Candice Luter did not expect to be here. The founder and artist behind her Candice Luter Art & Interiors design studio underwent a reinvention these past few years. Going all-in on her emerging business at the start of the pandemic, Candice notes that her voice as an artist has fully and truly emerged. Her Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based studio produces stunning, one-of-a-kind wall hangings, supported by and in community with her product line team of local women artisans and makers. Those partnerships with her team and local businesses embody the studio's ethos—to take care of the hard-working people who create these beautiful, handcrafted designs for their customers. We were so happy then to chat with Candice, discussing her creative evolution, how her own home serves as a reference point in her creative process, and her poignant reasoning behind using overlooked materials. Read on for more.
You started designing as a hobby, right? When did you decide art was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
To be honest, I was afraid to do it full-time even though I knew my business was ramping up and was already becoming a full-time job itself. It’s hard to know when you start something as a hobby then make it a business if you would end up hating it. The tipping point was the pandemic. I had lost my full-time job at a commercial interior design firm, and boy was that humbling at the age of 37 to figure out how to start over. It forced me as a single mom at the time to focus solely on what I knew I was good at, designing and making things with the two hands God gave me. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, and I have never looked back since! So, you could say I never decided to make art my life’s work, life had a way of pushing me towards it without any option but to dive all-in. Now, I wake up and come to a job that I love every day. A seemingly scary situation allowed me the opportunity to get to know myself and the freedom to finally be who I was meant to be.
Tell us about how your craft evolved, from Remnant Design to Candice Luter Arts & Interiors.
I was like many people just dabbling around on Pinterest, and the itch to create wouldn’t stop scratching. What began with upcycling items turned into a passion for power tools and making furniture—my first love—from scratch. The years that followed involved trying to understand and find my own lane by trying out various design styles at local markets and eventually selling online through Etsy. It was a good way to experiment with new work without investing in keeping things stocked on the shelves. I realized I have absolutely nothing to lose. So, once I started making things for myself and letting my gut direct me was the moment I truly emerged as an artist. Instead of a design role focusing on creating from other people’s work in upcycling, I was now in the driver's seat.
What role has Etsy played in helping to expand your business?
Etsy allowed me to find my customer, which I think is every business owner’s main struggle. I live in the Midwest, and the work I wanted to create was a little more outside the box than what I was finding locally. Etsy gave me a voice and the freedom to express that voice, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was that my work resonated with retailers, hotel curators, and designers alike.
When it comes to your work, why have you chosen upcycled materials as your medium?
I don’t upcycle much anymore, but I do have a certain focus on using the fiber scraps and wood scraps we have and turning that into new work since that is the medium my work was originally rooted in. We have boxes of fibers and bins of wood that I just can’t part with! There is something beautiful in taking something that was once overlooked or considered forgotten and finding purpose with it. Without going too deep, I feel like there is something healing when I work with putting together those broken pieces and creating something better than the state it was left in. My work is very healing and allows me to process whatever I may be going through in life—it has been a great outlet for me. Also, since I started as a very broke single mom in my creative endeavors, there is a certain level of awareness that I’ve always had about being wise with my investments and making sure I’ve used every last bit of what I have so nothing goes to waste.
Could you walk us through your design process, how do you transform reclaimed woods and fabric scraps into your gorgeous wall hangings?
My design process is either wading in the shallow end or doing a cannonball in the pool! All in or all out! Sometimes it can be a little more thought out in my design process with a sketch first, and other times I just grab my materials and go! It can be a lot of trial and error, and that’s the best part of the process! I usually have a vision of the colors, the movement, and the execution that I am after and work hard to manipulate materials to do what I want rather than feeling limited by the materials. Sometimes it works well, and other times I have to walk away to avoid getting frustrated (ha!). From there, I start to play with a concept, then I create another one to try modifications of it to see where a color might take the design or how a cut style might change it. Once I have formalized a design I would put in my own home, it usually gets brought into the product line family to see how my audience might respond to it. I then teach my team how to create a replica. We have formed such a close-knit family of women makers here in my studio that we usually formulate the final design together and come up with ways to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and shorten the time it takes to turn a piece around. More heads are better than one that is for sure!
How do you approach the decor of your home? Do you feel as though your designs and your personal aesthetic overlap?
Absolutely! I have to be inspired every day, so my design studio and home are very similar in their aesthetics. While I am open to those designs changing, one of the main reasons for my current product line developed was from a personal need to make decor for my home. Since it is where most of my designs start, I use my home as a reference point—asking myself, would I put this in my home? And how would I style this piece in my home? Keeping home and work life similar allows me to mix and match materials around to see how the everyday user might want to style a piece. And for that reason, my brain never shuts off, according to my now husband! I’m so glad it doesn’t!
Could you speak about why it is so important to partner with and support other local artisans from Cedar Rapids?
I love where I come from, and we have such a beautiful community of people here who have been more than supportive in my creative journey. It isn’t just my way of giving back, it is just the right thing to do purchasing from local small businesses like mine who are good at what they do and help me to be good at what I’m good at. I always tell them I couldn’t do it without them, and that is a fact. I think in business and sales, we focus so much on our success on the customer and how they respond but as a business, if you don’t have good employees and great vendors to work with, it just doesn’t work. Partnering together with local businesses is a way for me to build long-lasting relationships that matter to me in how we do business. We do business with people we trust, people who are honest, and who do good quality work. It embodies what we believe in here in my studio—taking care of home first before extending to our external customers who purchase from us every day. Every sale made is contributing back to hard-working people who value what they do every day and who they do it for. That is something I want to get behind!
For artists and designers who are just starting, what is one piece of advice you would share with them?
You are NEVER going to feel ready. EVER. So just start. There are so many things I struggle with (i.e. anxiety, the business finance hat, organization, etc.), and that is ok! The more I owned who I was, the more I was able to forgive myself and not hold myself to such a high standard that I couldn’t meet even on my best day. It allowed me to put less stress on myself, to not compare myself to others, and to not feel guilty if there were things I just wasn’t good at as a business owner. Know your boundaries—emotionally, mentally, physically—and learn to recognize them. Do what you can and leave the rest for another day. Praise yourself for what you are good at and get help for the rest. Being the best YOU can be as an artist and a designer is to know yourself and to embrace it with open arms even if you are like me at times, a hot mess!
What other artists or mentors inspire you?
There are definitely some people I am floored by on the regular: Liz Kamarul, Sarah Sherman Samuel, Wendy Chien, Leanne Ford, Kelly Wearstler, Betty Larkin, to name a few. Sometimes I am just amazed and where their minds go, it truly is a beautiful thing to see. Most of the time I find inspiration in off-the-beaten paths, from fashion to Japanese methods for construction and ideology to even hieroglyphics. It’s usually from the most unlikely places an idea strikes and that helps me to stay in my lane and not to be subconsciously inspired by another artist close to my medium.
What’s next for you and Candice Luter Arts & Interiors?
Furniture! It has always been my first love and passion, so I’m currently working on a few designs that I hopefully can get off the ground soon—coffee tables, cabinets, you name it! I’m always dreaming of new ways to bring a good design that functionally lives in a home, especially one with kids. I would love to develop a line that speaks to just that!Photography provided by Candice Luter