Brands We Love

Studio Tour: Coral & Tusk

Studio Tour: Coral & Tusk
Filed Under:

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 visitors pop by Coral & Tusk’s fourth-floor studio, they tend to gather in this corner, where a gray chesterfield by John Derian for Cisco Brothers is a comfy spot to plop down and survey the goods. Faceted metal-and-mirror lights by Robert Ogden up the cool factor.

When visitors pop by Coral & Tusk’s fourth-floor studio, they tend to gather in this corner, where a gray chesterfield by John Derian for Cisco Brothers is a comfy spot to plop down and survey the goods. Faceted metal-and-mirror lights by Robert Ogden up the cool factor.

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.”

“We eat lunch every day at that table by the window,” says Housley. “I love where the studio’s located—being able to see the train pass by and people walking down the street, to pick up on the flow and energy happening right outside.”

“We eat lunch every day at that table by the window,” says Housley. “I love where the studio’s located—being able to see the train pass by and people walking down the street, to pick up on the flow and energy happening right outside.”

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.”

A Native American pincushion and a stack of fabric scraps (one of Housley’s many collections) top a few of her favorite coffee table books. And the owls? A set of nesting dolls from a friend.

A Native American pincushion and a stack of fabric scraps (one of Housley’s many collections) top a few of her favorite coffee table books. And the owls? A set of nesting dolls from a friend.

Housley’s five-year-old sidekick, Paco, whom she rescued from a shelter this time last year, comes to work with her every day. “We play in the park for an hour, then hit the office,” she says.

Housley’s five-year-old sidekick, Paco, whom she rescued from a shelter this time last year, comes to work with her every day. “We play in the park for an hour, then hit the office,” she says.

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.”

Embroidered linens and pillows hang out on built-in shelves made from horse-rail fencing by carpenter Tim Miller.

Embroidered linens and pillows hang out on built-in shelves made from horse-rail fencing by carpenter Tim Miller.

More gorgeous fabrics on a ladder by Lostine, which is “so wonderful for displaying,” says Housley.

More gorgeous fabrics on a ladder by Lostine, which is “so wonderful for displaying,” says Housley.

Behind every successful woman… is a killer inspiration board, or so we’ve found. Housley’s epic art-inspo wall consists of tears from magazines including World of Interiors, Marie Claire Maison, and Selvedge, among many, many others. “I love to pop into those stores that sell racks and racks of magazines, mostly from overseas,” she says.

Behind every successful woman… is a killer inspiration board, or so we’ve found. Housley’s epic art-inspo wall consists of tears from magazines including World of Interiors, Marie Claire Maison, and Selvedge, among many, many others. “I love to pop into those stores that sell racks and racks of magazines, mostly from overseas,” she says.

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.”

“Amy was so good at pushing me to make the studio more interesting,” says Housley. “She found this vintage light at John Derian. It’s actually a wire frame threaded with old glass beads.”

“Amy was so good at pushing me to make the studio more interesting,” says Housley. “She found this vintage light at John Derian. It’s actually a wire frame threaded with old glass beads.”

Another of Housley’s collections—seashells plucked off beaches from Big Sur to Fire Island—resides in a terrarium made by a friend of hers, Ashley Bram-Johnson of ABJ Glassworks.

Another of Housley’s collections—seashells plucked off beaches from Big Sur to Fire Island—resides in a terrarium made by a friend of hers, Ashley Bram-Johnson of ABJ Glassworks.

Housley sketches under a plant-lined hanging shelf. “I really wanted there to be a living wall by the window—working in tons of plants was really important to me—but I didn’t want to do hanging planters,” she says. “This was our solution.”

Housley sketches under a plant-lined hanging shelf. “I really wanted there to be a living wall by the window—working in tons of plants was really important to me—but I didn’t want to do hanging planters,” she says. “This was our solution.”

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.”

“Every new design starts out as one of my drawings,” says Housley. “It’s pencil on paper every time. No color at all. Then once it’s complete, I’ll figure out the color placement.”

