Kim Sly has worn many hats throughout her life — but her current roles as a wife, mother, and professional artist are her favorites. As if her beautiful collection of art and illustrations wasn’t enough of a clue, her gorgeous home will show you just how great this Oregon native’s style truly is.
Here, she shares her gorgeous home with us, as well as her advice for starting an Etsy business, her favorite parts of her space, and the number one thing she’s hoping to accomplish next.
Name: Kim Sly, Albie Designs
Square Footage: 2800
Rent or Own: Own
Years Lived In: 4
City: Portland, OR
You left corporate America after your second son was born. How has being a mother impacted your decisions? What advice do you have for working mothers?
Being a mother impacts most of my decisions when it comes to my work. It’s a constant motivator and driving force in big and small decisions. For example, during the summer months being a mom dictates much of my daily work schedule. I try not to take on too many new projects, and slow down my workload as much as possible so that I can enjoy the time home with my young children.
With regards to the bigger picture, being a mom definitely impacts much of my drive to continually grow my business. It’s easy to get discouraged with the ups and downs of running your own business (especially when it’s your own artwork that you are selling), but I believe that we can tell our children how to be or we can show them. In this case, I am trying to show them that with hard work and perseverance you can make a living doing something you love.
I am trying to show my children that with hard work and perseverance you can make a living doing something you love.
After leaving your corporate job, you decided to create art for a living. Tell us about this decision. What did it mean to you both personally and professionally?
Aside from my marriage and decision to start a family, this was the single biggest decision we ever made. It was a huge risk both professionally and personally. On a professional note, I was leaving the comfort of corporate life as a recruiter with a nice steady paycheck for a long shot to make a living selling my artwork. Even scarier, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to sell. I had some ideas and a rough business plan, but not a clear path to follow.
On a personal note it was definitely a tough decision especially because of the timing of my career change. I suppose there probably isn’t an ideal time to make a big career move for anyone, but doing it with a newborn and a 3-year-old running around wasn’t the easiest. There were a lot of tears and scary mom moments, but fortunately it didn’t take too long before I knew we had made the right decision.
Walk us through the process of beginning an Etsy business — and beyond. We LOVE your prints, particularly the cityscape prints. How did you begin creating these?
I opened my Etsy page as a first step in starting Albie Designs, but did not initially list any products. In part because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to sell which leads me to your next question on how the cityscapes got started. It was sort of happenstance, years prior to making the career change a dear friend of mine was relocating to NYC and asked me to make her a “We’ve Moved” postcard. I ended up drawing her a NYC skyline with a yellow cab. Fast forward to a coffee date with that same friend where we were discussing my career change, and she suggested I draw a series of city prints based on the postcard illustration I had made her years ago.
I started by drawing cities I had either lived in or traveled to at first. Once I had a small collection of illustrations completed, I added them to my Etsy shop. Most of my initial selling efforts were with trunk shows that I organized through friends. It was through one of those trunks shows that I had a customer contact me and give me some extremely valuable advice. She was adamant that I should be marketing my work to design blogs. In addition, she sent me a list of blogs to reach out to, and one of them was the popular Oh Joy! blog. It took some time for me to work up the confidence to email her, but once I finally did I was extremely surprised when she responded back within minutes! It’s simplifying things to say, “that was the beginning,” but it’s somewhat true.
After she featured my work on her blog, I was inundated with Etsy orders and many more city requests. I had inadvertently realized my marketing plan, and for the next several years I focused on marketing not only my work, but my home design and lifestyle blogs. Those efforts continually drove customers to my Etsy store, and created countless opportunities for me to sell with other online retailers.
Unlike most people that walked through it and kept right on walking, we made an offer. Although the house was dark, compartmentalized, and dated I knew within the first few minutes of seeing it that we were going to live in it.
You and your husband have renovated a lot of houses, including the one you currently live in. How’d you get started with these projects?
I don’t honestly know how all our home renovation aspirations started. I don’t think we put much thought or planning into it other than when we were looking for our first home and we didn’t have a huge budget, we targeted fixer-uppers in an up-and-coming neighborhood. I think I always knew we could tackle a renovation as a team with my love for design, and my husband’s construction background (his dad owned a construction business). After our first home remodel was a success there was never any question about whether or not we would do it again. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to purchase a home that doesn’t need work, it just seems to be in our DNA.
What’s it like to renovate with your husband? How does the dynamic work for you two?
I am not going to lie, it’s hard to renovate with your husband. It’s also become increasingly more difficult the older we get and the more responsibilities (work, family, etc.) we have. It was much easier when we were first married, but now with two young kids and growing careers, it can be challenging at times. That being said, it’s one of the things that we do best as a couple. We really do make a great team when it comes to renovating homes. I provide the design and vision, and he has the skills and resources to make it happen. I will say that we have had to learn the art of compromise over the years, but as it turns out that’s a skill in marriage that’s not just useful when remodeling a home. ☺
Tell us about your current home. How did you find it and what were you looking for?
