It all started with a geometric leather pillow, then followed with dip-dyed napkins and custom wall hangings. Turns out we’re crazy for virtually everything made by Liv Grant of local housewares line liv+work. The multidisciplinary artist who first learned about textiles at her extended family’s marching band uniform factory now runs an e-commerce site featuring her own designs. She also donates five percent of every sale to Paws Chicago. Here, Grant shares her inspirations, why she thinks wall weavings are so popular, and the greatest lesson she’s learned so far.
What sparked your interest in textile design?
My love for design started way back in my childhood. I remember always being in an art studio for ceramic, sculpting, and painting classes. My mom is an interior designer, my dad is the fourth generation marching band uniform manufacturer, and my brother is a chef. So I never thought of being anything else but being creative. I studied textile design and art history at the University of Kansas.
Where do you find your inspiration as an artist?
A lot of what I’m designing is based off of people-watching, photographs I take, and feedback from friend’s who say “I wish I had…” Also, I try to look at ordinary things very abstractly throughout my day. Watching rain sheet down an adjacent building inspired my Dip Dye Napkin Sets and Rainbow Rain Blouses. I also really play off of clothing I own. I love to feel comfortable but sexy and powerful, eclectic, and intentional, and I hope that everyone feels that way in a Fur Circle Scarf and Southwest Clutch from liv+work. I might use the drape of a dress, the shape of a shirt, a particular shade of color as inspiration, and adapt it.
When did you launch liv + work, and why?
liv+work begin in 2011. I was working at an interior design and architecture magazine when I realized my life goal. I just knew I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t spend my days creating items that would eventually grace someone’s home or closet. I hope to make people smile and instill pride when they receive their handcrafted, American-made products. I also hope liv+work will be an ever-moving vehicle for teaching. I love to help people learn how to paint, weave and sculpt, and I teach classes/workshops often. As word travels about liv+work, I hope more people will feel encouraged to express themselves through visual means.
You don’t just stick to one discipline or material—nail art, watercolor, textiles. Why is that?
I love to express myself and my design style through different materials. I find that a particular medium can achieve a look or feeling better than another. liv+work is a lifestyle brand, so this spring I launched a collection of clothing and accessories for men and women to accompany the home products I already carry. Our lives—[or] at least my life—is a culmination of so many things, and I am a maker of products for those many areas of our lives. Besides all that, I actually feel really blessed that I enjoy using all these different disciplines and materials.
Tell us about that gorgeous leather pillow. What inspired it, how did it come about, and how is it made?
The hand-cut geometric leather pillow is an example of using a textile in an unusual way and applying a sculptural technique to a functional home product. It’s our best seller and one of my favorite designs! It’s made from super supple lambskin from Barcelona supplied by a local Chicago third-generation family business who are so kind to me. I place the hand-cut leather squares in a grid on the face of the pillow and fold them as I stitch them down one by one—it reminds me [of] an Italian making pasta. A chunky brass zipper is added from a classic American company. And finally, after it’s all sewn up, an eco-friendly, American-made pillow is placed inside. Quality American craftsmanship is a top priority for liv+work.
Let’s talk about custom weaving, which you make. Why do you think they’re so popular these days?
I so enjoy weaving! Everything about it. The process is soothing, the end product is wondrous and abundant with texture and those little flaws and details you get when things are handmade. I’m so glad they are becoming a loved item again. I think consumers in the last few years have grown to be really savvy and concerned with where their products come from, who makes them and the story behind it. You just can’t mass produce hand woven wall hangings, so you can’t help but get to know the weaver. I hope their popularity never fades.
What’s one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned thus far?
I’ve learned to make designs and products that I want to make, that appeal to me as a creator and make me wake up in the middle of the night and grab my sketchbook. I think this is the best way to create—not just because my love will come through even more, which is a big part of it. But also because following the trend of “what’s so hot right now” doesn’t get a designer much of anywhere. I’ve had the greatest connections with customers who downright dig my designs, not because they’re trendy but because they connect to the piece. Bottom line: Make what you love and the rest will happen.
What is your dream for the future of your business?
I see myself in a sunlight studio—that may or may not double as a shop—with friends and family lending inspiration, while I stay wildly busy gratifying customers and local markets.
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