When Tamara Matthews-Stephenson ‘83 first spotted Susan Young ’85 hitchhiking in white Vuarnet sunglasses near the Castleton campus, she immediately liked her style and knew they were going to be friends. The pair quickly bonded over their love of Psychology and soon discovered their mutual passion for creativity and art.
“We are both makers, we have that creativity and artistic personality in common,” Stephenson explains.
Now over 30 years later, they are still inseparable friends, and the other traits they held in common, being self-starters and entrepreneurs, helped them to launch their successful business, Root Cellar Designs.
Based out of New York City, Root Cellar Designs is a three-pronged enterprise, including the making and selling of American-made wallpaper and fabric to the design industry, selling ready-made products like pillows, fashion accessories, and tabletop linens through their e-commerce site, and creating private labels for celebrities and others looking to sell their own line of fabric and wallpaper.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see this art bringing others joy in their homes," said Stephenson. "When our clients post about it online or send us letters and texts showing how they have used our designs in their designs, that collaboration is incredibly satisfying to us.”
The pair digitally print their fabric and wallpaper designs on demand, for use in their online creations and the collections offered to the design-trade in 11 showrooms across the country. They spent two years testing their latest Iconic line for printing on different fabrics and living with the items to ensure the quality of what they offer. The line was inspired by patterns and images from nature that are easily recognizable.
"I like to find pieces of things and put them together like a puzzle, making it make sense, and beautiful," detailed Young. "All of a sudden I could be fascinated with lines or circles and putting them together in interesting ways."
Root Cellar Designs has over 100 fabric collections and more than 65 wallpaper designs that can be printed in hundreds of color combinations. In November 2019, the alumni duo was named Rising Stars of Product Design by the International Furnishings and Design Association.
They call it a collaborative effort when the pair create their designs, but they credit the skills and knowledge they received in the years following graduation from Castleton as the most important.
"Those times allowed us to hone our skills and get us to a place where we could start this company, " said Stephenson.
Stephenson received an interior design degree from Parsons School of Design and worked in the design industry for 20 years for various interior designers in New York City before taking on clients and starting her own design firm. She became an expert in textiles and also published a specialty blog, Nest by Tamara, which now has 1.3 million readers. Young trained as a specialty faux finish hand painter and was hired to paint finishes in a variety of homes, including a seven-year commission for the world-renowned fashion designer Joseph Abboud. She also produced a fashion collection and designed and created textiles to use for clothing.
Both Stephenson and Young are happy their long-time friendship, artistic drive, and experience in the world of design brought them back together to launch design dreams. Their advice to Castleton students today circles back to their personal bond and shared professional journey.
"Remember that many of your peers may be your life-long friends and co-workers, so put some of that time in now to bond friendships and relationships based upon common goals."