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Smock Store Spotlight – Gus & Ruby Letterpress in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Two creative women after our own hearts, owners Samantha Finigan and Whitney Swaffield, were inspired by their shared love of letterpress, stationery and great design when establishing Gus & Ruby Letterpress in a quaint storefront in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Having met when working at the same advertising agency, the two bonded over mutual affection for their dogs before realizing they had so much more than that in common. Newly opened, their shop is not only named after their lovable dogs Gus and Ruby, but also a true reflection of Samantha and Whitney’s mutual passion for all things letterpress.

Smock Store Spotlight - Gus & Ruby Letterpress

Back before Gus & Ruby was born, Samantha and Whitney used to talk about their love for letterpress while walking their dogs. With a family history in printing that now dates back three generations, Whitney was able to get her hands on an old press. She and Samantha took a couple of classes and started letterpress printing cards, invitations and announcements they would design for friends and family. While launching their own stationery line was something their loved ones encouraged them to do, Samantha and Whitney are self-described paper hounds and wanted a way to share their love for some of their favorite letterpress lines. The result? A beautiful boutique on Market Street in Portsmouth where they sell beautiful cards, gift wrap and wedding invitations from a carefully curated selection of artisans.

Smock Store Spotlight - Gus & Ruby Letterpress

Recognizing that no one in their area was offering design-forward artisan-crafted stationery to the local market, Whitney and Samantha set about carefully selecting only their very favorite paper vendors and stationery lines to carry in their shop. Every item in the store was lovingly hand-picked and is something they personally love and want to share with their customers. Great design and fine craftsmanship is at the heart of what Gus & Ruby stands for and the process of choosing product was a very involved one that Samantha and Whitney loved. While they continue to do custom design and printing on a very select basis, their true love comes from sharing their favorite stationery vendors with the local community.

Smock Store Spotlight - Gus & Ruby Letterpress

The selection of exquisite stationery is not the only aspect of opening shop that had Whitney and Samantha working hard. Even the physical design and layout of the store carries their thumbprint. All of the furniture was custom built to fit the design aesthetic they were aiming for and the two women readily rolled up their shirtsleeves and tackled all of the spackling and painting on their own. After a year of intense research, business plan writing, dreaming, and crossing fingers, the shop is finally open and all of that hard work is paying off as their shared dream becomes a reality.

In true Smock fashion, we had to know a little bit more about Portsmouth and Whitney and Samantha’s picks for the top things to see and do while visiting their beautiful little town. Their recommendation? Stop by Flatbread Company for lunch followed by an afternoon shopping along Deer Street and ice cream at Annabelle’s. For the ladies, a stop at Making Faces, a lovely cosmetics boutique can’t be missed and taking time to visit Prescott Park promises to be a highlight of any trip to Portsmouth. (Aside from your visit to Gus & Ruby, that is.)

Smock Store Spotlight - Gus & Ruby Letterpress

While Whitney continues honing her expertise as a designer and letterpress printer, Samantha has taken to the forefront in helping to tackle the business and marketing side of keeping the Gus & Ruby operation moving forward. She was more than happy to share a bit more with us…

If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would it be? What would you do? Who would go with you?
I’d go back to the Okavongo Delta in Botswana and I’d go with my children (this would need to happen in the future…when I have kids someday!) I had the great great fortune of going to Botswana on safari with my mother after I graduated from college. Standing smack dab in the middle of the African wilderness – I have never felt more a part of the world community, more connected to those around me than I did in the delta. I observed herds of elephants grazing, listened to the lazy evening calls of hippos, watched a pair of cheetahs hunt and kill an impala – it was a pretty incredible experience and made me remember what a small, perfect world we live in. Hugely humbling and inspiring – the idea that I could ever share something as amazing as what my mother shared with me makes me weak in the knees with hope and gratitude.

