Caroline Scheeler’s commute is 100 miles round-trip. Let that sink in for a moment. “It is not for the faint hearted,” Scheeler said. (Understatement of the year? It’s definitely a contender.) However, when you’ve spent almost 20 years constantly traveling as a buyer and loving it, a silly thing like a commute isn’t going to stop you from having your cake and eating it too. Which, for Scheeler, she has pretty much achieved with her country home with her family and her city career as Creative Director for Jayson Home.
Jayson Home, with a brick and mortar store in Chicago and an ever-growing online business, is a serious must-see for both real interior designers and those of us who moonlight as them on Pinterest. Read on to discover more about Scheeler’s eclectic employment past, what a Creative Director actually does, and what it feels like to help create a brand.
Full name: Caroline Scheeler
Current title/company: VP Creative Director/Jayson Home
Educational background: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, BFA
Please tell us how you found your first job out of college and share the story behind how you landed an interview.
Right after I graduated from art school I realized I would never, ever, ever be a working artist. I love that I got to experiment with so many art forms from painting and drawing to photography and performance…and learn…for the sake of learning…about Art History. It was a very special and wild time in my life. That educational experience was just awesome, but it didn’t prepare me one single bit for the real world. It was either waitress, work in a store folding sweaters, or go back to school. So I went straight into a short program to become a travel agent. Back in the old days…there were these agencies that people would use to plan their travels. I had this crazy vision that I would open a fabulous boutique travel agency that would be a source for fabulous globe-trotting, bohemian types to lounge in and drink champagne while planning their next safari to Africa, cruise around the Mediterranean, surf trip to Nicaragua or retreat to Tibet. I can still see that vision in my head….maybe someday!!
To scroll back through my work history to my very first interview out of school is a bit of a challenge. I started working when I was 14. I worked at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in the mail room. My dad was an architect there; that’s how I got that job. I delivered the mail to the architects and designers and got a front row seat into their work world. It was very, very much like Mad Men. I loved that place. Insanely creative, clever, smart, stylish…those people worked hard and played hard, and that line was blurred. I’m sure that had a lasting effect on my work ethic. The next summer I worked for a huge law firm, in the Sears tower, in the law library, and the following summer I worked for a giant construction firm organizing the blue prints from skyscrapers. This is hilarious to me now, as organizing anything is definitely not a strong suit. I’ve waited tables, bar-tended, had a ballet school in my parent’s basement, started a catering company, and worked at almost any store you can name. I was looking through the “want ads” in the Sunday Tribune as far back as I can remember. So…I’ve worked a lot. My first REAL interview out of school, as I recall, was in a gallery in River North …. it was the late 80’s and the “gallery scene” was a big deal then. I landed the interview through SAIC. I was willing to do whatever I was asked and was happy to have the experience. I looked at it all as a learning tool. I guess my advice for landing that first interview would be to just believe in yourself enough that whomever you wish to work for would be lucky to have you. And just go for it. Find a balance between honest self-confidence and being open to learning…being humbled by your inexperience is a sure way to open doors. Ask lots of questions and don’t make the same mistake twice.
You completed an interior architecture graduate program at the School of the Art Institute Chicago; what did you study in undergrad and what made you pursue a graduate program?
My undergraduate school experience started out at a girl’s school, Stephen’s College, in Columbia, Missouri. I chose that school because it had a horse riding program, dance program, and small classes that I knew would be good for me to get my learning head on straight. Back then I really thought I wanted to be in the music industry or on radio. I had a radio show while I was there. It wasn’t very good, but it was so fun. I did realize at that school that I wanted to be in design, somehow. I decorated my dorm room super cool and then went around to the other girls’ rooms and helped them decorate. I met some amazing, inspiring young women from all around the world at that school.
I got my grades up and was accepted at The University of Cincinnati in their DAAP program for Interior Design. What a change of scenery that school experience was. At Stephen’s it was all girls and very small classes. At UC I got, shall we say, more caught up in “extra-curricular” activities than academics and…I blew it. While my grades suffered, I delved deeper into fine art. For me, I felt there wasn’t a lot of room for emotional creative exploration or expression in design…but I found that in painting and drawing and some writing. So, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, back home, seemed like a really good place for me. Small school, liberal and urban environment. It was Pandora’s Box. I was able to blossom creatively. I studied Painting and Drawing, Photography, Furniture Design, Film, Sculpture, Performance and tons of Art History. It was such a cool place. I felt at home at last. The blessing and the curse of not having focused in on one specialty in my undergrad experience is that I never really fine-tuned any one artistic skill. With that, my chances were next to nil to be able to make a living as an “artist.”
I am so happy, however, that I got to experience all that I did and didn’t pigeon hole myself creatively. I think that’s worked to my benefit in my job and life.
After graduating in 1987, and after a few years out in the real world…traveling, travel agent-ing , catering, quietly, privately designing clothes, getting married, and buying a house all by the time I was 24 … I realized my heart and soul and bones wanted another chance to design, create and be around like minded folks. So I enrolled in the Interior Architecture Dept. back at SAIC. Having a father that was an architect, I felt that the path of least resistance and most familiar ground would be to work in the field of Interior Design / Architecture.
In 1992 I was accepted back at SAIC into the Interior Architecture Program.
