Talking Out Loud With Janet Kain …..

There has been an explosion of entrepreneurs that are not in dot-com or finance.  These new waves of intrepid business owners are embracing more traditional job paths that forgo IPOs and embracing alternative careers.  They are artisans, crafts persons, shop owners and skilled collectors who are keeping time-honored traditions alive.  ”Talking Out Loud” is a chronicle of the conversations with these people about their work, life and inspirations……

I was introduced to pillows and soft goods of Janet Kain by a mutual friend and business colleague.  I am always excited when I meet individuals who find their passion a little later in life as I truly believe that it is that time we spend “marinating” that allows us so many distinct advantages in filling a market need.  Janet and her business partner, Sarin, sat down with me to talk pillows and what it takes to make the ultimate place to rest a weary head……

Janet Kain Collage

With all the various home décor products you could design, why pillows?

(Janet) While I was decorating my own home, I found that it was very hard to find high quality pillows that made a statement – bold colors and graphics, without having them custom made.   I realized there was a gap in the marketplace for people who wanted fabulous high quality pillows without waiting months and meeting fabric minimums to have them custom made.  Pillows are the one home décor product that has the ability to transform a room and can easily be changed whenever you or your room needs a pick me up!

JK Pillows

What makes a “good pillow”?  What are the three key things consumers should look for when purchasing a pillow? 

(Sarin) What we think consumers should look for is not just a good pillow, but a great pillow!  The first thing to notice is the quality of the sewing (things such as pattern match up, high quality threads and invisible zippers).  Next, great pillows should have the same high quality fabric on both sides of the pillow, not a less expensive fabric on the back.  Last but not least, look for generously stuffed inserts made of feathers and down.

(J) I jokingly say that if a fabric doesn’t scream “touch me” as I walk by, it is left on the bolt.  When selecting a fabric, what things are you looking for?

(J) Excitement of colors is the first thing that catches my eye, bold colorful graphics that make a statement.   Linens, woven cottons, silks.  Coolness to the touch for summer fabrics, plushness and luxury in heavier fabrics for winter and year round.  When looking at neutrals we are drawn to dimension such as cotton velour on top of linen ground – those definitely call out to be touched!

Decorative pillows are what I call the “crown jewels” of a finished room.  What are 2-3 other things you think complete a room.

(J) We fully agree with that!  I always say pillows to home décor are the equivalent of dazzling accessories to a little black dress.  A coordinating throw and a fabulous tray are two other finishing touches that tie a room together and complete the look.


All of your pillows are made in upstate New York.  Why was it important to you to have your products manufactured stateside?

(S) Quality.  To ensure the craftsmanship lives up to our high standards, we feel it is important to have the sewing done in the States to maintain the quality control.  It costs more, but it is worth it for quality.  We are also proud to be able to do our part in keeping jobs here in the USA.

You opened the business in 2008, right before the recession, but weathered the storm.  What did that time frame teach you being a small business owner?  Any words of wisdom you would share?

(S) What we found is that even when you’re not able to spend the money to redecorate an entire room, changing pillows is a great way to transform the room and freshen up your existing furniture.  For this reason, our pillows sold very well during the recession.  Starting a small business is tough in any economy, but as long as you don’t cut corners on quality, you can hopefully ride out the hard times.  A great tip we can pass along that we have learned is when budgets are tight, social media is an inexpensive way to get the word out about your brand, so don’t underestimate the power of that medium!

Janet Kain 4

Many designers dream about launching a signature line of home décor and accessories but you did.  What do you think was the one thing you would share with someone contemplating a similar move?

(J) Stay true to your vision and don’t deviate from your look.  Select items that complement your main product and fit within that aesthetic.

You have several collections on the web site.  What goes into creating a collection?  What can we expect from future collections?  What’s on the horizon?

(J) Pattern themes, colors that work well in certain settings and where we envision them being used.  We always stay ahead of the curve on home design trends.  Right now, plum and charcoal are hot, which we had in our fall collection and we see that continuing through the winter.  We watch fashion trends closely because of the strong tie between fashion and home décor.  Not ready to give up our secrets yet on what’s next, but you can sign up for our email updates to see what we have in store for next spring!

Mary Ann LR_00016

Life, like pillows, often gets tossed around, so as the final question, what would you say is your “recipe” for being on course and not letting the things that life tosses at you get in the way?

(J & S) The partnership between Sarin and me really helps keep us on track and focused.  We have very different skill sets and backgrounds and are able to bring both to the table to complement each other perfectly.  Having passion for what you do, setting priorities and a great partnership is the recipe that has led to success for us!

Thank you Janet and Sarin!  Check out all the beautiful pillows and soft goods on the Janet Kain website!  I have my eye on a pair of the Criss Cross Pillows and the cognac leather tray for a client…..and perhaps the  Sea Breeze Hourglass throw for me if I am a good boy come the holidays!

