky winner’s name on April 7! Good luck everyone.