What are you top 5 prized possessions?
This is too hard a question! But, here goes…
1. The photo albums my mother created for me and my brother of our various family vacations. Looking at them never fails to remind me of how much we laugh together.
2. A collection of notes my father has written me over the course of my life. He used to travel a lot for work when I was young and every single trip he went on, he would leave a little hand-written note under my pillow before he left that I would then find while he was gone. They aren’t fancy – mostly just little “sweet dreams” notes written on scrap paper – but they mean the world to me.
3. My grandmother’s ring. It’s as sparkly, unique, and treasured as she was.
4. My saddle – there is nothing like the smell of worn leather or the feel of galloping around on a pony. Riding horses reminds me that no one is really better than anyone else when you’re up to your ankles in manure while cleaning stalls.
5. My cupcake pans. I love love love to bake!

If you could describe your personality in letterpress, which Smock invitation would you be and why?
I’d be the Haddington invitation with Spencerian style calligraphy complete with verbena edge painting and a  rousseau lined envelope in verbena. It’s bright, cheery, and classic. The calligraphy adds a personal, loving touch – but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I couldn’t be black tie. Could I be “comfy shoes recommended”?

Thank you, Samantha and Whitney, for allowing us to take a sneak peek into the inspiration behind Gus & Ruby – congratulations on your beautiful new store!

{All photos by Emilie Inc. Photography}

Smock Store Spotlight – Cotton Idea Studio in Newport Beach, California

Though it may seem crazy to some who live in warmer climates, we’re already starting to notice the very first hints of fall in the air here in Upstate New York. So even though it may only be late August, we’re preparing ourselves for the vast amount of snow we know is to come in the months ahead. What’s our plan to combat the cold weather blues? When it’s cold and snowy this winter, we’re thinking we might jet off to Newport Beach, California to hang out at one of our favorite Smock stores – Cotton Idea Studio.

Born from proprietress Mindy Gayer’s lifelong love for paper and stationery, Cotton Idea Studio is a boutique design studio carrying a beautiful array of delightful social correspondence, invitations and accoutrements. Mindy has been in love with paper for as long as she can remember, spending all of her childhood babysitting earnings at the local stationery shop. She loved hosting festive little holiday parties for her neighborhood friends, complete with invitations, balloons and fun goodie bags. A career in a creative profession was basically a given for Mindy, although it did take her a while to combine her love of design with business. Cotton Idea Studio is a reflection of her love for paper, letterpress and quality design and as Mindy shares, “I know everyone says this, but it truly is a gift to do what you love — it keeps me inspired, passionate and motivated. And I get to work with the most charming people everyday.”

Smock Store Spotlight - Cotton Idea Studio

Quite simply, Mindy truly considers her lovely boutique as an extension of herself, evolving as she recognized a void in the market for specialized retailers. With that in mind, she wanted to create a unique boutique, believing it truly needed to be personal and special — a direct reflection of her and her personal style — if customers were really going to get it. Believing a customer should be just as in love with a store as with the merchandise they carry, Cotton Idea Studio is as much about merchandising as it is about the delightful products they offer. Mindy was passionate about not wanting her shop to become just another store and one of her favorite things is when a customer spends a considerable amount of time simply walking around, oohing and ahhing over all of the thoughtful details. “Their appreciation for the design and craftsmanship of our products, paired with their overall store experience, is what inspires me to continue making the store fresh and overflowing with creative merchandising.”

We think this careful and considered approach to everything she does with Cotton Idea Studio is what makes Mindy’s business so inspired and so fabulous. “I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and see design in the small, everyday places. I have such an affinity for well-developed retail spaces, and I love to see how people design and build their workspaces; whether it’s local coffee shops, eateries, retail shoppes, or general office spaces — there’s always room for clever build outs, vivid branding efforts, classic signage typography, and more.” Needless to say, we are really, truly in love. We find nothing more inspiring than creative people who find exciting ways to celebrate the small details in life.