[photo credit: Janet Kain]

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Motivational Monday: Value Your Work…

Artist Quote

This weekend, I had an email exchange I wanted to share ……

Dear Courtney –

I recently discovered you from your SF Chronicle profile and love your work. In particular, I love the condo you did in SF that was profiled on Pop Sugar recently. I was curious where you got the furniture in the living room and dining room. I can’t hire you but I was hoping you would willing to share where you got everything from so I could recreate it.

Thank you,


I responded with this ….

Dear XXXX –

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. The space you are referring to was one of my favorites to work on with the client. It really is a great space that highlights some really great design and paint techniques. I can’t in good faith give you my resources since my client made a considerable investment in having me complete that space. It would be unfair to them and also unfair to me since designing spaces is how I earn my living.

However, I am happy to talk with you to see if we could do a scaled back version that would fit your budget. Hiring an interior designer isn’t as cost prohibitive as many people believe. In any case, thank you again and all the best.

Regards –


And this was her response ……

Courtney –

I think it’s stupid you are asking me to pay to work with you. The stuff is out there and I am sure if I searched I could find it myself. I thought I would ask to be nice but clearly you are full of yourself.

You have a high regard for your work (which is only ok) ….


I share this not to publicly ridicule the woman who wrote this but to address a point that I have encountered over the last two years doing design.  Among some circles there is a notion that what artists, designers and other creators of beauty do is not “work”.  That the hours of training, years of experience and a career of cultivating industry contacts isn’t work.  That negotiating with vendors, strategizing with contractors and working hand-in-hand with fine craftspersons isn’t work.  That guiding clients through a myriad of decisions, juggling a budget with 100s of moving parts and ensuring that your own business affairs are running smoothly isn’t work.  In one sense, they are right, it isn’t work because work has an inferred concept of a definite start and end.  For many of us, we just don’t “work”, we live our careers…..

A career is defined as “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.”  We sacrifice weekends, nights, family events and sleep to make sure our clients are happy. In turn clients pay us for our dedication to the craft and attention to detail.  The investment our clients make is one in their happiness but also a reaffirmation of their trust in our skills.  Their investment ensures that we can pay our bills, pay our employees, pay our vendors and when all is said and done, pay ourselves.  You see here is the dirty secret about design, I have to pay everyone who works on a project.  No one works for free as much as I would like them to but alas I have not figured out that hat trick.  I run a business and as such, need to compensate my employees.

Yes, employees.  I bankroll on any given project, a minimum of 10 different craftspersons, trades and labor.  The business of “pretty” isn’t easy work, regardless of what blogs, tv and magazines say.  There is blood, sweat and the occasional tears (mostly from me) to ensure that a client’s project not just meets but exceeds expectations.  So when you ask me to work for free, understand I am not saying “no” because I am some greedy designer looking to bilk you out of your hard-earned cash.  It’s because I value my vision.

Envisioning a space and figuring out how to execute on that vision is my job.  In some way, my job is no different from most others – I go into my office with a list of tasks to complete to ensure that a project moves forward.  But here is the difference; I don’t believe anyone would stand for being told that their co-worker wants to copy their project, claim it as their own and receive no additional compensation.  Why?  Because they value their work and see it as their own.  Now imagine if you have already been paid for said project, gave it to your client who thought they had something unique only to discover that the project they had paid you for was given in its entirety to another organization to use for free?  Don’t you think that your reputation in the industry would quickly be tarnished and eventually people would stop seeking your services?

If you want to knock me off, that is one thing but I will not be an accomplice.  In its base form, I am stealing from my client.  But on a larger level, I am now stealing from the countless people I employed to help me complete this project because there is a strong possibility you will not seek out their services to recreate the space.  Last and on a meta level, I am devaluing myself.  By giving away my work for free, I send the signal to every person that my work is not worth payment.  That my experience, vision and execution is something that should not be valued and compensated.  In the end, I give to you for free and rob myself ……

So you see XXXX, I do think of myself highly.  But I also think highly of my clients and my extremely talented team.  It’s only you that I don’t think highly of……

[pictures courtesy yours truly..]

Check me out on PinterestTwitter and Insta.gram for more musings on design, food and just plain randomness. You can also find me at my online shop for Joy & Revelry.

Talking Out Loud: Felicia Evans Long

Felicia Evans Long is a woman that oozes warmth and personality.  When you first meet Felicia, she envelopes you with a hug and instantly you are her best friend.  It is no surprise after having known Felicia for over a decade that she launched her own event planning business in Washington, DC called Sweet Events & Planning.  While not formally trained as an event planner, her natural knack for planning and throwing events is legendary (and so is her fried chicken!).  Personally, I think opening up her own business was always part of Felicia’s destiny as it combines her three passions in life; food, friends & family and fun. 

