How a Top Brooklyn Furniture Designer Started Her Business

Katy Skelton Acuff © Jewel Imaging
By Maren Ellingboe Posted October 08, 2014

Katy Skelton Acuff knows a thing or two about good design.

Katy Skelton Acuff knows a thing or two about good design. After starting out as a designer for a company in her home state of Texas, she went back to school to get her MFA at the Savannah College of Art & Design with the intention of starting her own company, which she did in 2012 after moving to Brooklyn. Her company, also called Katy Skelton, focuses on midcentury-inspired furniture and everything is made in America. We got her take on starting her own business, the inspiration behind her designs and her new line of tabletop items, coming out this fall.

What inspires you?
Everything! I love to travel, and I love to tour homes when I am traveling. When I was in Milan a few years ago, I toured the apartment and studio of the great designer Achille Castiglioni. He was beyond a designer—he was an inventor. He was so curious about how everything worked and was always experimenting with designs to make life easier, and everyday objects more functional.

What new trends in the design world are you excited about?
I am so happy that the American-made movement is really gaining traction. My business is focused on bringing good design and affordable pricing to buyers interesting in products made in the U.S. As people become more interested and aware of where their products are coming from, they are understanding why it is important to buy local, and that it supports their neighbors and their economy.

What's a trend you would never get behind?
In general, I try not to be influenced by trends. I want to keep my designs as classic and simple as possible, so that they will never go out of style. As for my own personal aesthetic, I love the brass/copper trend that has been happening for the last few years (as evidenced in my collection!) The only trend I can think of that I can't really get into is pillows with words on them—like inspirational quotes or phrases.

Have your sensibilities changed since you started your company?
I have definitely found myself drawn to more simple and classic shapes. For me, the real joy of owning my business is that I can design whatever I want, and when I was coming up with my line I had a vision for what I wanted it to be, but there have been a few pieces that were a surprise to me when I came up the design and liked it. The Zelda Table ($350) is a good example of this - thinking of the parts and shapes that make up that table, I initially didn't think it would fit into my line, but once it all came together I think it really complements the collection.  

What, if any, changes are you planning on making for upcoming collections?
I am expanding my tabletop assortment this fall to include a few really great serving pieces, and am starting to work with Carrara marble, which is so beautiful and classic. 

What’s an interesting Mad Genius Tip you use while designing your pieces?
Put together things that you normally wouldn't think would mix well. It usually works a lot better than you thought it would!

Do you have a mentor and if so, what’s an important, useful or funny lesson you remember?
I have a few people I consider mentors. So far, the best advice I have gotten is in regard to growing my business. I was asking about how to figure out what position I should hire first. The advice: figure out what you hate doing the most, and then hire someone to do that. For me, that is accounting.

What other talents, artisans, entrepreneurs and designers in America do you admire and why?
There are so many! BDDW, Jonathan Adler and Lindsay Adelman for their beautiful designs. Everlane and Emerson Fry for their amazing collections that are so well curated (and Everlane for their genius business model). I also love organizations like Aid to Artisans, Teysha and other companies that support artisans around the world by paying a living wage and not using slave labor.

What new innovations or technologies influence what you do?
I'm not really influenced by new gadgets and technology, with the exception of manufacturing equipment. I work with factories that use CNC routers, which is basically a computer operated router that cuts and shapes materials while making use of the materials in the most efficient way. By using this technology, I am able to keep my costs down because the labor costs of cutting the material is reduced and there is a very little material waste.

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