Designers Matthew and Ariana Broerman of Paper Cloud have brought a truly handmade approach to design. All of their pieces, from journals to pillows to cards to lampshades, are made solely by the duo in their Cincinnati studio.
If you are on the hunt for a geniunely handmade item for your home, Paper Cloud is a great place to start. Enjoy the Q&A!
I find it inspiring that you two went from making handmade holiday cards for your friends and family to starting a business as extensive as Paper Cloud. A dream for many of us (myself included)! How did Paper Cloud come together and get off the ground?
When we started Paper Cloud in the fall of 2005, we had both been working as designers for two years in Cincinnati. We got great responses from the cards we were making for friends and family and we loved the idea of working and designing for ourselves. Matt comes from a very entrepreneurial family, and he grew up seeing the freedom and flexibility you have when you own your own business. Both of those things played into starting Paper Cloud. We were both good designers, but neither of us had ever run a business. It’s definitely been a learning experience. Through a lot of experimentation we learned how to run the business and make all our products. From printing and sewing to binding books and most recently making lamps, we’ve had a lot of fun figuring things out.
Tell us a little about your backgrounds. When did you two know you wanted to be designers?
MB: I grew up on a farm in central Ohio. I drew a lot as a kid. My grandma used to give me those stacks of perforated paper that used to feed into old printers. I used to draw these huge continuous scenes on them. I didn’t really know I wanted to be a designer until college. I originally had planned on architecture, but found design more satisfying and less restricting.
AB: When I was little I always made little projects and collages at home. As I got older I made jewelry for my friends and myself. I think I knew I wanted to be a designer since I was about fourteen. The thought of making advertisements appealed to me — the idea that you can make people feel something by placing text and images and colors in a certain layout. I was always drawn to clever, witty ads, and I wanted to create those too. I remember a cover of The New Yorker where a rabbit is using a blow dryer on a snowman to get a carrot. I loved that.
Where does the name Paper Cloud come from?
We thought a lot about names. The business started with paper — making cards — so we wanted Paper in the name. From there it was a question of what worked with Paper. And we wanted something light and playful. Honestly, we really liked Paper Thought, but it was taken. So the image of a little thought bubble popped into our heads and we landed on Paper Cloud.
Matt, I see that you are an illustrator and painter. Ariana, you have experience making collages, jewelry, sewing and designing cards. Quite a crafty team! With all of your artistic tools under your belts, what are your favorite mediums to work with? Any materials or processes you have been itching to experiment with?
MB: I was never really drawn to one medium. I like sketching / drawing because it’s the quickest way to get an idea or image onto paper. I was never one of those people who had a “favorite” pen or pencil and did all their art with that. For me, whatever is within arm’s reach is good enough to get the ideas flowing.
AB: I’d like to get back into some collage work and see how that plays out on our pillows. Maybe there’s more we can do with layering materials. I’d love to get into letterpress also.
What roles do each of you play within the business? Any advice for those who are considering starting a creative business with their significant other?
In terms of advice, it’s important to find a balance and a rhythm of who does what, and it’s essential to make decisions as a team. We’re very lucky in that we balance each other so well, and we work hard. We love what we do, so we’re always brainstorming and thinking about it and talking about it.
How do you get out of a creative rut? Who/What/Where most inspires you?
MB: Nature is definitely a big inspiration because it’s always so different. I also scour any sources I can find. Taking a walk around a bookstore is a great way to get ideas. Without even cracking the covers you can see thousands of artistic styles, clever writings, and beautiful photographs. There’s good stuff in the books too!
AB: We have a back deck that runs the width of our house, and it’s surrounded by tall trees. I love going out there in the Spring, sitting in the shade, watching birds at our birdfeeder. Looking at photos of flowers and birds helps get me out of a rut — seeing all the variations inherent in nature. It makes me realize there are so many possibilities. I’m also inspired by other designs, typography, beautiful invitations and paper.
What is your workspace/studio like? Any particular aspect or items in your work environment that keep you motivated?
AB: Our studio is a work in progress, like anything I guess. There is a lot we want to do with it as we find time. One thing I love is all the table space. We went to a big warehouse and got lots of industrial metal storage shelves and drawers to organize our materials and products. Then Matt got some big pieces of wood, sanded and finished them, and topped the storage pieces to create a long table and an island to work on. Having space to lay everything out and create products is wonderful. We used to do it all from the dining room and kitchen of our 2-bedroom apartment. When we bought a house, it was a priority to have a space dedicated to Paper Cloud.
I find it admirable that all of your products are handmade…this adds a real human touch to your pieces. How has making all your products by hand had an impact on your business and/or collection?
It’s important for us that our products are handmade. Our philosophy is “art to share” so it’s essential that each item is an individual piece of art. People have really responded well to our collection, especially when they find out that it’s us making everything.
MB: I would say the flowers design. I’m really fickle when it comes to showing my own work. The flowers design was one of our first, and the fact that I still like it says a lot.
AB: I love the onionpods.
What is next for Paper Cloud?
We’re experimenting with our printing techniques on our lampshades. Maybe get into doing some apparel. And we’re always dreaming up new designs.
I enjoy wood paneled station wagons, German food and senior citizens (I am 80 years old at heart). Nearly every weekend I am taking photos at other people's weddings and I have a blog of my own (but I don't update it often enough). I love to paint, sew and knit. Check out my DP Staff profile on Hatch.