Smock Store Spotlight - Cotton Idea Studio
{Mindy at the entrance to Cotton Idea Studio | The patio of her favorite neighborhood coffee shop.}

And in true Smock fashion, we had to know a little bit more about what makes Mindy and Cotton Idea Studio tick…

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken and why?
I’m not sure if one can consider a college semester abroad a vacation, per se, but it was definitely a wonderful time away from home. I spent a fall semester studying in Cambridge, England, and was able to embrace a natural season of self-exploration, which was amazing. I’m a fairly independent person, and being abroad gave me the space and time I needed to be reflective, experience culture and people, and dream about my future. I don’t think it matters where I am or how far I travel from home, even a 30-minute drive to a nearby town can set my mind brewing with new ideas.

If you could describe your personality in letterpress, which Smock invitation would you be?
Letterpress anything captures my heart. I adore the Aberdeen collection with champlain backing and lining, in dove and verbena hues. Perhaps finished with edge painting…I love the subtle detail of edge painting.

What’s your favorite part about what you do for a living?
There are so many highlights to this creative profession: Being surrounded by design on a daily basis. Discovering new designers and developing relationships with our vendors – our vendors truly make running this business a joy. Helping to preserve the charm of handwritten correspondence. Being able to bring the best products, by the most talented designers, all together under one roof. Having happy customers; producing quality, custom letterpress goods for our clients is one of the best things about this business, because they walk away happy with a completely unique and exquisite product in hand. And, letterpress – it’s absolutely beautiful! As a shoppe owner, I love supporting designers who commit their professional lives to producing such wonderful products by hand.

Smock Store Spotlight - Cotton Idea Studio
{The front window display at Cotton Idea Studio | One of Mindy’s favorite local shops, Trovata.}

What would you suggest as “must see” destinations for first time visitors to Southern California?
I love my hometown, and could write a mini-guide on all of my favorite spots! A few must-sees in Orange County include:

  • Cannery Village: this is where our shoppe is located. It’s a charming, hidden neighborhood that locals adore. We have an amazing fish market next door, Bear Flag Fish Co, which is a must for lunch! Alta Coffee, D. Kruse, The Cannery and The Dock are also great finds.
  • Corona del Mar: a darling community with cute boutiques and eateries. My all-time favorite is Zinc Café.
  • Newport Beach/Costa Mesa: so many great finds in both of these towns, including A Market, Eat Chow, Haute Cakes, Goat, The Camp and Milk + Honey.
  • Balboa Island: perfect for any out-of-towner! It’s the quintessential seaside town, complete with mom-and-pop dining establishments, independent boutiques, a ferry, fun zone and surf shops…even a darling little fire station (kids adore it here!)

Smock Store Spotlight - Cotton Idea Studio

Where are your favorite places to shop?
Some of my favorite retailers include Anthropologie, Hable Construction, Orla Kiely, Toast, JCrew, DWR, Tory Burch, Kate Spade, ABC, along with local shops like Molly Wood Garden Design, Laguna Supply and Juxtaposition.

Can you describe the sweetest or most memorable card or stationery you’ve received or would love to receive?
The letter that first comes to mind was written by a lovely online customer just last month. It came on a morning that succeeded a heavy week, both personally and professionally, and proved to be a ray of sunshine. It’s amazing how a few heartfelt, encouraging words from a person I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting can change my state in an instant. Admittedly, I all too often underestimate the importance of sending frequent love notes to friends and family. We all need encouragement to continue being who we are, and pursuing the things that are worthy of our pursuit.

We could not agree more. Smock is all about the belief that fine stationery and the thoughtfulness of a hand-written note can go so far to brighten someone’s day.

Mindy, thank you so very very much for letting us take a sneak peek into the inspiration behind Cotton Idea Studio – we are completely inspired and getting ready to pack our bags for a visit come winter!

Smock Store Spotlight – Paper & Chocolate in Dallas

It’s pretty much a given that here at Smock we are absolutely in love with paper, but we also happen to have a great love for chocolate. Dark chocolate in particular. With that said, it should come as no great surprise that we are completely fascinated by the inspiration behind Vicki Petersen’s store, Paper & Chocolate, in Dallas. A store dedicated to two things we absolutely love? Heaven!

