Profiles in Art: Kimberly Huestis, Porcelain and Stone

Kimberly Huestis is the owner of Porcelain & Stone, a Boston-based jewelry design studio founded in 2012. Much like the name suggests, Kimberly combines porcelain and stoneware with fine metals to create nautically-inspired statement pieces. We got a chance to talk to Kimberly about what managing her own creative business is like and the trials and tribulations therein.

Interview conducted by: Tiffany Chan

Edited by: Morgan Moore, Catherine Harlow, and Tiffany Chan

All images provided by Kimberly Huestis


Q: What is your “origin story”? How did you fall in love with jewelry design?
I don’t think I let myself fall in love with the jewelry world so easily. I spent many years denying my desire to create in this area. I had been working in architecture and I felt strongly about being a woman in the built environment industry, but when I began to align my sculptural side and design process with how I perceived jewelry creation, it began to inform my design perception. It took time to admit to myself that I really loved jewelry design, but, I have always been a late bloomer.
Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get to this job?
While I was working in architecture, I began selling clay jewelry (not ceramic) after work via an online platform called Etsy in 2008. By the next year, my husband and I were also working on a tech startup in the food industry. We were part of the inaugural MassChallenge competition in Boston. Eventually, I switched over to get a position in the food industry to learn more in that area. It was through working at Taza Chocolate that I learned about wholesale, and it really gave me the confidence to just take a shot at getting behind my own wearable design work.
Q: What is the quirkiest side job you’ve ever worked?
I had a really thematic couple of jobs right before I entered college. The summer before my senior year in high school, I worked during the day at a fishmonger shop. The food was great and I saw a small, manager/owner run partnership business. Weekend evenings, I worked at a fish house restaurant along with my sister, who was a hostess. I would bus tables and kind of loved it. It was the perfect position for me, because I preferred to be quiet and just not have to worry about being awkward.

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Q: What is the origin story of Porcelain and Stone?
I hadn’t realized Porcelain and Stone as a full-fledged business when I initially began selling under another name early on. I have always worked with clay, and felt more control and confidence with the material beginning around 2002. The decision to fully launch PS was made one beautiful night in 2012, while looking out over NYC at my best friend’s wedding. As we stood on the terrace taking in the city scene, my husband asked me what I was so afraid of and suggested that I should just go for it. I was completely relaxed and inspired that night. The city was stretched out at our feet below, and the timing was right. It seemed okay to finally let go and open the floodgates of all the ideas I had and wanted to explore.
Q: What was the process like of starting your own small business? (good/bad/ugly)
Pretty basic! You register your business online, you get a temporary identity and then the official license comes in the mail… logistically, setting one up is easy. It wasn’t my first time, but it was my first LLC. I gave myself goals to reach and mapped out milestones that would help me get to those goals.

I also financially supplemented my launching of Porcelain and Stone in the first few months with my photography business that I (surprise!) was also running on the side. So, I had quite a few shoots still lined up when I quit my job in 2012 to start PS. I tapered this side business of wedding/engagement photography by beginning to refer folks seeking my photography work to other photographers I either loved or knew. Those photo shoots definitely helped to feed into investing in the business, but they were also a big distraction away from Porcelain and Stone, since photography work doesn’t stop after a scheduled photo shoot.

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Q: What does a normal/typical day look like for you?
Tea or coffee in the morning. Go out on a run with my husband and our dog, Chloe. Answer emails from businesses or the website. Prep shipments. Shoot some photos then drop off shipments down the street. Eat. Pack and head to the studio with the dog. Start or keep working on pieces for shows and orders. See if I need to re-stock on any porcelain or gold materials. Check on kiln maintenance at least once a week and log things daily. Maybe run home for dinner or eat at the studio. Keep working until I’m exhausted, but not sloppy tired! So, I try to leave by midnight or 2 am to head home. Cleaning the studio is also up there as something I try to keep in mind, day-to-day. It’s good to work in a space that makes you happy to work in.
Q: What is an unexpected but essential skill(s) that you’ve had to pick up ‘on the job’?
Just being a kiln repairer. It’s fairly basic, but it’s something I thought I could handle and for a while I did do my own repairs and fixes. Then I figured I should get a real professional in, so I did that! My kiln electrician was great, and he even teased about recruiting me to work with him as his apprentice, because I had already taught myself all the basic things I needed to know. Pretty fun to learn, but it’s so much better when you can pass on a responsibility so you don’t have to focus on it as much. Sometimes, you just want to not contort your body in weird ways to fix all the many sizes of kilns you now own… but it needs to be done. Kiln repair would be the only real stress I keep in my mind all the time, which is why keeping a logbook helps manage them. I can better prepare for maintenance and replacing parts as it is so essential to my business.
Q: What is your creative process like? Is it the same for each collection? How does customer feedback inform future projects, if at all?
My creative design process usually involves months, if not a half a year, of sketching or thinking through an idea. Sometimes I’ll sit on an idea for years because I think it’s silly and then finally execute on it and realize it wasn’t as strange as I had imagined. I might be very judgmental about my designs, because I was a design architect for longer than I have been running Porcelain and Stone. I try not to make things just because I can. I prefer to make something that will bring me pride. I try to step away from my work so that I can look at it with fresh eyes and see something besides what I intended, as a way to check it. The most important part for me after fleshing out a design is to consider the wearability and any issues that might arise from being worn on the body. Now, I always take comfort and wearability into account during my initial design process.

