Inside Director of Product, Katie Elliott's Joyful Family Home
Home is often a reflection of our unique life lived. From inherited art to tchotchkes collected throughout the years, the objects we surround ourselves with take on meaning, adding layers of memories that echo our experiences. The authenticity and intention behind these details continuously inspire us, which is why each season, we aim to feature our products in real spaces.
This winter, we were lucky enough to capture the home of our very own Director of Product, Katie Elliott. Inside their joyful dwelling, Katie, Alice, and their son Charlie have spent the last four years making a house into a family home. Filled with lively colors, custom furniture (Katie was a RISD graduate), and art at every turn, we could think of no better backdrop for our latest collection. We ventured to Katie's light-filled space to hear more about her background, design ethos, and what "a day in the life" looks like for their family of three.
Tell us about your home – how long have you been here and how did you find it?
We relocated to Portland in May 2017 and moved into a furnished sublet sight unseen. It was fine, but we were very motivated to buy a house of our own. We had already found a daycare for our son, Charlie, and not knowing the city so well (and for lack of a better idea), we centered our search around his school.
Luckily, we didn’t have to look long. We found a house in the location we wanted, so I decided to check it out. I walked in, and everything was beige or brown – the furnishings were truly horrible, but I loved the layout, and I could see the space for its potential. The light. The yard. The dreamy living room windows. The brightness and all that it could be. The house had been on the market for a while, so we put an offer in. We were Portland homeowners by September 2017!
Could you share a bit about the path you took to get to where you’re at today?
I was born in California but spent almost 20 years on the East Coast (starting with my move out there for college). My mom’s side of the family is from Boston, so I grew up spending summers on the Cape and felt a natural draw there. After studying furniture design at RISD for my graduate degree, I spent nearly ten years working for IKEA in the Communication and Interior Design Department.
During this time, I maintained a studio and would go for a couple of hours after work every day to work on projects, but that balance quickly became challenging. To be an artist and a maker, you have to give your whole life to it, and I realized that this path wasn’t for me. I enjoyed working for IKEA, the routine, the structure, and being a part of something bigger.
Long story short, IKEA went through a national reorg. While I wasn’t worried about losing my job, it shook me out of those ten years and made me reassess where I wanted my career to go. I knew I didn’t want to start my own furniture studio, but at the same time I felt drawn toward product design, not visual merchandising.
"My love of furniture has so much to do with scale and connection to the human body. There is so much power in that relationship."
At this point, we were thinking about moving and were ready to mix things up. I reached out to a friend who had moved to Portland (we had met in grad school and worked together at IKEA). Shortly after, she texted me with a job description. I applied and was offered the job at Schoolhouse. So, we picked up our lives and decided to move west.
Tell us more about your job at Schoolhouse! What does your role entail?
As the Director of Product, I oversee all aspects of our assortment: past, current, and future. I manage our merchandising strategy while providing design direction, working with the Product Development and Operations Teams. We are so lucky to have our factory in the same building! Not only is it easier to prototype products, but working on the same team as those who are making the final product also informs how we design our products.
At the end of the day, I assess everything from a tea towel to a chandelier. I manage a small team of product designers that work hard, sweat the details, and are after the very best in quality and design. We are always asking ourselves: is it a beautiful object? Is it quality? Does it function well? Does it improve our customer’s lives and will it have heirloom potential?
In five words, how would you describe your style when it comes to interiors?
Modern. Eclectic. Sentimental. Purposeful. Colorful.
From your gallery wall to all of Charlie’s original creations, it’s clear that art plays a huge role in your home! Do you have any advice to give for those of us who are wanting to play with color + pattern?
Art does not have to match your decor. It shouldn’t be motivated by coordination but by an emotional response. For me, color elicits such a strong reaction, so I am drawn to an artist’s use of it. Open studios and college art fairs are great ways to meet the artist and find accessible art. I also love to collect from friends or during travels, so I can carry those relationships or memories with me wherever I go.
Art is also a great gateway to color. My advice would be don't overthink it. What kind of flowers or plants do you love? That usually indicates the colors you are drawn to. Start there, and don’t think about it too hard. There is also nothing wrong with being drawn to a neutral palette. If that’s what you are attracted to, then don’t fight it.
You have some incredible furniture throughout your home. What is your favorite piece, and could you tell us the story behind it?
If Alice were listening, she would audibly roll her eyes. I have a lot of furniture, both pieces I made and inherited, so picking favorites is so hard! It’s like choosing your favorite child! Of mine, I’d pick my memory table. My grad school thesis was about memory – how objects imprint on us and create a sense of self. During my time at RISD, my mom decided to sell our childhood home, and it fueled my inspiration.