With a unique background in computer programming, later to become a CPA, Vicki’s dreams and passions came together in 2006 with the opening of Paper & Chocolate. Having always been a lover of paper and having taken several classes in calligraphy, letterpress and bookbinding, the time was finally right to make the leap and allow her creative side to take over. Offering a wide array of stationery, gift wrap, greeting cards and custom wedding invitations, alongside an incredible selection of gourmet chocolates, Paper & Chocolate is one of those places we could browse for hours.

Paper & Chocolate

As the idea for Paper & Chocolate was forming, Vicki had the opportunity to visit the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and with a true passion and love for bookbinding, she decided to open a store that would focus on paper and offer classes and workshops to visitors. The first location she found offered unique character and a great patio and fireplace, but sadly also came coupled with a lot of structural issues that resulted in her finding another location in a popular Dallas shopping district which boasts a great Art Deco theatre, the Inwood Theatre. However, during that time the concept for the store grew and, with the hope of one day including a café, Vicki took her husband’s suggestion and named her new venture Paper & Chocolate, after her two favorite things.

Inwood Theatre Near Paper & Chocolate

Today, Vicki loves working with brides to create the wedding invitations of their dreams and looks forward to the bustle of lunch time when working professionals in the area stop by to check out the shop while away from their desks. She even has a smaller press where is she able to give customers quick letterpress demonstrations and to share with them the true art form that is letterpress printing. If you’re ever in Dallas, you want to be sure to visit Vicki at Paper & Chocolate!

Paper & Chocolate

And, of course, we had to ask Vicki…

If you could describe your personality in letterpress, which Smock invitation would you be and why?
Vettore! I love the design, classic yet distinctive. The horizontal orientation makes it elegant and unique. The color choices are endless so for someone who always wants change it is perfect.

What’s your favorite chocolate treat? What’s the most unusual chocolate you’ve ever had?
I love our Wiseman House Wild Woman Truffle. It is dark chocolate at its best. I have to say I am a traditionalist so I love my chocolate to taste like chocolate. I don’t love the unusual chocolate flavors, but I love the sea salt chocolate-covered caramels by Fran’s.

What’s your top pick destinations for first time visitors to Dallas?
I think most people have a stereotype of Dallas that doesn’t fit the reality. We have an incredible art district centered around the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center so that is where I would start. In the evening, I would take a visitor to the Meyerson Symphony Center, a contemporary structure designed by I.M. Pei that has the feel of an old world concert hall with incredible acoustics. Of course, in between all that would be lunch and dinner at some of our well known restaurants, Stephen Pyles or Fearings, and then some smaller gems like Sharon Hage’s York Street Dallas or Nonna. The art district is growing and this fall our new opera house and performing arts center will be opening.

Where are your favorite places to shop?
The shopping in Dallas is outstanding so locally I usually shop at small shopping areas like Inwood Village, where we are located, Preston Center and for a large shopping center, NorthPark Center. Away from home I love the Pearl District in Portland and abroad, anywhere on the Left Bank in Paris, especially the Sunday organic market, Marché Raspail.

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
This is a tough question for me because I was able to spend a summer in London with my oldest daughter. I think I loved that most because we actually lived there and felt like we knew London and our neighborhood so much better because we lived, shopped and walked there every day without feeling like a tourist. Paris, however, is my favorite city so it is my favorite vacation spot.

What new trends in stationery and gifts are you in love with right now?
I am still in love with letterpress so every new design delights us and we love showing them to our customers. We also love the people are enjoying really beautiful gift wrapping for their gifts.

Can you describe the sweetest or most memorable card or stationery you’ve ever received?
Anything from my 3 year old grandson is what I love right now!

Thank you so much, Vicki, for giving us a glimpse into Paper & Chocolate – we can’t wait to make it to Dallas to come visit!