In a 1,000-square-foot fourth-floor studio in the Brooklyn ‘hood of Williamsburg, Stephanie Housley heads up Coral & Tusk, a collection of pillows, dolls, linens, and other fanciful playthings embroidered with intricate, whimsical designs, from a cheeky badger to a falcon feather. The vibe? Your exacting seamstress grandmother teaches Wes Anderson to sew.
Coral & Tusk is a huge—HUGE!—hit around our offices, so we morphed into a bunch of giddy schoolchildren when Housley invited us into her company’s gorgeous space, designed by Amy Lipkin of North Sea Air. Here we chat with Housley about her process and inspiration, and take a look at where the magic happens.
When did you start Coral & Tusk?
“In late 2006/early 2007, I’d been spending evenings hand-embroidering this little A-Z memory matching game for fun, and it dawned on me that it would take me forever to finish. I thought there was probably a machine out there that could embroider my designs, so I did a ton of research and found one—a Husqvarna. Only then did I realize that this could be a viable way to make a living, and that’s when I founded the company.”
Where does the name Coral & Tusk come from?
“In thinking about the branding, I wanted to choose symbols that conjured up beautiful imagery when you thought about them and represented good luck. Both coral and tusk are lucky, auspicious materials and can be found both on land and under the sea if I ever want to change up my logo.”
What’s your background?
“I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and started out as a textile designer for woven fabrics, but I’ve always done embroidery for fun, just little projects at night. I never saw a woman in my family with idle hands. They were always making things—lace, dollies, food, a garden.”
How do you begin your creative process?
“With a story. One day it’s a gentleman penguin with a crab best friend and the next, an arrow-slinging champion red panda.”
Do you draw for fun these days?
“Actually we just took a trip to Big Sur, and I’ve been drawing a memory map of our trip there. Not based on photos, but more what I remember from different hikes that we took and what we saw along the way. That’s been a really fun exercise. And I do other little drawings here and there, like I did a drawing of our dog popping out of a cake for a friend’s birthday card.”
What’s your favorite part of the process?
“Of course it’s thrilling to hold a new prototype and feel like, Wow, I can’t believe I made this. But I’ve really fallen in love with all parts of owning a business—the branding, the marketing, everything!”
What fabrics do you primarily work with?
“We use linen for everything except our scarves, which are satin silk or raw silk, and our stationery, which is unbleached cotton muslin.”
Are there any common themes that run throughout your pieces?
“We always try to have an element of surprise so that there’s a continued story to tell. Each of our pieces is about discovery. For example, there’s an owl in a tree on one of our pocket pillows, and inside the tree is a picture in a frame of all his friends, and they’re all other nocturnal animals.”
Can visitors come by your studio?
“Yes! It functions as a showroom too. We get local people who don’t want to pay for shipping, and other artists who just want to check us out. It’s not necessary to make an appointment.”