With dedication, passion, talent, and a little bit of luck, Lauren Skunta landed her dream job as an Anthropologie Display Coordinator in NYC after graduating from college. Working at Anthropologie, she could bring her imaginative visions to life in the form of stunningly creative window displays. Three years later, she’s the owner and talent behind Elbowgrease Design, based out of her studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Elbowgrease Design offers custom-made wedding decor and window displays for brides and clients across the country, inspired by the idea that your wedding environment should be just as tailored to you as your dress.
- Age: 25
- Location: Cleveland, Ohio
- Education: BFA in Drawing & Painting from THE Ohio State University
- Field of Interest: Visual Arts
- What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? My ability to have fun while mixing business with creativity. I am a firm believer that you can be professional, deliver outstanding products & services, and have a blast all at the same time.
- What Inspired You Today? My beloved record player broke a few months ago and I just received a replacement, so I’ve been reliving the awe-inspiring experience of the Florence & the Machine concert that I attended in the pouring rain this past weekend by listening to her albums on repeat.
- What Are You Currently Reading and/or Listening To? Confession – I just finished reading the Harry Potter series…again. It’s nice to take a nightly break from the stressors of the business by diving into a whole different world in those books. Also, I listen to a lot of stand-up comedy and dialogue from TV shows while I work. It’s nice to have conversation going on all around me that I don’t have to participate in. You never know you miss the buzz of conversation until you work alone in your studio!
- Are You Working On Any Projects That You’re Really Excited About? I’m super excited about every project that I book but there are two that stick out at the moment. I am working with Easton Events to create four custom chandeliers for a wedding in upstate New York this July. The chandeliers took a lot of mental effort to figure out the right blend of electrical and mechanical logistics paired with minimalist design, but I’m so happy with how they turned out and being able to visit my friends in NYC upon delivery is an added bonus! I’m also really excited about a permanent display I will be doing this winter on the hiking trails at the Inn at Honey Run. I will be creating a 40’ long art installation with 12,000 dyed paint-stirrers that hang suspended directly over the path. Guests will be able to turn the corner on a hiking trail to find themselves staring up at this large display made up of many little objects blowing in the wind.
Questions + Answers
People can be incredibly harsh about the practicality of pursuing liberal and fine arts degrees. Did you experience that? If so, how did you respond?
I have run into people politely asking what I intended to do with a visual arts degree when answering the dreaded end-of-high-school questions and all throughout college. I’ve also, even more frequently, encountered people telling me about “so and so’s niece or cousin or daughter or friend” that got a fine arts degree and now works as a food service employee or went back to school to get a more practical degree. I’m not sure how they expected me to respond to telling me a cautious tale about the very path I was trying to pursue, so typically I just shared with them that I was very much aware of the difficulty and I would continue to try my best and be open to wherever my path lead.
Luckily, I have never had anyone that I considered a role model, mentor, or close friend try to discourage me from pursuing an arts career, except for the occasional “what about a graphic design degree?” But I knew this was coming from a place of love.
Your success as an Anthropologie display coordinator and now, as the founder and talent behind Elbowgrease Design, totally proves those haters wrong. How does that feel? What did that journey to success look like for you?
While it was definitely a whirlwind experience interviewing, accepting the job offer, and moving to New York City to pursue my dream job as an Anthropologie Display Coordinator all within a matter of a few weeks, it was not an overnight success. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t able to convince the talented people at Anthropologie that I was the right fit for the multidisciplinary position.
I can’t say that I’m proving anyone wrong by making a career in fine arts because I do attribute some of my success to a bit of luck – interviewing for the right job at the right time and finding that I’m very passionate about it. Of course, I’ve worked hard but if that one (out of 100) resumes I sent out hadn’t worked out I could still be struggling to find the right fit for me.
I believe that obtaining a degree and pursuing a career in the arts should be approached with caution. You have to KNOW that this is 100% what you want and that there is no other option for you because it takes a lot more than talent in your field to be able to make a career out of your passion.
