One big, crazy cultural blend: Karen Young’s home décor
Take a walk down a street in colorful Guyana, and instantly you’ll know where textile designer Karen Young gets the inspiration for her bold designs. Passersby will see a rainbow of hues, with azul houses sandwiched in-between hot pink- and yellow-painted dwellings surrounded by ornate, curlicue gates.
Young’s childhood experiences in Guyana sparked a lasting obsession with the home, one that years later she would pursue as a designer of home goods, from towels to pillows. Surveying the market for household products, she saw only endless shades of grays and browns. She knew she could make a mark by enlivening these monochromatic options with an injection of vibrant patterns in brilliant reds, blues, pinks and yellows.
“(My collection) brings something a little more daring to the home goods area than is really out there,” Young described, noting that the more daring a look, the more it sells. “A lot of home goods are kind of very safe in the colors, and I wanted to offer things to people who wanted something a bit more bold.”
From Mexico to Morocco, Young draws influence from the world over, creating modern, eclectic prints out of mixed patterns and colors that resonate with customers searching for a different, ethnic vibe.
“I mix hard and soft, lots of color, natural elements and natural shapes, and layer it from there with more texture,” the designer said. “You’ll find shots of pink, but it will be against an army green, for instance, or take a softer, more feminine pattern like the Linden and put with a Navaho-inspired pattern with harder edges.”
While she was sitting on the couch one day, inspiration for the name of her business struck. She discovered the perfect label, something that would describe her Caribbean experiences, which included relaxing days lounging in a hammock as well as proper English high teas shared with her grandma after school. That name was Hammocks & High Tea.
“I want to give it a name that will encompass what exactly it is that I’m pulling from, and what these patterns are representative of,” Young said. “I never thought (my experience) was strange or different or anything like that. It was just literally hammocks and high tea.”
Although she was obsessed with fashion even as a child, she didn’t think of becoming a designer until she took a college internship at a fashion house. Unpacking a collection one day, Young recalled being “blown away.”
“I remember digging into the box and pulling out the samples and pulling the fabric off them, and I was just like ‘no way,’” Young said. “You see the end result, but to come in contact with the designer who had that vision to make something that was so incredibly beautiful, and it was going to end up on runways, it was going to end up on these women who are rightfully fascinated with it.”
After graduating from college, she scored a position in sales at a high-profile fashion company, excited by the perk of free clothes. But secretly, she dreamed of being a fashion designer.
“I didn’t see myself putting out a fashion line at the time. But I knew I wanted to do something. So I started studying textile design … and after awhile I decided to go for it,” she explained.
Through her sales job, she acquired the knowledge and experience needed to launch her own line. Testing the waters with a stationery collection, she was greeted with such positive reactions she was sure she was on the right path.
Operating out of her home, she snapped photos of her designs and with line sheets in hand, hit the pavement to sell to stores. She was surprised at the number of orders she received. At a stationery show, In Style and Lucky magazines stopped by her booth and she wound up featured in both. Young never looked back.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Guyana, Young originally took the richness of her heritage for granted. Her family background and her childhood experiences were based on a “crazy” cross-cultural blending of everything but the kitchen sink: Scottish, Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, English. She would eat Chinese food one day and party at a Hindu festival the next.
“It was just a really intense mixture of everything that I never really thought was strange or different in any way. It was all I knew,” she said. “I came back to America and was kind of like, ‘Hey, that was really different.’”
She was determined to pay tribute to her Caribbean roots and tell her story through design. In each season’s styles, she attempts to offer herself authentically to her customers. And with such a vibrant background, she reports she couldn’t help but do so by using color.
“My version of design is telling that story, just that it is really a lot of things mixed up but at the end of the day, it is something really beautiful,” Young revealed.
Working at an eco-friendly fashion company, Young discovered a new passion: sustainably produced goods. As a salesperson, she learned about the facts and philosophy behind organic goods. She quickly became a convert.
“Once I learned and understood about it, I knew I didn’t want to do anything other than that. … If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it as best I possibly could, and as healthy as possibly could,” she said. She vowed her line would be crafted using eco-friendly fabrics.
Find all of her environmentally friendly items – scarves, pillows, napkins, towels, totes, doop kits – at shop.hammocksandhightea.com.