Caroline Zucchero Hurley, Artist + Home Goods Designer
Caroline Hurley is first and foremost an artist. She knows how to create a feeling through her work. She believes that the space you call your own and what you surround yourself within it is essential for human happiness. Drawing inspiration from her constant globetrotting for her home goods line, Caroline Z Hurley, it's apparent that her work and products are carefully and lovingly created. It was on a trip to Bali with RISD friends, where she had a life 'ah-ha' moment and realized her love for block prints and textile design. The feelings you get when viewing her products (or walking into her new store!) is both familiar and thrillingly fresh, and that is no coincidence.
Read on to find out more about Caroline's journey of how she went from passion project to full-on business, what sustainability means to her and why a good steam sesh is crucial for your skin.
THE JOURNEY TO CAROLINE Z HURLEY HOME
I graduated from RISD in painting, but decided that I didn’t want to make that kind of art ever again. I’m so happy I went to art school, but it was a really tough spot for me. I think that I developed my craft of drawing and painting and color theory, but they really whip you around in art school, and you can become a shell of a human afterwards. I know a bunch of people that graduated from art schools, and they just want to be a human without having everyone look at their stuff and critique them all the time.
After RISD, I was still painting, but it wasn’t my focus. Even when I decided I didn’t want to be a painter, I still carved out a little space in my apartment where I’d just draw, because without that, I feel really disingenuous to myself. There are times, especially with my business, when I have to stay in check with life and be sure that I’m not just a business owner, but that I’m also making things. It’s too easy to get away from that. Even designing, it can feel like I'm not fully making.
I started my business not knowing I was starting a business. Yesterday, my sister and I were at the beach and she whipped out a throw that I made when I was 20 — which was about the age that I started printing on things. I was teaching pre-schoolers then, and was kind of confused about my life path but I just kept on making things and kept on creating. I’ve been making things my whole life, but once I started printing on linen, that was the beginning of this whole business venture.
It all started when I went on a trip to Bali with a bunch of my art school friends and it completely changed everything for me. I felt so re-inspired about life. Before that, I had been doing all sorts of jobs that weren’t the right fit for me. Teaching preschool, working at design firms, and I was an executive assistant on the side. I always had a studio but was doing these side jobs so that I could afford it and go there at 5pm to start making things, because that’s the only place I wanted to be.
It was during that time when I started to do more block printing and more paintings. The trip to Bali helped it all come together. I walked into one of my favorite shops one day, JF & SON, wearing one of my pasta-shaped necklaces, and the owner asked, ‘Who made your necklace?!’ After that, he asked me to sell some stuff there. I put some of my necklaces in his shop and he said that if I had any other stuff in my studio, to feel free to bring it in. It was a conceptual shop that was a line between fashion and fine arts. They had really tapped into a moment that was fresh and new — it was a testing ground for products. The second I met that shop owner, I felt like I was really onto something. I brought in some of my block printed throws and those did really well, so I started to shop around to other stores that I liked.
As soon as I got into four of my favorite shops, I decided to do my first major trade show. I got a big order that year and they wrote me a check that I remember looking at and thinking, ‘I think I can quit my job now…’
So I quit my job and kept making things and kept going to trade shows. I think the world is changing now though, and one of my efforts with opening this shop is to gain more direct consumer relationships, and to do more events to create a feeling. We’ve become so disconnected by going onto websites and purchasing, because we don’t get to feel things first. This shop is an effort to bring more of that into my world. I have one employee, and I’d like to hire another too, but then I’m like, ‘Okay, what’s the next step? Do I want to get bigger or do I want to keep it at this level and live within that?’
I feel like I’m a little bit split — half of me wants to be a painter and make things and the other half of me likes managing people and having a business and really wants to take it to the next level. Even though it’s exhausting as hell, there’s an element to that where I’m split down the middle of being a true creative, free, fine artist, and being a businesswoman. Sometimes it can really bite me in the ass because I’ll want to take a month off just to paint, but then my business will fall apart. And then sometimes, I forget about the painting and my textiles, and they begin to not feel as relevant or as rich, so I have to keep in check with that.