Customer feedback has absolutely informed my future projects. My stud earrings used to be much bigger, and now they are half the size they once were. My design notions have a certain vision, but it always helps to iterate and reflect on how to make pieces better or more in-line, specifically in regards to scale.

Nowadays, I’m also designing for longevity. Some of my designs are going through a much more traditional jewelry setting filter in pairing with porcelain.

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Q: What inspires you? What motivates you? How do you work out of a creative rut?
I’m inspired by travel. I am inspired by food! When I go out on a run or jump in the shower to relax, my mind is always a bit more open to being creatively inspired. Images of the day and random cartoon monsters I have made up just flash in front of my closed eyes. I believe in doing other things to always keep my mind stimulated, and discovering new things. I once went through a phase where I was teaching myself how to make whiskey tapioca: it was molecular gastronomy. I was motivated to try this technique out because we were having a cocktail competition at our place, and I love experimenting with new things that strike my curiosity but might be slightly different. Why not? Getting out of a creative rut is as simple as turning on a different channel of activity. Like painting. I am always studying techniques and methods of painting, because it fascinates me. I find it a difficult medium for me personally, which is what intrigues me so much more about it. While I probably paint maybe only two times a week, I make sure I’m not hyper-focused on just the “clay all day” life I have created for myself. I like to paint with clay paints, watercolors, resin, and plaster. I love plaster! It’s so messy.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important aspects/considerations of good design?
Good design fulfills its intent. Design something that matters to its end purpose! It’s easy for someone to come up with a basic design to make a quick sale — this doesn’t suit my standards as a designer though, because designs represent your body of work. Additional factors that are considered can help turn a basic design into a great design. I ask myself questions like, how heavy will the end product be compared to how it looks? Does it complement the lifestyle of the consumer? If it’s a long necklace, is it strong enough to take a hit if the wearer walks up to a bar table, etc? I design pieces with a respectful attempt at making an elegant object that someone wants to wear. They will feel good in it, and it should elevate their experience because it brings them a sense of uniqueness. A good design, for my personal portfolio, is thought provoking. It hasn’t existed before, because I don’t want to show people something they have already seen. I want to inspire them with something surprising and inform their senses through visual stimulation.
Q: You describe your pieces as ‘sculptural art’; how is this different than ‘jewelry’ and why is the distinction important?
There isn’t truly a big difference between sculptural art and jewelry, other than our modern cultural projections of what jewelry might mean in different circles. At present, sculptural art helps to identify my work in the realm of unique and intentional over mass-produced commercial costume jewelry. It is also a bit of a personal nod to my training as a sculptor before switching over to architecture. Jewelry, in itself, is such a broad heading. For instance, “statement jewelry” could be inclusive of any plastic item: like lucite/acrylic bib jewelry, or costume jewelry. Jewelry historically and by definition is an embellishment or accent to personally enhance someone with a more decorative appearance. I love that! I love thinking about the history of this decorative anything that people always go back to throughout time. One of the motivating factors for me as a designer is to remind myself that a problem can always be figured out because, once upon a time, people learned to create garments to fulfill a need for warmth. They made things from leaves or animal fur, and did this by tying or weaving items together; and then eventually came the sewing machine. When people were hunting, gathering, and dwelling in more cave-like spaces, there were flowers worn in the hair, a bone necklace, beads carved from bone or rock, etc. This is all jewelry! So the distinction is more to make one think about the possibilities with porcelain.

