Clothing designer Elizabeth Pape has one of the shortest commutes imaginable. She and her husband, Chris, live in a small building right in front of their company’s sprawling warehouse space. Along with their two dachshunds, Odie and Oscar, Liz and Chris have created a home that feels both simple and timeless — just like her line, Elizabeth Suzann. Take a look inside…
On deciding to live at work: We started sleeping at our office a couple of winters ago. We were selling scarves as holiday gifts and we way underestimated the time it would take to make them. We thought it would take 10 minutes per scarf and it took almost two hours. Three of us drove ourselves insane 24/7 for weeks trying to get Christmas orders fulfilled. During that holiday rush, Chris and I slept in the office on an air mattress — and after that, we realized it was more convenient to live here all the time. I’m not going to pretend otherwise: we’re in a phase of focusing on work.
On settling in: Not long after we moved here, we started worrying that the building was too small and close to our office. But the real estate market is crazy in Nashville, and we didn’t want to move again. I woke up mopey one Saturday, and Chris, who is the notoriously frugal one, said, “How do you want to make this apartment better today?” I said, “Well, how serious are you? Because, a lot of things!” We went out and got a new sofa and bedding from West Elm, which gave us the jolt we needed to start creating a home here.
On building a gallery wall: I really connect with old oil portraits — I like picturing someone painting someone they knew; there’s always a cool story to be conjured. My mom painted portraits of our dogs and my childhood horse as gifts. The other paintings are vintage from flea markets and Instagram.
On TV show obsessions: My husband and I have seen the American version of The Office ten times from start to finish. Our whole work day feels like anything could happen, so when we leave, we crave something familiar. It’s a security thing — to help turn our brains off. When we finish all the seasons, we just start over. A few of our colleagues are Office fans too, so we’ll sit there trading favorite quotes, and lots of work emails have a gif of Michael Scott on the bottom. Our coworkers gave Chris and me each a ‘World’s Best Boss’ mug.
On lighting: I believe in thoughtfully designed, built-to-last stuff — that’s the philosophy of our brand. But sometimes I feel a conflict between that and what we can afford. One thing that makes a huge difference is replacing light fixtures! It’s a small investment, but going from those Home Depot nipple-looking ceiling fixtures — the landlords’ cruel trick on everyone — to something more intentional makes your space feel like a home, rather than a place where you’re storing your furniture.
Rolling plant stand: Home Depot.
On being a restaurant regular: We rarely cook because we’re so busy, and when we go out, we’re definitely creatures of habit. There’s a Mexican restaurant, Chago’s, where we go at least once a week. We order all the queso and tacos. That’s our happy place. Once we’re there, eating chips, pretty much everything is right in the world.
On the joy of records: I prefer to listen to music on vinyl because it makes the whole experience more deliberate. You take a moment to flip through your collection, then you choose a record and set it up. And when it’s done, you have to remove it and put something else on. It slows everything down in the best way. I always return to classic rock. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I think it just sounds better. We have a huge collection of Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell — the best.
On good sleep: I can be on my computer until 1 a.m. and then go straight to sleep, but Chris needs more winding down. He sleeps with an eye mask and a Dohm sound machine that I’ve learned to love. In my perfect world, our bed would be entirely white linen — super minimal and soft — but with our dogs, we steer clear of that.
On the joy of small things: Art and furniture can be pricey, but you can find knick knacks on a budget and they can transform a living space. I’ve found great ceramics on Etsy. I also really like Fringe Supply Co and Calliope.
On sentimental decor: Chris and I met in college and dated on and off. There was a running joke with a friend of ours, Roy, who was super protective of Chris, about whether I was Chris’s best friend or he was. One time I bought Chris a triple cheeseburger meal from Wendy’s, trying to buy his best friendship! Chris saved all the mementos from those early days and made this board for me. We’ve hung it in every apartment we’ve had, and it has become even more special to me over the years.
On imagining the future: Sometimes I can only think one hour ahead, but other times I picture us in five, 10 or 15 years. We have pretty big dreams. I’d love to live in a super modern home with lots of windows and natural light — on a rural plot of land just outside the city. We’d work nearby, and it would be a dream to have a CSA garden and small cafeteria for employees.
DESIGN STUDIO/SHOWROOM (IN THE LARGER WAREHOUSE BUILDING)
On the power of simplicity: During college, I started making and selling clothes — they were incredibly loud and colorful, inspired by vintage kitsch. But after a while I realized the things that I actually wore again and again were simple shapes in black, white and grey. It was a self-awakening. My clothes stopped feeling like a costume, they felt like ME. I shifted gears and tried to make what I thought that silhouette and style was.
Settee: Flea market find, upholstered in white canvas splatter painted by Elizabeth. Hoop chair: Soñadora Studio. Tree stump table: Made by Elizabeth’s grandfather from a tree on the family farm in North Carolina. Art: Emily Leonard.
On being a twenty-something entrepreneur: I turned 27 this week. When finding vendors and suppliers early on, I had to work hard to get people to take me seriously. Now it’s easier because we’re placing large orders — and money talks. But when I was new to the industry and doing it all by myself, I had to get my confidence up. I love that I had to go through that. It toughened up my skin.
On becoming a boss: In two years, we went from having zero employees to a team of 18. I sometimes wish I had my own boss to say, “What’s wrong with you? Do it like this!” But we’ve read great books about how to lead and, even though I don’t want things to ever feel too corporate, we’ve come to realize that good management is both necessary and appreciated by everyone. My favorite business books are anything by Seth Godin and the three-part series by Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Deli on becoming a better leader, managing yourself and building a healthy business. Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last are also really good.
On a celebrity crush: I like a young Nick Cage — before his hair line started receding. (Moonstruck and Raising Arizona are two of my favorite movies.) Right after my team discovered my celebrity crush, I went on a business trip to New York, and when I came back there was this HUGE poster of him on the back wall. From there, it continued. I find photos of Nick Cage everywhere. There are small ones stuck to my computer. My husband definitely doesn’t get my obsession. I don’t know if I get it.
On career lessons: The biggest thing I’ve learned is the value of honesty. I’m a people pleaser, so I have a hard time giving criticism. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I’ve had to train myself not to bottle things up at work, and, truthfully, everyone appreciates it. If you don’t speak up, your feelings can fester and come across as anger, when it’s usually not really anger. Keeping things transparent has been a big focus of ours as leaders. I hope to be graceful at it some day!
On hard work: I still have days when I feel like what the hell did I get myself into, but looking back at how far we’ve come is extremely motivating. Our team mantra is “it will be fine.” In the beginning, you come up against 100 problems and you feel like the world is stacked against you, but you just have to keep going and push through. If you have a good idea and good product that you feel passionate about, chances are other people will, too.
Thank you so much, Liz! Check out her line, Elizabeth Suzann, if you’d like.
(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo.)