Usually, it comes to me as a feeling of not having created enough, and when that feeling overcomes me, I make it a priority to take a day of just making things. When that feeling comes, I generally go to a museum to draw and get inspired, or just take a day out to paint, and not paint for anyone but myself.
My main source of inspiration is through travel. Each collection is based off of a city that I've traveled too. I love Latin America because of its rich history in weaving and embroidery — it’s so inspiring for me to be around that kind of creativity in making things with your hands. I love learning about the history of woven goods. When I'm visiting a new city, there's something that happens where I begin to see colors in a new way, or new patterns or shapes. Culturally, I feel something different and that’s what’s most inspiring to my creativity. But when I can’t travel, New York is such a great resource for inspiration — even just going to a new neighborhood when I feel uninspired helps. We live in such a rich city. I’m a big walker, so when I’m uninspired that helps me 100% of the time.
CREATING A FEELING
I’m creating a new website right now and rewriting how I think about my paintings, and the thing that evokes the most feeling for me is color and collected things. I'm a scavenger. I have a storage closet full of bins of fabric that I’ve been collecting since high school. I have scraps of old wrapping paper and pieces of napkins I've liked, or just old t-shirts. I use those things physically, or sometimes you’ll see them in my paintings as inspiration for mixing color. Most of my work is about texture and there’s a big component of nostalgia in me being a scavenger and holding onto things.
There’s something about that feeling of things that exist in the world, and putting them together in a new way that’s the basis for all of my paintings. Even when I was at RISD, everything was always about textiles for me, so it makes total sense in my mind that I created a textile business. I can’t escape it — I’ll always be involved with fabric and the ways that textures come together, and then printing on top of them.
With my paintings, I just like to sell them. I don’t want to keep anything I make. I want to make more stuff. When I have too much in the studio it overwhelms me. I can remember all the scraps and things I’ve put into my paintings — even if I see it five years from now, I’ll remember what the piece was.
I’m really excited about this shop because I can make one thing and sell it, using materials that’ll never be able to be sourced again, and inherently, that feels like a quilt to me, which is why I’ve been so into quilts lately. The ones hanging on my walls all use materials that would’ve been trashed from the fashion industry here in New York. Eileen Fisher gave me a box of things and I went around to factories in the city and asked for their trash bags of fabric. I scavenged through those and picked out what I liked and came back to the studio to put them all together.
I wish I could figure out a way to do my quilts with wholesale accounts, but its terribly hard with just myself as the creator, so I’ve decided to keep them as a one-of-a-kind, never-will-be-made-again thing. And that’s what people like these days — that kind of sustainability is super important to me. Eileen Fisher is a goddess — I’m in awe of how she’s built her business and I would love to aspire to that. The reality is, you have to have a team of people helping you!
Obviously, I don't like synthetics and only use cotton and linen in my work. In that, there’s a level of something that I hope to pass down. I’ve kind of dug myself into a hole by building a business where you only have to buy one of them to keep forever, but I’m hoping that people are like, ‘That’s a great gift because I love mine so much!’ I care so much about sustainability in the way that I want people to have my stuff forever and it won’t be something they send away to Goodwill — hopefully.
GOT IT FROM HER MAMA
I grew up in a really creative household and my mom always had interesting materials laying around. I don’t know if there were tons of textiles necessarily, so I don’t know exactly when my love for them began, but it’s been a consistent thing ever since I can remember. Even in middle school — we had a book report project and I didn’t follow any of the instructions. I did a puppet show instead of writing because I hate writing. I got fabric and a glue gun and put the whole thing together.
My mom is super creative and inspiring — she’s a creative consultant for schools. She teaches students and teachers how to teach creativity to allow people to think about things in a new way. She makes people want to make things. It’s 100% my mom’s doing that I have the ability to imagine what I want my life to took like, and be inspired to just go make it that way.
