Mom & Daughter Designer Make Biz Out Of Pillows

Shelly Klein is a wisp of a woman with a little fluff of a dog but her ideas are huge.

“I’m just about to make some pillows,” she says, as Sugar frolics around her Northeast Grand Rapids studio.

Her commercial embroidery machine whirs as Klein explains the designs on her pillows that have caught the attention of major magazines, catalogs and a posh New York hotel.

“I try to create a sweetness,” she says. “That draws people in. On the other hand, I try to create a seriousness that not everybody picks up on.”

Klein, 37, is an artist with a loyal following for her paintings, but she’s become famous making pillows. Famous in all kinds of places — except here, in her hometown, where she quietly goes about her high-end work at K Studio near Briggs Park with hardly anybody knowing about her.

She’s been featured in such popular magazines as Better Homes and Gardens, People, Family Circle, Real Simple and Cottage Living and on NBC’s “Today” show.

Her latest project is, physically, the biggest. A New York architect called Klein in March and asked if she could draw some large figures of people to decorate the lobby of a New York hotel he was designing.

Klein sent the drawings in a huge computer file and the architect had her design printed on vinyl and applied to the glass walls. Her 10-foot-tall people adorn 60 feet of wall around the elevator core of the Affinia Shelburne in New York.

The owners liked her people drawings so much, they decided it should be the arty theme for the whole hotel, and asked her to create hundreds of coordinating pillows for all the rooms, then, more — stuffed dog toys for the guests’ pooches.

“We stay flexible,” Klein says, as her embroidery machine whirs. “So we can do just about anything.” The “we” includes her mom, Mary Klein, who handles the business end, and seamstress Kathy Buist.

When a guy from Real Simple magazine called last winter, he wanted to include one of K Studio’s products in the magazine’s holiday gift guide. But all of Klein’s products cost more than the guide’s $50 price limit.

Klein cooked up $49 tote bags customers could order with embroidered family members that represented their own family.

“Maybe a family is two parents and two kids, but maybe it’s two guys and a cat,” she says. “Or a girl and a dog. Whatever makes up your family is wonderful. People really connected to those, because they saw their family.

“Real Simple told us to expect about 1,000 orders,” Klein recalls. “We said, ‘Pffftt — maybe 200.” She grins. “They were right. We sold 1,000 of the bags in a month. We worked around the clock. My dad was the shipping clerk.”

Logo from K Studio

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