That was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Just grueling. The critique panels were filled with esteemed members of the Architecture and Design community. It was a lot of pressure and I honestly did very well. My teachers were just shocked that I wouldn’t complete my degree and that I would not be working as a designer. So…I didn’t complete that degree. I was one semester away from completion and the job for Assistant Buyer came up at what was then Jayson Gallery. I already knew that what I really didn’t want to do was to graduate and sit in a big design firm drafting all day long. I really wanted to do hospitality design for hotels, clubs, restaurants, bars. But I didn’t have the patience to put the time in to get where I wanted to be in that field. The buying position would be instant gratification. I liked that. I guess that’s also why I’ve chosen photography as my life long, personal medium of choice. Instant gratification. Some things never change.
You’ve worked at Jayson Home since 1994; what’s it like to be with the same company for (almost!) two decades?
It feels just like life. And family. I’m only here because I LOVE what I do. It’s kind of like the miracle of music collaboration. Where there are so many players and every single one is as important as the next. Mutual respect is critical for everyone for the good of the brand. Everyone works hard together and has a real sense of pride in making this thing happen!
Your commute from your country home to your city career is 100 miles round-trip. What advice would you give women like you who want the best of both worlds (country and city)?
It is not for the faint hearted. The traffic alone will drive any human crazy day after day. I’ve been so lucky to work in a place that has offered some flexibility in the hours I work. I start a little late and stay a little late and that helps. Change of scenery is pretty necessary for my soul. So to be able to engage in both cultures (urban and rural) is a perfect balance for me. And to be able to travel the world for work feeds my creative side too.
You started out as a buyer for Jayson Home and worked your way up to Vice President and Creative Director; what was it like to have a career that involved so much travel and how did you manage it?
I just can’t imagine life being any other way. I think if I didn’t travel…I’d go mad! I have a deep seated need to see as much of the world as I can in this life. If it weren’t for the reality of LIFE….work, house, family ties, kids, school, etc. I think I would be a wandering gypsy. I feel most at peace when I’m moving around a foreign place and have no idea what the day holds ahead of me…or what’s around the bend. As for home life …. I can’t say it’s always been easy with young kids…and now that they’re older they sometimes seem to need me more…but it’s all they’ve known. Mama travels. And Mama brings home candy and snow globes and cool t shirts. And when I’m home I am all the way home. I don’t really have to bring my work home with me. Lucky that. And … keeping their everyday lives as routine and normal as possible when Mama’s gone has been key.
Tell us about your responsibilities as VP and Creative Director? What skills or personality attributes do you believe are necessary to succeed in this industry?
I have two main functions at Jayson Home.
As a buyer for 20 years, I’ve tried to stay true to the brand in finding objects that are at once of the moment…dare I say just a tad ahead of the moment and that have a sense of history or tradition or classic sensibility. In all honesty, I buy what I like. And what I hope our customers will like too. It’s just that simple.
The skills necessary to be a buyer would be to be a voracious observer, to pay keen attention to what is coming down the pike and at the same time get a grip on the real needs of your market. I think some innate skills would be to be an obsessive multi-media junkie and pan cultural explorer. You either have that in you or you don’t. Last, but not least, would be perseverance. Nothing worth anything happens overnight.
As Creative Director, I have lived the art and creative direction of our catalogs, website, ads and marketing pieces. As time has gone on there are, now, more creative cooks in the Jayson kitchen. This definitely takes the pressure off and tells me that we have a very clear, strong and inspiring brand. In other words, it’s a brand that’s genesis may have begun in my head but has taken flight with others interpretation and vision. I love that! It’s the epitome of a successful and creative business and collaboration. I continue to cull as much information from as many varied sources as I can, and it all gets mixed up in my head and comes out as Jayson…among other awesome and crazy thoughts and things. Being a creative director boils down to being a constant gardener of your creative inner self and then sharing a brand story and vision.
Tell us about your team! How many employees do you have currently? What are the offices like?
The “team” is very diverse. We have about 25 employees. We have very little turnover. Most people stay for a long time. It’s definitely a love it or leave it working environment. Everyone is a multi-tasking genius !
Our offices are….um….creative. I share an office with Devin Kirk, our VP Merchandising. We buy together and travel the world together and share an office together !!! And we are still talking. Our office is pretty cozy, dark grey walls filled with layers and piles of inspiring ephemera, books and magazines and catalogs.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how were you able to overcome them?
I’d have to say the biggest obstacle has been balancing home life and work life. When you don’t really have a choice, you just DO. So that’s how I overcame that challenge. Just doing it. It has made for a very full life.
What advice would you give to other working mothers on how to balance their professional and personal life?
Balance is the key word. You will never ever get the time back with your kids. I fully understand the reality of “working mom guilt.” It’s heavy. My advice would be to try to work for a company that cares enough about you to give you flexibility in your schedule so that you feel fulfilled in all parts of your life. I think you’re going to be a much better investment and employee for a company if you’re happy in your home life. It gives you incentive to do your very best for your company in return.
Best moment in your career thus far?
Now! Being able to look back on twenty years with great pride. Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate how lucky I’ve been to have made this my life!
What advice would you give to your 23 year old self?
Ohh, 23?! Don’t grow up too fast. See the world. Don’t party so hard. Don’t ever stop learning. Be forgiving. Be grateful. Be open. Take in the Springtime of your life. You are just now becoming who you will be. Pay attention. Love yourself. Enjoy your life.