After we’ve had our coffee, one of our favorite things to do is create. Whether it’s a post, a new recipe, a fun DIY, or things for Ilana’s TS+SW, we’re always making stuff. Since we started this journey with Everything After Coffee (and even before that), we’ve made so many friends who are makers, creators, crafters, and doers. Highlighting these creative minds through EAC seemed like an obvious step for us. So, for our first “Coffee Date,” we asked our good friend Nicole Neu of Made Collective and Nicole Neu Design to sit down with us and chat about her process, her future, and everything in between.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background, educationally and professionally?
I have a BA in Photography and Sculpture. Upon graduating, I accepted my dream job of designing displays for Anthropologie. I was with the company for almost five years, a stint of that was spent in sales and management, but the majority was in design.
What are you currently working on?
I design small home goods and accessories, which are for sale on my website. I am also continuing to do large scale installation and backdrop design on a contract basis. I have partnered with an event planning company out of Orange County called Blush and Brass; I do styling and table design for their photoshoots and events. Lastly, I have started a website called Made Collective where I meet with creative entrepreneurs, do interviews and studio tours, and eventually we will host events as a collaboration with Blush and Brash.
Can you tell us a little about what it was like to leave a stable job at a giant retail company like Anthropologie to pursue your own dreams?
I loved my job at Anthro, there is no full time job that could compare to it, but I really have always had this itch to work for myself. I hit a point where I knew I just needed to take the risk and go for it. It was completely bittersweet. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I still have days where I am terrified out of my mind, but I know I have to keep pushing forward; it’s now or never.
Did your time there influence your work now?
Absolutely. I had to learn to make things fast and well, and perfected skills I had begun learning in college. I learned more about building and building site-specific pieces. As a display artist, you have to learn how to work in an array of mediums and do them well. I learned how to do so many things because of that and I am grateful.
Can you tell us a little more about Made Collective?
Made Collective is a platform to share the stories of other creative entrepreneurs and highlight their skills and products.
What inspired you to start Made? How did it begin?
Made Collective was started out of a desire to connect with other creative people living out their dreams. I interview people, do studio tours and tell their story on the MC website.
What are your goals for Made?
To keep connecting with creative people and bring them together through events in partnership with Blush and Brass.
How did you realize what you’re doing now was your life path?
Well, just to be clear, I barely know what I will be doing tomorrow, let alone what my life path will be. The only thing I know is that it was right to leave my job when I did, and it’s good to keep creating and forging this new path day after day. “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
What was the first thing you ever made?
I can’t say I remember the very first thing I made, but I had a very creative childhood. My mom was a big believer in always letting us have art supplies wherever we went. She would bring Play-Doh on family vacations, and we had a big cabinet in the kitchen that was for art supplies only. I remember making candles, bracelets, rubber bugs, and one summer we built a huge teepee in my front yard. My mom taught me how to sew at a young age, although it didn’t really stick until I was an adult.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I have to just play. I have to get materials in my hands and piece them together or lay them out or feel them. To get my creative juices flowing, I find it’s helpful for me to start reorganizing some portion of my studio, in that process I start touching the materials and eventually I’m no longer organizing and I am piecing things together.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I love things that are highly functional with no frills. Right now, I keep things pretty minimal. I love muted tones and contrasting textures, like I love how veg-tanned leather looks against thick duck canvas.
What is your favorite design trend?
I am not one for trends, but I like that people are into buying things made by other people in their local communities. I hope that trend never goes away.
What is your biggest design pet peeve?
Things that are badly designed, poorly made, and perfectly marketed.
Is there a tool you cannot live without?
My Dewalt drill and miter saw. I can’t pick one.
What is your favorite material to work with?
I love wood and natural fabrics, such as canvas, muslin, and linen.
You’re very adamant about using natural materials and keeping your work natural. Can you explain that a little?
We live in a world bogged down with toxic chemicals, and I don’t want to add to that. It’s possible to do things naturally and with less of a burden on the planet and our bodies, so why wouldn’t we try to do it as much as possible?
What are your current major influences, design-wise?
I love the simplicity, minimalism, and functionality of Scandinavian design. In contrast, I also love the Japanese idea of Wabi-sabi, where beauty is found in the imperfections of natural objects and processes.
What do you consider a key to success in any field?
Enjoying what you do at least 60% of the time.
Where do you get your inspiration for projects?
All over. In nature, my own head, books, architecture, previous projects.
In one sentence, tell us why you love doing what you do.
I love being able to create everyday and meet other people who do the same.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other creatives?
It’s important to have a creative community around you where you can collaborate, bounce ideas, vent. Find one, and invest in it as much as possible.
What’s next for you?
I love what I am doing, and the only thing I can hope for right now is that it will keep growing and manifesting however it’s supposed to. I want to keep connecting with more creative people, because it’s motivating to hear other stories and see other people who are successful and I want them to be successful. I want to support them and invest in their work and process.
Why did you choose to live in LA? What do you miss about Portland?
I love the climate here. There is so much hustle in this city and I feel like there are so many more opportunities here. I love Portland, it will always be my home, but it was so familiar and so comfortable. I wanted to be somewhere that was not so easy; I needed to push myself.
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you live and why?
That’s a really hard question because I have a laundry list of places I want to go. I love the idea of being able to live off of land in some kind of self-sustaining environment. I appreciate being coastal and living in a subtropical climate, so maybe somewhere in South America.
Do you have any unique morning rituals? Which is your favorite?
Well, I have a dog and he needs to be walked every morning at 8 am, so my day begins with him either licking my face or barking in it. I can’t say that’s my favorite, but I like walking. We walk all over.
What’s your favorite thing about your life right now?
My husband and I just moved to Venice from Hollywood. I am enjoying exploring another pocket of this amazing city, and being so close to the beach is a huge plus.
Do you have any healthy living tips?
Eat more fermented foods! They are loaded with probiotics and so delicious!
What’s your favorite healthy snack?
What’s most-played on your playlists right now?
Right now, I am really enjoying Vance Joy, but the ones that never get old for me are Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Elton John, and Joni Mitchell.
What is one book you would recommend to anyone? Why?
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I think it has applicable practices for anyone living life. It helps you work through resistance, which is a battle I think a lot of creative people fight.
What did you want to be when you were little?
Depends what age. I think the order was: ballerina, basketball player, artist, SeaWorld trainer. Totally nailed one of four.
How do you take your coffee?
32 oz. green juice, please.
What’s your favorite brand/blend right now?
I’m not really a coffee girl, but I’m always down for Yogi tea.
What’s your favorite coffee drink to order when you’re out?
Again, not much of a coffee drinker, but if I was going to order a specialty drink, it would be a chai latte with almond milk.
Photos courtesy of Robert Neu