I know a variety of extremely talented artists who:
a.) decided that they wanted to just hone their craft for themselves and pursue a different way to make money.
b.) can’t find a company yet that aligns with their work flow or aesthetic style.
c.) feel that they aren’t making the amount of money that their peers are making so they decide to return to school for a different career path.
d.) have a variety of temporary art jobs and are waiting for their big break.
The fact is that it has worked out for me so far. Working as a display coordinator was the best training to owning my own business I could ask for. Time management, customer service, presentations, budgets, signage, branding, and delegating were all part of my everyday experience, in addition to the creative aspect of working at Anthropologie, so it was a very easy transition when I finally made the leap to owning my own business.
What attracted you to the wedding industry? How does it feel to be so intimately involved in someone’s big day?
Although I still enjoy designing and creating window displays for Elbowgrease, creating the decor for someone’s big day is THE perfect fit for me. Everything I love about creating a window display is magnified by creating it for a couple who want to see their vision come to life on their big day. For many people, their wedding day is the only time they will curate an environment that they want to exist in and it is extremely rewarding to create something that is custom to them that they will remember forever.
I have had a long-standing love affair with almost all things wedding related – especially wedding dresses. It is most definitely the girliest thing about me, but I balance it out by using lots and lots of power tools!
One of the wedding traditions I’ve never aligned with, however, is using flowers everywhere as decor. While they are beautiful, I never understood why it was universal for all brides to spend a large amount of your wedding budget on decor that only lasts a short while. This is why I try to design decor that can be reused in your home or garden after your wedding day. For example, my macrame plant backdrop can double as a headboard or wall art after the big day is over.
For many aspiring artists, the business side of being an artist is intimidating; however, you seem to do a beautiful job with it. Do you have any advice for artists managing the business side of art?
Managing the business side of art requires that you take a step back from your creative side. You can’t assume that your potential client knows anything about art styles, materials, time frames etc. so you need to be able to articulate to a non-artist demographic what your business is. My advice would be to be honest with yourself about the kind of worker you are and run your business accordingly. Some people need someone giving them a regimented schedule or need to learn budget management before diving into owning their own business. You have to figure out your strengths and weaknesses are and create a business style that works for you.
I, for one, am still working through being uncomfortable with price quoting friends for the creations I make. While I know my prices are very reasonable considering how many hours go into each piece I make — and I have never gotten any negative feedback on my pricing from customers — it is just something that I have learned about myself through doing business. While I continue to work on this, most of my meetings are with wedding planners who already know the industry standards, so it’s easier for me to communicate prices to them so that they can relay it to their clients.
What is your favorite thing about your hometown of Cleveland, Ohio?
Cleveland is definitely a city of hardworking creatives. Even when I worked in New York I was constantly running into artists who were from Ohio, especially Cleveland. Some people joked that yes, we ran into so many Ohio artists because we all left Ohio, but I think that Ohioans are just adventure-seeking, creative, driven people who go after what they want.
I moved back to Cleveland from NYC because it was the right fiscal decision for the business. Studio space, rent, and life are much more affordable here, which gives the business a higher chance of staying afloat in the early years. Most of my work is outside of Ohio, though, so I can’t say for sure where I’ll live next year or the year after, but I really do love the spirit of Cleveland. We are constantly underdogs who appreciate all the good things that life has to offer –mostly food-related.
Who inspires you?
Julie Eifel from Borrow Rentals in Cleveland, Ohio is exactly who every entrepreneur needs to take their business to the next level. I’ve only known Julie for about six months, but she continues to impress me with how she, as a loyal employee, cares so much about building the business. She has definitely mastered combining her business and sales mind with her creative side.
Stephanie Framer is a close friend that just recently became an entrepreneur, as well. She has had a long-standing love of riding horses and this past year decided to start her own riding lessons business at a local equestrian center.
Katie Moran is an especially inspiring female friend of mine. She just received her master’s degree in foreign languages and is leaving in August to teach in Qatar. She has traveled and lived in several different countries while pursuing her education and has pushed through a lot of obstacles to be where she is today. She maintains an infectious sense of humor while being extremely intelligent, kind, and inspiring.