Virginia Kemp, a preservation award winner in West Hartford, speaks with Deb Cohen of The Front Door Project about her unique business.
By Deb Cohen
If you follow my Instagram you may recognize the charming home above which I featured recently, a vintage beauty in West Hartford. I had the pleasure of meeting the owner Virginia Kemp (Ginny for short), who lives there with her husband Mike and three children, when she graciously hosted our town’s annual Preservation Awards ceremony.
While coordinating the awards, I noticed that Ginny’s e-mail signature included a website for The Blue Twig (I’m super observant) and with my interest piqued I asked her to fill me in about her business of selling “Curious Wall Decor.”
All I had to do was ask. The instant Ginny began to show me some of the artwork in her home she lit up, and it was clear that this woman has found something she is passionate about. Decorating her own walls is where the story of The Blue Twig began.
When she and her family moved to West Hartford from Maryland a few years ago and into their lovely home, their budget primarily went to major updates that the home needed. Buying expensive art to fill their empty walls wasn’t an option, and so Ginny began to scour flea markets, antique shows and eventually paper shows to find interesting pieces to fill the bare space.
And so a minor obsession was born. Ginny discovered she loves paper.
More specifically, old paper. Some really old (like hundreds of years old) and some a bit more recent, but all of it unique and unusual and sometimes one-of-a-kind.
Although her background is in social work, and she was licensed and working in Maryland before coming to Connecticut, Ginny had mixed feelings about continuing with that career path. While social work could be rewarding, it could also be draining and the impact of her effort was sometimes hard to see.
Coupled with that, Ginny wanted to be available to her children as much as possible and knew that a regular work schedule would be tough. So while she may return to social work one day, she was looking for something with flexibility for now.
With her efforts to find interesting but fairly reasonably priced artwork for her own home, Ginny started to think she might have a niche. How many people out there might want to find something a little different for their walls, but couldn’t afford high-priced gallery art?
She began to add to her inventory of antique and vintage prints, careful to only purchase items that she loved. She consistently curates her collection of paper, with her only challenge being letting go of a special piece.
The types of paper vary, including architectural drawings, Art Deco wallpaper, Japanese woodblock prints, fashion drawings and more. A number of pieces are already matted and framed through her work with EBK Framing in Hartford, and others are safely stacked in plastic waiting for their new home.
Ginny takes pleasure in taking something old and presenting it in a way that creates a modern feel. It’s that combination of the old with the new that gives her finds a creative twist, bringing a traditional home up to date or adding some warmth to a more modern space.
She has been amazed at the variety of antique and vintage paper she has found, and especially appreciates the bright, vivid colors used many years ago. She has become quite knowledgeable about the various types of paper available and has even picked up pointers on how to tell the general age of a piece or whether an item is real or reproduction.
Whenever possible, she likes to know the history associated with a piece and thinks that homeowners value that as well. Filling a home with items that have meaning makes for a much more personal space. Because of that, she also consults on matting and framing for special items a homeowner might already have.
Over the last couple of years Ginny has worked with designers and with homeowners directly to find that perfect piece or multiple pieces to fill a wall space. She sells on Etsy and has hosted gatherings at her home studio for potential buyers. Finally, Ginny has recently started offering wall decor consultation services for those of us who may be a bit “empty wall challenged.”
With Ginny’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas, she has been able to grow her business steadily but carefully. She credits the Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Hartford for keeping her accountable to her goals and assisting her with things that can be a challenge for a small business, such as building her website.
There are so many interesting people out there doing interesting things, and Ginny Kemp of The Blue Twig is one of them. To find something you are excited about, and then grow that into a business is no simple task, but Ginny makes it look easy. The next time you are looking for the perfect piece to fill that bare wall, take a look at what The Blue Twig has to offer.
Deb Cohen of West Hartford started The Front Door Project in the summer of 2014 as a way to motivate herself to get outside, exercise and pay more attention to her surroundings. She began photographing homes with a primary focus on the front door, which is a welcoming focal point. Social media provided the means to share the photographs and a ready audience to follow along, and her new-found interest soon led to exploring other local area towns in my free time. The “project” has led to deeper interests in architecture, local history and historic preservation and came at a time in Deb’s life when she needed some inspiration. Please join Deb as she continues to share her everyday travels and explorations of other towns and places! You can find her other posts at www.thefrontdoorproject.com.
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