I’ve heard this my entire life: The best things come in small packages. Sometimes that package is an almost weightless envelope that contains a handwritten notecard saying thanks, saying hello, saying something that makes me smile.
I know that other people feel the same way, and that’s why I decided to transfer my style aesthetic to paper with the help of Des Moines friend and owner of the eponymous stationery company, Alexandra Manatt.
Alexandra’s sophisticated sensibilities and eye for refining fashion-forward design led to our collaboration for my own collection of stationery. I’ve loved the process of moving my love for design from the grand scale of interiors to a diminutive piece of cardstock. It’s a passion that I’ve now realized, and I’m thrilled to introduce you to Alex, my partner for this project.
Let’s start with creativity. Everyone discovers theirs at a different time. When did yours emerge?
I have loved being creative ever since I remember, especially with anything paper-related. When I was growing up, every person in my family had their own personal stationery, so it was a ritual that I became very familiar with. I remember my mom’s stationery vividly. It was Crane’s, striped, sophisticated, and beautiful with an ornate monogram. As an adult, I wanted to re-create what I grew up with.
So, stationery has always been in your DNA. This category seems to be growing. What’s behind this trend?
We live in a digitally dominated world. Especially with COVID, people have had time to slow their pace and think about returning to those timeless, personal efforts. There is something so special about receiving something personal in the mail. Normally our expectations are pretty low about what comes in the mailbox. It’s typically either a bill or an advertisement. To see your name handwritten on an envelope adds a happy moment and a surprise to the day. Stationery is timeless and gracious. It’s such a different experience than a phone call, email, or text.
What led you to start your own company?
My wedding. My husband and I had invited so many out-of-town guests. Not only did I design the invitations and programs, but also a brochure with information for our travelers. I wanted our guests to feel welcomed in Des Moines and guide them to where they should eat, what they should do, where they should stay. Many brides do that, but people at our wedding were really attracted to mine, and afterward asked me to create something similar for them. It snowballed from there, and one thing led to another. I started to take on design projects and the business organically developed.
My background is in public relations. I worked for a while at a website marketing firm. I had a boss who was wonderful and challenged me. He would give me assignments and then force me to figure them out without giving me all of the answers. I became resourceful, using YouTube and other internet tools to teach myself a variety of skills from coding to graphic design. I used those skills to transition to what I do now.
What inspires you?
Nature has always been a big inspiration for me. Recently I designed a woodgrain-pattern liner that adds a stylized moment of nature to the notecard. Fashion is always inspiring too, especially from a color perspective. I don’t turn away from anything. I am open to allowing all things to spark an idea of what I can create next. Right now, I’m excited to be producing a line of stationery for men. This tends to be more of a female category when it comes to social stationery. Men join this category more formally, typically for business purposes. My men’s line launched from a big box of vintage fishing lures that my dad has collected. It’s fun to transform his collection into a paper product.
Since COVID-19 we’ve heard so many stories about people tapping into undiscovered creativity or creativity that hasn’t been visited in years. Why do people have such a yearning to be creative?
I think just about everyone views creativity as an opportunity to express their own personality. It’s freeing to be creative. Personally, it’s an escape. I stay at home with my two young sons. It’s my main job that I love, and when the boys are napping or sleeping, I turn to my artistry. It’s not work to me because I’m so passionate about it and love doing it. I like having an outside activity where I can be expressive.
I loved the process of our collaboration, designing notecards that reflect my aesthetic and that my clients can enjoy too. What do you like about a collaboration?
I like the challenge of observing someone. In this case, I came over to look at your spaces and drew my inspiration from being around you. It’s a happy challenge for me to translate my design skills from someone else’s vision. I love the idea of presenting my ideas and then working with someone to tweak them. In this case, we also had to keep in mind that we wanted to create designs that would be attractive to potential customers.
When you are designing stationery for a client, how do you settle on a visual statement?
Many of my clients have a general idea of what kind of look they want because it usually involves something that they love. Often they are Pinterest users, and we will review images that they have pinned. It’s an excellent resource, and I can easily grasp their vision from that platform. Recently, I created a set of notecards for a little boy who loved construction trucks. It was so much fun to imagine and execute his love and passion. Stationery should always be a personal reflection no matter the age or gender. When sending a card, you are already making a statement about your thoughtfulness. It’s a prime opportunity to make a statement about your style too.
What are you pinning these days?
You will see a lot of interior design images on my Pinterest page. Anything home-related really because we are moving soon. Mudrooms, kitchens, and organization are at the top of my list at the moment. But from an inspirational perspective, I love vintage fabrics and wallpapers. They are my guilty pleasure.
Speaking of designed spaces, what is your own workspace like?
At the moment, I don’t have a real office. I’m working from my dining room, my basement, all over the house. In our new home, I will have an office. My dream office would look like Darcy Miller’s (Martha Stewart Living editor-at-large), full of everything I need to achieve any artful idea that enters my mind. Her office is filled with supplies, well-organized, and decorated with things she loves. That’s how I imagine my space to be.
Imagine how your personality might shine through one of Alex’s stationery designs.