Essentially, it’s an ash frame that holds 27 acrylic panels – I was 27 when I made it, so there is one tile for each year of my life. Within each tile are memories in a sense – a scrap of yarn or a bug, a color that represents something. The idea is that all of those come together – you see through them, they blur, they change as you grow, they bump up against each other in a haphazard way, and they are a part of you. The table is sculptural but also functional, and I sometimes put a plant on it.
My favorite inherited piece is this pink wingback chair that was my grandparents. I can envision it in their house in Lexington. It contains so many memories in itself – family gatherings, parties I threw, the first days with Charlie. I love the actual piece too; a grand stately wingback chair that’s bright pink.
How do you balance function and form especially when it comes to designing for a family?
Space planning soothes me, maybe because I have this innate desire to keep everything tidy. I really think you can make a house that fits your needs and still be beautiful. I don’t believe in forfeiting style because you have a child or creating a space that only functions for children. There are traces of Charlie everywhere in the house, but each room works for all of us.
For example, our dining room credenza holds my mother in laws silver and our puzzle collection. My art books are above felt bins of trains and Magnatiles. My son’s art is on display alongside inherited art from my grandmother. As we speak, there are puzzles on the table for Alice and Lego for Charlie. Think about the activities that take place in each room, for every person in the house, and make your furnishings fit that. I also believe that kids can learn to be around nice things. I’m not afraid to have breakables around because Charlie is aware of them. Although I never put vases on coffee tables because that’s just asking for it...
What makes a house a home to you? Could you share a favorite memory in your home?
Rather than a single memory, for me, I think it’s a culmination of memories because that’s how I think of this house. I think of our meals in the kitchen, the many epic train sets we’ve built on the living room floor, puzzling and playing Lego on the dining room table. It’s the routines we have in each of these rooms that happen over and over again around play.
What are some of your favorite details of the house?
I love the flow of the house. While I see the appeal of an open concept, I like that we have distinct rooms that serve different functions. A circular flow that creates a choreography of space.
Coming from our small 900 sq ft apartment in Somerville, it is also so nice to have room, especially this past year when we have been home so much. I fell in love with all of the natural light when I first saw our home. Through the originally beige walls and floor, I saw a light, bright, and joyful space.
Tell us more about your laundry room! What inspired the design?
My goal was to play in that room. The laundry room was a good place to experiment, and the space kind of came together. Actually, this is a good tip that ties back to introducing color into your home – choose an area where the consequences are low. Like a closet or laundry room!
Back to the laundry room – I knew I wanted to fit it out with kitchen cabinets and a proper sink to add more storage and surface area for folding. When selecting a cabinet color, I went back and forth between darker colors and bright pink. At the time I was developing the Juniper Sidnie Lamp and just had green on the mind.
"Of course, you need a disco ball in your laundry room. What better way than to pick up the chrome details in your washer?"
I loved the way Juniper added the feeling of greenery without actually bringing plants in there. I ended up painting my cabinets, Bunker Hill Green (Benjamin Moore). I had also been saving a disco ball for years, never knowing where to hang it (except for breaking it out during parties), but it found a place here. As for the cork floor, I always loved cork flooring. But I really fell in love when Schoolhouse shot the Fall 2019 catalog.
What does a day in the life look like for your family?
We are creatures of habit - me especially. Our weekdays are very routine.
On weekends we try to spend at least one day in nature – either the forest or the coast. But we are all homebodies, so we like to stay home at least one of the days. Charlie specifically requests a pajama day, where we stay in comfy clothes, work on home projects, and build Lego.
We have to ask... what is your favorite product from our Winter launch?
That is a tough one because I feel really connected to the joyful nature of this launch. Stylistically, it feels like me, and in general, I think of our products almost like children. That said, I've narrowed it down to my top three:
It has such a classic form and vibrant color. While it is bright, it also blends in like greenery, functioning almost like a house plant.
2. Jack Chair in Confetti Tweed
The tweed fabric is seemingly classic, but as you get closer, the vibrant flecks modernize it, and I can't help but love midcentury furniture with clean lines.
A collection that's unapologetically colorful but has depth. I love that because the fabric is actually woven, you get these beautiful color combinations in each square from where the yarns intersect.
Last but not least, we have a few questions for Charlie! Charlie, we love your style! What's your favorite outfit to wear?
Sparkling shirts that turn colors. But only when it’s warm.
Do you have a favorite color?
Red and blue… and gold… and rainbow.
What do you love most about your room?
Because it has lots of books.
What art piece do you love most in your home?
The mirror in the credenza because it’s gold.
What’s something you’re looking forward to this year?
Vacation at home to hang out.