In the city of Philadelphia, great fabrics are being made everyday. The location – Kevin O’Brien Studios. For 15 years they have been making velvet scarves, pillows, and bedding that sell at Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Anthropologie. How does Kevin do it? And why? Here is his story.
When young, Kevin studied hard, played sports, and went to a good college. Upon completing a few degrees he promptly abandoned career plans to be an architect, and enthusiastically dedicated his time to painting, the other pursuit that he has had since childhood. But painters need money, even if only a little bit. Novice artists have a hard time selling paintings, not because they are bad painters, but because they tend to be bad business people. Kevin was one of these kinds of painters. So a friend told him to get some silk, use it as his canvas, and she would sell it as a scarf. He went down to Fabric Row in Philadelphia and bought 20 yards of the finest polyester (the salesman figured he wouldn’t know the difference). He painted on it anyway, and so they took it to Barney’s NY and secured their first order. Barney’s suggested that since they had an actual order maybe they could splurge for some real silk.
Robin Baron: What design elements have you personalized at home?
Kevin O’Brien: A few years ago my wife and I embarked on a major re-decorating. We moved two buildings to different locations on our property. It was just a little more involved than rearranging the furniture. One building, a small one room barn, was blocking the view of the pond, so one muddy spring day a friend with a pick up came over and we cut the building from the foundation and dragged it on logs to the new foundation I had built. It was a little cattywompus when it arrived but it is all fine now. The other was an old chicken coop and we put it next to the little barn and now my wife and I have studios that are next door to each other.
RB: What do you put on your shelves?
KO: My shelves used to be filled with exotic objects brought back from my many trips to India, Nepal, and China, from dried lotus seed pods, to antique Tibetan boxes, vials of mysterious colored powders. They have all been swept aside in favor of row after row of pictures of the apples of my eyes, Valentine, 3, and Tallulah, 9 months. The travel bug has been thoroughly vanquished and now it is hard to get me to leave the family for an overnight, much less three weeks wandering in the Himalayas. Now that is simply fabulous.
RB: What do you love most about your work?
KO: I do have a fabulous work life. I wouldn’t even call it work. At my studio in Philadedlphia there are a dozen talented and very positive people working all day to dream up and make our fabulous products. I get to go there a few day a week and watch, help, dream, with these collaborators of mine. It all has my name on it but often times I will arrive and see some new one of a kind pillow or stuffed animal that I did not even know was in our line and be delighted and proud of this crew. BTW, on the other days I am in my studio in upstate NY, also dreaming up new products.
RB: What does fabulous mean to you?
KO: Fabulous is when you are very excited about the future.
RB: Lastly, what are you working on right now?
KO: Right now we are in the process of building a new studio in Philadelphia. A little old defunct movie theatre will soon be the site of all our activities. We are building new equipment and getting some new machines to help make our fabrics. There will be big windows and a cathedral ceiling in the design and office area. And there will be a showroom right on broad street, one of the main thoroughfares of the city. Even we cannot imagine the new possibilities this will open up. Again, simply fabulous.