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Q: What is the funniest/snarkiest/generally most memorable reaction someone has had to your work?
Oh gosh. I think the funniest comments are generally, “It’s so light!” I think in their mind they might have been preparing to pick up a vase. It’s one of my favorite comments. Then there is the unfortunately misinformed comment where the person whispers, “I would break it.” In regards to porcelain, it is the strongest material next to diamonds. So, material strength wise, you would have to try purposefully to break it. Porcelain is so much stronger than turquoise, pearls, jade, marble, emeralds… the number of people who that are shocked by this fact tells me that I have much more work to do to help share with folks the incredible strength and beauty of this historical material. It’s perhaps why I love porcelain in its lone-wolfness all the more in the jewelry world.
Q: Were there ever moments throughout your career when you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those moments resolve?
Ups and downs in starting a business are going to happen. I try to mind-over-matter the feelings. If I’m feeling down about my ability to exist as a designer in a relatively new medium for modern minds, I just put my head down and keep going: focusing on something else. I’m not ignoring my worries, but acknowledging them, and realizing that a feeling is not a productive action.

I love porcelain so much and reasonably know how amazing it is, so coming back to a central point of balance in my business after any ups or downs becomes a natural resolution. I have run into the right kind of folks that really understand the beauty and strength of porcelain and how safe the materials I work with are for wearing: because my skin is extremely sensitive, and I can only wear gold or platinum. Lucky me! I also continuously focus on trying to make my work better and better, like working on strengthening my gold metalsmithing skills. I work to always improve myself because it’s what I picked-up in architecture: to never stop learning.

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Q: What is the best advice that someone ever gave you? Alternatively, what is the advice you would give to your younger self?
“Just do it.” Not originally said by Nike, but they sure marketed it hard! This carries a few levels of advice, one being motivational, and one being inspiring, because though the person that originally told me was not marketing to me, the now-catchphrase reminds me that sharing of work can help to grow recognition… also, don’t forget to exercise your body as well as your mind [wiggles eyebrows].

 

Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?
I feel very lucky with the tools I was given as a child growing up. I was given a lot of self-belief from a young age. Not in a sense that my parents told me as much… but they let me run off and find out. I learned to trust my own judgement as well as when to question it. I learned that I could get hurt if my bike collided with another bicyclist. I learned I was quite clumsy and that I should maybe look where I was going. I learned how to hammer open rocks and then took it up to the next level!

I would never be able to address a parent’s concern, because that’s all in their own mind and hearts. There are just too many layers revealed if they discourage their children from any path. Truly, creative children are going to be creatively agile and thoughtful in their decisions.

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Q: What is one (or two) things you would like the general public to know about jewelry design or starting your own business?
In starting your own business… plan to invest in yourself. If you are going make choices “just in case” something doesn’t work out, you are fully aware that you are half-believing you might make it, but you are hedging your bets because you also half-believe in your potential to fail.  So, your choices and how you invest your business expenses are going to be half-planning on failure. If it worries you that much, maybe it isn’t the right time. But if you aren’t worried at all, then maybe you don’t respect the realities of what could be at stake. Isn’t that fun?

When I started my business, I also brought along with me quite a few soft skills that definitely reduced my startup costs. I had a natural curiosity for marketing; I was exiting the photography profession with an arsenal of photography equipment; my architecture background in design gave me enough self-editing and false confidence that I could figure anything out with enough research!

The simple advice that most business owners all come to but tech startups love to deny is this: there is no one right path to getting to where you need to be. It’s all just little steps with a mountain in the distance. Just start approaching it and if you need to go around the long way versus the steep way, whatever you need to choose… “Just do it.”

Just for fun…

Q: Can you recommend a wine and cheese (any comfort food/drink combo) to us?
Oh! So, my husband’s hobbies are running and wine collecting. Some folks shop for clothes, we buy wine and clay.An easy go-to that most folks who love wine don’t always take a look at: Martin Códax Albariño— it’s a refreshing, accessible Spanish white.

I might pair the Martin Códax Albariño with a Vermont Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. It’s an easy cheese for a lot of people. This cheddar pairs perfectly with pears, if not… almost everything it seems. The makers also recommend their own pairings along with it. It’s not just any cheddar. I haven’t done this pairing in a while, but give it a shot.

Q: What do you do for self-care?
Definitely go on runs or walks with the family. I let myself take breaks and paint or, every now and then, shoot photos pro bono but limited shots for other small businesses. My self-care is about making things (edible creations get bonus points) and having wholesome fun in life with all the sadness of currently losing one of my best of friends, my mother, to early onset Alzheimer’s. I consider self-care as all the things in life that are helping me to grow as a human and experience new ways to see life completely: learning how to recognize stress and love, anger, curiosity, laughter, heartache, nostalgia — what a world to embrace.

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