We have a thing for vinyl records here at Glitter Guide. I’ve always considered myself a bit of a “hoarder” of records, but in a positive way. My husband and I have around 250+ records and I always thought that was a crazy amount, until I was introduced to Kate Koeppel, creator of Koeppel Design. Kate takes record-loving to a whole new level, with a personal collection that includes around 700 records!! But more importantly, Kate took that love of records and music and built her dream company, Koeppel Design, a collection of modern organizers for record collections. We asked Kate to share a bit about her journey, creating a woman-run business and how her creative energy inspires her.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do!
I am a graphic designer in San Francisco. I run a craftswomen-powered design studio where I design and manufacture a collection of handcrafted wood products to organize, protect and display vinyl records. I am a collector at heart, but I also really love order! My studio is focused where my two loves—design and organization—meet to instigate delight through beautifully made objects. I love music and I have a weakness for potato chips and Negroni cocktails, preferably together after a long week in the studio.
You combined two passions, music and woodworking, into a full creative business. When did you realize you had something special to share?
Music is an essential and wonderful part of my life. Music can help alleviate stress, and help process emotion, but having a lot of music and disorganization at home that feels overwhelming prevents a lot of people from enjoying what they love.
From an early age, my mother helped me cultivate a lot of enthusiasm for working and thinking with my hands. Handmaking skills help me feel connected to the objects in my life. Woodworking is a skill I learned out of necessity, and I think goes really well with the emotional and calming experience of enjoying and collecting records. I don’t know if it ever felt special, it just felt natural and made sense to me. Bringing order into our music collection to help me enjoy it more felt like something I needed to share with a larger community to help more folks feel good at home.
You own around 700 records, which is bananas. When did you start collecting and how did you grow your collection?
In my work, I am surrounded by clients and friends who have collections of 10,000 or more records, so my perception of collection size has shifted a bit in the last few years! 700 seems reasonable…800 though is starting to seem like the limit for us! My husband and I share our collection. Music was always a big part of my life, but when I met my husband, his vinyl collection quickly became ours, and our connection over music continues to be part of our daily home routine, 10-plus years later. Our collection is evolving all the time. Since our collection is really well-organized, I am willing to part with records that we’re not regularly listening to, to swap them out for new sounds.
What’s the coolest record you’ve found so far?
My husband and I have traveled to Italy a few times over the past few years, and each time, I pick up a few records as souvenirs. We’ve found some really fun and special Italian records from the ’50s and ’60s that are great to listen to with a glass of wine, or while making a beautiful ragu.
What is it about vinyl records that you love so much?
Listening to music on vinyl is an active experience that is very calming for me. It is a really good way to unplug, put down my phone and be in the moment. Because I have to flip the record every few minutes, I can’t be running off to answer emails or multitask. I find the practice really helpful in curbing my natural inclination to multitask and be productive every moment of the day. Aside from that, records are just beautiful! I love holding an album and exploring the liner notes and looking at the artwork. Streaming music is less intentional, although I do plenty of that when I’m busy in the studio making.
What values would you say are at the heart of your business?
Beauty, utility and pleasure. My goal in life is to create beautiful order everywhere. Every product I make has to pass this test: Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Does it feel good? Sustainable design practices and production methods fold into that beauty and pleasurable feeling for me, and I want everyone who uses my products to feel good, too.
When you first started Koeppel Design, what goals did you set for yourself as a new business owner? Was there a specific intention behind what you wanted the business to be?
In the years before I started this business, I had a graphic design branding practice for mostly female-owned businesses. I learned a lot from those entrepreneurs who were really happy in their work. The values they practiced in their personal lives were also reflected in their businesses.
I set out wanting to be self-reliant in my own business, and I wanted my personal values to be present and guiding throughout my business, as well. I believe we should all be trying to reduce our environmental impact, and make good choices about how and where we spend our money.
Ultimately the goal of wanting to be self-reliant all the time has evolved into a more valuable goal of being able to recognize my own limits and support other women. I was so hard on myself while learning how to run my business when I wasn’t also an expert accountant, legal advisor or social media wizard (I went to design school!), but when I reached the point that I could hire those experts, it was a revelation! I didn’t need to be an expert in every field, I just needed to be able to be honest with myself to identify when and where I needed outside help. Now I know my business can grow as my goals change, and I love being able to support (and be supported by!) talented women in other industries.
My goal in life is to create beautiful order everywhere. Every product I make has to pass this test: Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Does it feel good? Sustainable design practices and production methods fold into that beauty and pleasurable feeling for me…
How has the business evolved since you first launched?
Looking back, it feels like I just jumped off a cliff when I started my business! I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about running a business! I didn’t have a plan in place—I was just excited to get started. Business planning came a bit later, after a lot of research, prototyping and learning. Learning my own strengths and weaknesses in business has helped me to understand where I need to grow, and where I need to ask for help.
The music and vinyl industry, as well as woodworking, are often male-dominated and not very inclusive. When I first started out, I really struggled with that experience and found myself frustrated to not be working with more women. I had to work a bit harder to find that community, and build a network for myself that included more female-owned and -operated businesses.
Hiring and working with talented female photographers, copywriters, bookkeepers and business advisors has helped my business grow, so I can focus on good design. Now my values come first, and my goals for growth and product development are much more focused.
What kind of goals do you have for your brand in 2020?
I want to help more people feel good at home. Many of us are living in very chaotic, busy, stressful climates and it feels like we’re getting bombarded by distractions and bad news all the time. I find order to be very calming, so I will continue to create useful objects that help people in other areas of their home life undo some of the overwhelm that our lives, schedules and in some cases, our possessions themselves create for us.
Photos by Elysa Weitala Photography