“Every new design starts out as one of my drawings,” says Housley. “It’s pencil on paper every time. No color at all. Then once it’s complete, I’ll figure out the color placement.”

“When a designer can grow into a business, it’s amazing,” says Housley. “You have to own it. Every little part of it. And find your own way through. But in the morning I wake up and am so thrilled that I’m making a living doing what I love.”

“When a designer can grow into a business, it’s amazing,” says Housley. “You have to own it. Every little part of it. And find your own way through. But in the morning I wake up and am so thrilled that I’m making a living doing what I love.”

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!”

Housley shows off the intricate stitchery on a feather-festooned table runner.

Housley shows off the intricate stitchery on a feather-festooned table runner.

A fox and a bear face off on embroidered birthday cards, meant to be cherished as keepsakes rather than recycled like paper cards.

A fox and a bear face off on embroidered birthday cards, meant to be cherished as keepsakes rather than recycled like paper cards.

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.”

Three of Housley’s merry band of makers in action. “Right now we have four full-timers and three part-timers who are in for two to three days a week,” says Housley. “Everyone I work with is so focused and insanely talented.”

Three of Housley’s merry band of makers in action. “Right now we have four full-timers and three part-timers who are in for two to three days a week,” says Housley. “Everyone I work with is so focused and insanely talented.”

“I’m obsessed with habitats,” says Housley. “I love imagining where these animals live and what they’re doing in there.” That’s the thinking that spawned her upcoming tepee series, here given the finishing touches by studio assistant Asumi Tomita.

“I’m obsessed with habitats,” says Housley. “I love imagining where these animals live and what they’re doing in there.” That’s the thinking that spawned her upcoming tepee series, here given the finishing touches by studio assistant Asumi Tomita.

A look at Coral & Tusk’s special alchemy, as Housley describes it, of illustration, machine embroidery, and hand-finishing.

A look at Coral & Tusk’s special alchemy, as Housley describes it, of illustration, machine embroidery, and hand-finishing.

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.”

Shop all Coral & Tusk →

Join the Discussion

Join the Discussion

7 Responses to “Studio Tour: Coral & Tusk”

  1. Mary Potter says:

    So is the “tusk” in “coral and tusk” about … elephant tusks??? I really hope not.

  2. Mary Potter says:

    OMG: “Coral and tusk are both auspicious materials …” YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. How can any educated person with half a conscience possibly think this is a good name for a store, a business, or any commercial or private endeavor????

    • Audra Beberman says:

      I was thinking the same thing! Although their items are lovely… much of the world’s coral reefs are endangered from pollution and people “visiting” and tusks are certainly not gathered with any humane purpose. I would have gone with something a little less volatile.

    • Ellen S.G. says:

      Thank you, glad I’m not the only one who had this first reaction! I mean, no offense to this designer, who seems to have her heart in the right place, but seriously?

  3. leilie says:

    I think the name is beautiful. She is not harvesting coral or tusks, but both of those words create an image of organic beauty. Her designs are incredible, and it’s great that she is able to earn a living (for herself and others,) making the world a little sweeter.

  4. carolinelouise says:

    Are you guys kidding me? People need to lighten up for goodness sake. The name is beautiful.. They are not killing animals, elephants for their tusks and they are not chopping down coral reefs in the water. LOL You guys need to lighten up. The name conjures up the beauty of the tusks and coral reefs…..

    it’s about the “BEAUTY,” NOT THE “KILLING OF! ”

    LIGHTEN UP FOLKS! YOU ALL ARE GOING TO HAVE HEART ATTACKS AT AN EARLY AGE AT THIS PACE….. I AM 60 Years old my friends. I am so HAPPY, that my generation was not like this… You guys seem to always suffer over everything….. We laughed everyday for goodness sake and enjoyed life. i suggest you all do the same before you;re old and wish you had! . Good grief!

    YOU ARE ALL WAY TOO P.C. You’re making your lives totally miserable.

  5. Ainee Beland says:

    It seems lovely enough. It could as well be an etsy.com shop. Best in all.

Leave a Reply