I think about these things a lot — whatever you believe, or whatever you want to make happen, you can make it happen because you can see it. And if you can see it and feel it, it’s do-able. In terms of my own life, a big part of what I want to do is both create and travel. It’s funny, because I opened up a shop even though that's literally the opposite of being able to travel — it’s something I think about a lot and I have to refocus on, because I’ve always had the desire to have a storefront, and when I saw this place I was like, ‘Done.’
Once you reach these kind of goal moments, you need to reset, which is where I am now. I have to ask myself, ‘What do I see now? What do I want? How do I want to grow? Do I even want to grow? Do I want to focus more on the fine arts?’ It’s really important to be able to see that for yourself, because the only way to get anywhere, I believe, is if you can conceptualize what you want and how to get there. I think that you need to embrace who you are. I’m someone who is going to dig until I can’t dig anymore, and then I’m going to dig something else.
I believe in that so much — when you put something out there, it'll happen for you and you won't have to try so hard. And when you’re led off course, go with it, because it’s the right way.
My skincare-guru friend, Kristina Holy, just came in town and stayed with me for 10 days, and she gets me on this really good track, because she believes in curing your skin from the inside out. My problems all relate to digestion. Generally, if I can get my digestion under wraps, then my skin is great. In order to do that, I take a lot of probiotics and drink smoothies twice a day with these fiber rich things that Kristina gives me.
In terms of products, since it’s summer, I love to use a cleanser called Medik8. I have really oily skin so it drys me out just enough. Then, I’m using Kristina’s soothing gel and moisturizer — she just opened a spa in San Francisco. When I’m not using her stuff, I either use Marie Veronique or Pratima — I love her spray and neem cream. I also love this great mask called Astara Blue Flame — it’s a bright blue mask and smells so good. You feel clean as a whistle after using it. I’ve given it to a couple friends with different skin types and they all love it too. For another mask, I like the Aztec Clay and mix it with water. Sometimes it can be a bit too much and makes my skin too tingly, but it’s also kind of fun. Something else I’ve been doing since Kristina’s been in town, is spraying magnesium oil on myself at night.
When my best girlfriend and I went to Oaxaca, Mexico, we did this ritual where these two women put us in this hot temescal, which is a lot like an oven you’d fire a pizza in. They had all these flowers and herbs and oils to drizzle on our head. I could understand maybe 60% of what these women were saying — it was something about letting the universe bring you what you need. It was such an incredible experience. The Oaxaca state and region has some of the most powerful healing herbs on the continent. We were super worn out because we sweat so much, but I felt amazing. I definitely brought elements of that experience home — and I now love to steam as much as I can.
I would love to create more events about my brand — things that evoke more of a feeling. I have this dream to do dinner parties in this shop space, because a lot of times, people feel most at home around a dinner party. The tagline of my company is “make a home” — I want to bring people into my brand and my world in a way that makes them understand it more.
I believe that the idea of home and planting yourself somewhere you love is the only way you can actually get somewhere. I really like the idea of helping people create that base, and helping people create an environment they love to be in.
I’d like for people to think of my brand as something that they feel cozy in — they feel excited about being planted somewhere, instead of jumping around and living a life they saw on Instagram and thought was cool. That’s such a shitty way to think about life. Be where you are! I struggle with it too, but I hope that by creating a home, there’s this element of grounding and not trying to travel to where every blogger has gone. That’s a lofty goal for a homeware brand, but I’d love for people to think of me as that.
It’s about inviting people into an experience. I used to host a lot of dinner parties and have people over, and that felt so cozy and true to who I am, and therefore my brand. I want to do that here so people can feel what that feeling really is.
And if we’re talking big-time dreams, I want to open a little hotel on the ocean and have it be all of my products, and incorporate some spa rituals, like the one from Oaxaca, to have it feel like and inhabit what my brand truly is. Describing my brand and writing about it isn’t something I’ve always been good at, so I’d rather show people.