She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and earned her Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix in Arizona. Felicia is socially involved with public service work and a former board member for Suited for Change non-profit organization.

Felicia’s brings a modern and elegant touch to events but what strikes me most about her work is that she strives to create affordable, personalized environments for every client.  Felicia is passionate about her craft and dedicated to providing quality service to all her clients.  This is why I am excited and thankful to have her participate in my Talking Out Loud series.

Felicia Evans Long

Owner & CEO, Sweet Events & Planning

Where did the inspiration for your business come from? How did a woman with an MBA and a budding career in the government go from planning NIH funding to planning weddings?

While working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I earned my MBA degree but never planned events during my 3.5 year tenure there.  I have been a freelance event planner for over 13 years.  The inspiration to launch my business was a combination of planning my wedding in 2006 and completing business management studies during graduate school in 2008.  I founded the business in October 2008 and celebrated my launch party in March 2009.  Since then, I have been featured in local newspapers, named one the top-planners in Washington, DC in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of The Knot DC Wedding Magazine, Named the Sweet Booth by the Washington Bridal Showcase, have worked with non-profits, brides and more.

What is the biggest assumption or misconception that people have about what you do?

The biggest misconception people have is the amount of lead time needed to plan an event.  Granted, I am experienced and can plan day-of event services.  However, if you’re cost savvy and want to save funds, then advanced planning is key.

You must deal with a lot of “champagne dreams on a beer budget” scenarios. What do you recommend people focus on when planning a party to have the biggest bang for their buck?

Advanced Planning is Key.  It allows clients to shop around for the best rates.  I also recommend clients look to professional students for different elements of their wedding or event.  For example, hire a freelance pastry chef student from the Art Institutes.  Someone who is looking to gain additional experience while making a fabulous cake in the process.

My readers love creating beautiful tablescapes — candles, china, flowers, silverware — all of it goes into setting the perfect table. Do you and your team have any tricks of the trade that you can share for setting a dynamite table?

Linens really set the tone for any table.  Sometimes, rental of linens can be expensive.  So, I always find out at the beginning of the year from my linen vendors what month linens are going on sale.  This way, if March is the sale month and the client needs the linens for an April event, you can purchase the rental of the linens in March at the sale price and pick them up in April.  This will save the client 40 to 50 percent off linen cost.  Also, charger plates bring elegance and color to a table.  As I often tell my clients, don’t be afraid to be creative; oversized flat bed sheets can sometimes make the best table linen (especially for tall café tables).  Your event should mirror your personality and who you are.  I have used fresh fruit as centerpieces, I have created my own framed table numbers, and I have used rack cards as personalized menus.  But more importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment.

Early on, your company became known for its fantastic candy bars that you created for your clients. What was the impetus behind the bars and what other types of things have you noticed are popular with clients?

Our Signature Candy Parlor display is one of our fantastic showcase pieces and can be used for party favors, centerpieces, and sure to bring fun and nostalgia to any event.  Regardless of the any of our ideas, our clients like the notion of being able to save in the process of planning an event.  The ability to throw stellar events at reasonable prices is at the heart of the business.   At Sweet Events and Planning we believe that “Every Event Should be Sweet.”  I can’t say that any one thing is “popular” with our clientel but I will say that overwhelmingly, my clients appreciate knowing that I’m always available and will shop around until I have found them the best venues and best deals.  A happy client means repeat business. Our customer-centric perspective is the most “popular” feature of the business.

People throw parties for fun. What do people who plan parties do for fun? What do you and your husband Tim do on those rare nights that you aren’t working an event?

It’s always important and our greatest gift to each other to have “date night.”  We enjoy taking in a movie or preparing fun food (i.e. turkey tacos). And for a Southern girl, what would be a fun night without sweet tea! We have even had a fun cupcake contest cook-off and invited a family friend over to judge our final creations.  It was amazing, but the best part was getting ourselves all messy with flour.  Although Tim, my husband, works at both George Washington University and Georgetown University Hospitals, he is Co-founder of Sweet Events and Planning, LLC and such a big support system of building my business.  

I end all my interviews with a variation of this question. Parties are about celebrating life. In throwing parties, what have you learned about living life out loud to the fullest?

Most importantly, it’s about the fellowship of friends and family.   Living in the metro Washington, DC area it is essential to take an adult time-out to spend, reconnect and share time with those we love the most.  While we enjoy staying home, one of our favorite vacations places is Playa Azul, Costa Rica at a resort called The Sanctuary.  This place is amazing and the best kept secret for a romantic get-a-way. Taking that time to recharge is living life out loud.

My thanks to Felicia for being part of the Talking Out Loud series.  You can read the profiles of other ordinary people doing extraordinary things and living their lives to the fullest by clicking here.