Today’s career spotlight is on a designer who’s a personal favorite of mine. I first met Dana at a trade show in 2012, right when I was getting my boutique off the ground. I fell head over heels for her colorful designs and have been decorating with her pieces ever since. It’s been a joy to follow the evolution of her line and to see the cool collaborations that have come her way, including a recent fabric and wallpaper partnership with Stroheim. If you’ve ever contemplated designing your own products for the home (like me!), you’ll be hanging on every word. Say hello to Dana!

Name: Dana Gibson Longenderfer
Age: 48
Title: Founder and designer, Dana Gibson
Location: Richmond, Virginia

How did you get started as a designer? Did you get a degree in design or textiles?
I wish I had known I wanted to design home products but I went the liberal arts route.  I actually majored in English and Studio Art and then went on to graduate school in English. I didn’t think art was going to carry me very far, but I always loved it.

I love that you’re a fellow liberal arts girl. (I studied French!) Have you always known you wanted to design your own products? 
After graduate school, I taught writing and English literature at a school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This choice was based on an adventurous spirit paired with my more practical side. During the summer break, I took art classes including ceramics, which I fell in love with. I was so happy and content in the studio! Making beautiful objects was a much better fit for me than managing a classroom of teenagers — I knew I had found something I loved.

When did you know you were ready to make a go of it? 
I really didn’t know much about how the industry worked. I just knew from seeing what was out there that what I was making was different and filled a niche market so I charged ahead.

That’s awesome! You’re such a go-getter. Tell me about the process of designing a piece from start to finish.
Usually I am inspired by something in the marketplace, say an Hermès tray. I don’t want to copy that tray — I just want to reinvent it a bit. I consider color, pattern, and scale. I love mixing an ethnic print with something as tailored and traditional as a serving tray. By the end of the process, my tray doesn’t look like a copy but a nod to a classic home product. 

I love how playful your work is. Have you always been drawn to color?
I respond strongly to color. It’s exciting! But I like it in small doses when I’m decorating. One of my favorite artists, Vuillard, painted in neutral ochres and umbers but there are slivers of color where light falls in his paintings. That’s how I like color to perform in a room. I like to start with a neutral base on the sofa and chairs then add touches of color. I like the surprise that color can offer.

Collaborations, design work, trade shows… You’ve got a busy schedule. How do you stay organized?
I keep paper by my bed for late night note taking. Writing that thought down allows me to go back to sleep, but often I can’t read my scrawled writing! I have two employees who help me in the studio and a bookkeeper. But I still do a lot of the marketing myself on top of design work and the minutia of every day like lost boxes or damages. I’m busy all day which I like.

Like you, I’m better when I’m busy! Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I look at all of the applied arts as well as fine art. Sometimes I notice a color combination that is unusual — like a navy blouse and a turquoise scarf — and work it into my collection somehow. My eyes are always roving. I go to flea markets and into my friends’ homes.  Trend spotting just occurs because my eyes are wide open and I’m lucky enough to be exposed on a regular basis to the finest design in the world through trade shows and designer markets. I have fashion pictures tacked to a board above my desk beside vintage fabric cuts. I also keep binders  full of rooms I’ve seen in magazines and I use Pinterest and Instagram. All of these inspire me.

How would you describe the person who’s decorating with Dana Gibson items?  
She likes color and usually wants to preserve a majority of the items she’s had over the years. She wants a room facelift rather than a complete redo. Old antiques are easily  updated with bold modern fabrics from my new Stroheim line. A wall in a vibrant print adds just the right note, revitalizing the room. The customer who likes my line of products is usually used to fine things in her home but she doesn’t want her house to look like her mother’s. She is smart, vivacious, and optimistic about life.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?  
I love when customers say they love my stuff.  I do hear this a lot but I absolutely never tire of it. I want people to be happy with their choice and when I hear that a product I made actually enriched their lives, my job is done.

And the least fun part? 
The least fun part of my job is dealing with customers sometimes. I should have a customer support department but usually I’m the one fielding their grievances. Being tolerant and kind on the phone is a lost art for some. The majority of my customers are not like this but when it happens, it’s definitely a bummer.

Do you have any future goals for the business? 
I’m designing a line of furniture with a company called Miles Talbot and am about to sign with a company that makes rugs and lighting. I hope to continue with fabrics, paper, and my own studio line. My plate is pretty full and I’m very satisfied. It’s what I wanted to do for a long time, create products that are exciting and life-enhancing.

I can’t wait to see all those projects come to fruition! What’s the best advice you’ve received along the way? 
Do what you love and follow your bliss. This saying was popular a dozen years ago and holds true!

Keep up with Dana Gibson:


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