We bought our current home almost four years ago, and have slowly been remodeling one room at a time. When we first started thinking about moving from our previous home, we knew we wanted a larger house but in the same neighborhood. This house is actually only a few blocks from our old one and had been on the market for a long time. Unlike most people that walked through it and kept right on walking, we made an offer. Although the house was dark, compartmentalized, and dated I knew within the first few minutes of seeing it that we were going to live in it.
The funny thing is the night we got the keys, we were showing my husband’s mom and sister it and I was almost in tears. These were not tears of joy, but tears of fear and regret. We actually both had a moment (or night) of buyer’s remorse. In the end, though I truly LOVE this house and how it’s turning out.
What was the game plan?
The game plan was to tackle the house in several phases, which was difficult to do, but probably for the best. It was extremely challenging for me to live in a home where I was constantly thinking about what needed to change. On the flipside, it afforded us the time to get to know the house. We were able to make better design choices because we had more time to plan. For example, with the kitchen being the last big remodel, it took on many iterations and by the time walls were down and cabinets were out we pretty much knew exactly what we wanted.
Was any room harder to design than the others? Tell us about it.
Our master bedroom was the hardest to design because it involved reconfiguring so many different spaces. We knew we wanted the master suite on the main floor and although it already was, we essentially had cut it in half in our first remodeling phase when we created a family room. So when it came time to do the master we were working with half of a room, two bathrooms, and another bedroom.
The challenge was figuring out the best configuration for maximizing space (which is at a premium on this floor). It took a fair amount of planning and tweaking to come up with the final plan that afforded us a good size bathroom and a walk-in-closet. All the head-scratching paid off though because we love having the master bedroom on the main floor. It’s convenient and it affords us our own space and the kids get the upstairs!
Where do you start when designing a room?
I approach each room differently — it depends on the function of the room and what changes are being made to it. If there are structural changes like with our kitchen remodel I always start with designing the layout. If it’s purely cosmetic I will usually begin by selecting a piece of furniture or artwork as a jumping off point, and build the room design using those pieces as a base. Regardless of the depth of the project, I almost always sketch it out and start a Pinterest board to help me collect and organize my ideas. I save every design magazine and often refer to them for inspiration. I approach my interiors much the same way I do with drawing and painting — I work in layers. I think layering is the key to building depth in design.
You’ve lived in your current home for about three years now. What do you like best?
My favorite thing about my home is how it fits us. Yes we live in our homes, but I believe our houses can drive how we live as a family. For example even though we have the space for them to have separate rooms, our boys share one room and I love the fact that they might have fought all day but at night I can hear them occasionally talking until they fall asleep. In addition, one of the reasons we bought this house is because we knew it had the potential to be a great seasonal home. Functionally speaking, in the winter our living room is perfect for lighting fires and playing games, and in the summer the French doors in our family room are mostly open to the backyard and patio which is pretty much our dining room starting in spring. It really is our dream home and is perfect for us.
What are your favorite places to shop for home decor?
There are some great local shops in the Portland area but I also love myself a big box store as well — Ikea and West Elm to name a few. I also do a lot of online shopping for my house — many of the places I source through my favorite blogs.
I approach my interiors much the same way I do with drawing and painting — I work in layers. I think layering is the key to building depth in design.
What do you see next for yourself, your business, your home, and your family? What are you most looking forward to in the near future?
Professionally I would like to continue to grow my business. Up until now, I have primarily sold through online channels, but I am hoping to expand into more brick and mortar stores here locally and eventually establish a footprint nationally. One of the opportunities I am most excited about is selling my work in West Elm here at my local store through their “Local Maker” program. I am beyond flattered that they asked me to partner with them in this program, as I am a frequent shopper at their store!
As for my home plans, we are going to take this next year to just enjoy all of the changes we made in our home. Longer term though, I have plans to expand our upstairs to make room for a bigger office and studio for moi.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Follow your passion or dreams and don’t let fear of failure stand in your way!
Kim Sly is The Everygirl…
Favorite thing to do in Portland?
That’s a tough one, there are a lot to pick from, but I love running or bike riding along the waterfront.
Funniest parenting moment?
Too many to count, I don’t know if a day goes by where I don’t laugh at something I either did or in most cases, didn’t do!
Best advice you ever received?
Well as cliché as it is, it was from my mom. She used to say, “do what you love and the money will follow.” Of course I did not listen to her right out of college, it took me a decade or so but eventually, I came around.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be?