Glance around the shop and one of the first things you’ll instantly recognize are the colorful creations of Stray Dog Designs. Papier-mâché animal sculptures and nature-inspired home decor dot the periphery with their exuberant presence. You may even spot a large blue crab (although it may not necessarily be blue—perhaps lime green or hot pink!) crawling across a chair or sofa, made exclusively by them for our store here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Beginning as “a collision of free spirits”—including man, woman and dog—Stray Dog Designs have dedicated their time and space in the universe to creating and bringing joy to those around them. Back in the 1990’s, Bill & Jane fell fast in love, eagerly got hitched, and soon met someone who would forever change their lives—La Princessa. This homeless, loveable canine became their adopted first child and also the inspiration for the company to-be.
Jane, Billy, and the Pritchard family.
While this may be a hasty and inadequate summation of their backstory, they are modest by nature and quick to heap praise upon those around them. These include family and employees in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as their "family" of artisans residing in Mexico whom bring a deep sense of culture and craftsmanship to the endeavor. Since day one, they have always expressed their gratitude in having us as a retail partner (we're just as grateful!) and personally handle every inquiry we've ever had.
Heck, they even sell a piece of furniture named after Fiona's husband--"The Joe Weeks Table". True story!
We were excited to have the opportunity of asking co-founder and lead designer Jane Gray a few questions about their company, philosophy and general outlook in the design industry. We hope you enjoy this insightful interview, including a few sketches of new product designs by Jane.
Hi Jane! So what are some of your main sources for inspiration?
Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere at anytime. I could be struck by the graphic on a box of cereal or really any type of random nonsense..... but my main source of inspiration is, and has always been, nature. I love a walk in the woods. I love a weed, a weirdly shaped seed pod, a delicate and perfect spring bloom like a snow drop or hyacinth. Trees almost kill me with their beauty (not to mention their pollen ). Creeping caterpillars, twittering birds and hens with their bob-headed trot, cabbages and corn stalks appearing in the garden, etc, etc....I am captivated and inspired by almost everything in the day to day world immediately outside my door. And travel is also hugely inspirational. Museums, magazines and social media, as well. I'm not a Pinterest stalker or much of a Facebook person but I regularly look at instagram. When my kids' were small, children's books influenced a lot of my designs.
(Follow Stray Dog Designs on Instagram: @straydogdesigns)
Design sketch, Goose-neck desk lamp by Jane Gray
How do you choose your vibrant and iconic, colorful shades?
I just like a bright, happy punch of color. There is so much gray and beige and tasteful tan out there in the interiors world I think a good pop of cheer here and there is necessary (or, at least, it is for me;)
In an industry that can take itself so seriously, how do you maintain your sense of humor?
Take myself seriously? How could I? Look at my work. I'm never sure why anyone in our industry takes themselves too seriously, for that matter.....we are all in the DESIGN business for heaven's sake. We are not going to cure cancer or end world hunger or provide relief to the suffering in war torn countries with our clever seating arrangements, adorable throw pillows and fabulous light fixtures. And besides... a sense of humor is key. What would we do in this world if we couldn't laugh at ourselves every now and again?
Design sketch, Metal wire sculpture Acorn pendant by Jane Gray
Can you briefly tell us about the skilled artisans who hand craft your items?
Yes, that I can. We work with a lovely group of people in San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, (a delightfully beautiful colonial town that you should make a point of visiting if you have never been.) The majority of our workshop crew have been with us for twenty years or more. They are hardworking, fun loving, creative problem solvers and naturally artistic. We also use independent artisans around town for some of our work, which allows mothers the flexibility of working out of their own houses at their own pace without sacrificing time with their families.
Can you tell us about any new items we might see in 2018 or down the road?
Yes! We have loads of introductions to roll out this year. We previewed a couple of faves on Insta and got lots of great feedback. We have several new lamp bases in tole, iron and papier mache, we are going to have some new hand painted paper shades and are working hard on rolling out screen printed paper shades, as well. There are several new hanging lights that we are excited about and at least, 5 or 6 new wall sconces. Our lighting category has been far and away our best selling division for the last few years so we really focused there.
Design sketch, Cone Flower ceiling light by Jane Gray
What do you hope to instill in your children (or anyone else, for that matter!), as a very family-based and conscientious companies?
Work hard...but not so hard that you neglect your family and friends. treat your co-workers, employees and clients with respect and kindness. Have fun...if you don't enjoy your work that is bound to negatively affect other areas of your life. Don't be greedy...the majority of our society's most pressing and acute ills are greed driven, in my opinion. Clearly, I don't have any earth shattering wisdom to impart....it all circles back to what we learned in pre-school. Follow the golden rule, share well with others, and let your light shine!
A couple other cool things to note about Stray Dog Designs:
- They use a palette of nine colors--all eco-friendly, low VOC paints by Benjamin Moore.
- Use recycled and recyclable materials whenever possible.
- They donate a portion of every sale to organizations that improve lives--both human and animal--through their Stray Giving Program.
- Check out their other Core Company Principles.
Now can you see why we love this company so much? Not only are they charming and fun, they're positively setting a conscientious example for operating a business in the 21st century.
Check out our Top 5 Favorite pieces by Stray Dog Designs.