Exclusive Interview: Andy Lacey of Olli & Lime
Trends & Events
How do people grow up to be hip, cool and well-adjusted? Probably a lot of ways, but no doubt spending the first few years of your life in a spectacularly decorated modern nursery and kid’s room doesn’t hurt. For those parents (and toddlers) with a discerning palette and penchant for bold colors (rather than pastels) there’s no doubt in our mind that Olli & Lime is the way to go!
Olli & Lime has been one of our great baby and kid’s decor designers for awhile, and we thought it was high time we interview them. Andy Lacey, one of the founders, graciously offered to answer all our questions. There’s no audio, but the words are so good you won’t mind. We’ve sprinkled some photos of their designs throughout the interview, but for more, check them out on 2Modern: Olli & Lime.
2M: So, where did the idea of creating a company that makes gorgeous, modern kid’s furnishings come from?
AL: Karen, my wife, and creative director at Olli & Lime, was asked to design a nursery, featured on a UK home-design TV show. It worked really well, so we got to thinking ‘we could make a business out of this’. We looked at what others were producing and felt there was space for a new take on design-led nursery furnishings. It grew from there.
2M: Why kid’s furnishings? Why not just furnishings for other parts of the home?
AL: I think it stems from how the idea originated. Designing for kids gave us a focus, and a way of clearly identifying our market. It also helped us highlight our key differentiator, in that we produce furnishings with a sophisticated feel, that just happen to be for the nursery. I think it’s always been in our minds that we’d eventually produce items for the rest of the home but that’s some way off. We adapted a couple of our designs for kitchen and dining products but haven’t gone beyond that, yet. We have plenty of room to grow in the kids sector first I think.
2M: What is your background like? Did you come from a very creative background? What was your schooling and early career like?
AL: I can’t claim credit for the truly creative aspects of Olli & Lime. That’s down to Karen. She studied fine art, became a lecturer then later trained in graphic design. She’s the driving force behind our design direction and a very visual person. Personally, though I have an appreciation for design, I prefer to write…and talk, as Karen constantly reminds me. I trained in journalism and marketing, so I guess that’s kind of creative. I worked in marketing and PR for around ten years, client and agency-side, before turning freelance and co-founding Olli & Lime. My focus now is on talking to our customers, retailers and media, trying to communicate what the Olli & Lime brand is all about, and what’s unique about our products.
2M: What (if any) differences are there when it comes to designing for kids (or parents who have kids) and other types of design? How do you consider how little ones and their parents will be using your products when you design?
AL: We unashamedly design for parents primarily, not their kids. Sure, our products are functional and serve a purpose but, visually at least, we aim to design products that fit within the modern home. We try to make products that style-conscious parents will readily incorporate into their homes, without fear of compromising their design style. Obviously, there are additional safety concerns when designing items for a nursery, so we ensure that we meet or exceed required standards. We also try and build in the odd educational element, like alphanumeric wall art, or add a touch of fun, like our animal characters. We also feel our patterns and shapes are visually stimulating for younger eyes.
2M: Obviously color and modern shapes play a large role in your Olli and Lime’s designs…where do you get your design inspiration from?
AL: Inspiration can come in many forms, from every day objects, patterns, colors and textures to architectural details or landscapes. The starting point for our two core designs, George and Billie, were color palettes that we both liked. I think you have to like what you do to believe in it. Then, hopefully, enough people will share your taste. Our patterns start with Karen’s creative expression, which is refined through a lengthy process of experimentation and development. Inspiration for our new design (launching September) came from Karen’s fascination with pinwheels and their form. The design is also taking us to a place we never thought we’d go. It’s pink! Albeit a muted, antique pink. Anyway, that demonstrates another influence on design direction. Our customers always ask us for pink, so we decided to give it a try, Olli & Lime style.
2M: What steps did you take to get your business running so successfully?
AL: We formed during an economic recession, so were forced to build slowly. That said, we grew steadily throughout, so we felt the signs were positive. This really set the tone for our business model. We don’t aggressively try and grow the business by getting our products into every retail space. We carefully select partners to work with, and focus on maintaining positive relationships with them. We also spend time listening to our customers and adapting to their needs. As a relatively small company, we can be very agile and responsive. This helps us to create a personal, efficient and — we hope — very positive experience for our customers. Another passion for us is quality. We’ve gradually refined our product offering and worked with trusted suppliers to maintain high standards. We’ve bucked the trend of manufacturing in Asia, despite obvious cost savings, as we want to maintain close control over what we produce.
2M: What challenges do you yourself or your business face on a daily basis?
AL: I think our main challenge is how best to focus our time and energy. We’re not a huge corporate operation, so each member of the team has a varied, loosely structured workload. It’s often difficult to decide where to prioritize. I’m an obsessive list-maker. I organize absolutely everything into lists. That way, at any point, I can see exactly what I haven’t done. Seriously though, our failsafe is prioritizing customer service, and delivering the best product we can. We do our best to get that right, then hopefully the rest will fall into place.
2M: Favorite thing about your job?
AL: Personally, I enjoy interaction with customers. I love it when they take the time to email, call or comment on their positive experience. What I like most of all is when people share photos of their Olli & lime-clad nurseries and babies. It’s really satisfying to see people using and enjoying the products we’ve created, and it’s fascinating to see how they incorporate furnishings and décor from other designers, to create an overall design style unique to them.
2M: If you were not a kid furniture design expert, then what would you be doing?
AL: Like I said, I can’t claim credit for actually designing our ranges, so I wouldn’t class myself as an expert! If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably be marketing something else…though these days I’d have difficulty promoting anything I didn’t have a strong belief in. I enjoy photography, though I could never make a living out of it! We also love renovating houses, so if we had another joint business venture, perhaps it would involve that. For now, we’re very happy where we are.
2M: What book is on your nightstand right now?
AL: I’m fascinated by architecture, so I often leaf through the AIA guides. These are great for dipping in and out of, and gleaning tidbits of fascinating information about key buildings. We’re in Boston, so I’m working my way through that one at the moment. We love Mid-Century Modern design and have a few go-to books when I’m in the mood. I also enjoy flicking through Dwell and Wallpaper magazine. I’ve never been one for reading much fiction, though whenever I start a novel, I can’t seem to put it down! Perhaps that’s why I resist.
2M: Anything new and exciting that you want to share with the 2modern readers?
AL: A lot has been happening in the world of Olli & Lime recently. I’ve mentioned our new design, which is launching in September. This has been the subject of much discussion as it’s a radical departure for us. Producing a pink design seems at odds with our anti-fluffy ethos. We hope, however, that we’ve managed to capture the essence of Olli & Lime – clean, modern design – while delivering an option our customers have been crying out for. Let’s hope so. We’re also launching twin bedding next year so watch this space. Oh, the other important development is that we’ve officially moved to the US. We already had a presence over here, but we’ve now relocated all aspects of the business. We live here too now, which is a huge and exciting change for us. It also brings massive benefits for our customers, 95%+ of whom are based in North America. Being close to (and on the same time zone as) our customers and retailers means greater efficiency in everything we do. And it makes our lives a whole lot easier.
Thanks Andy! On the web.