You may remember I did a story on an Australian husband and wife team making beautiful journals out of vintage books (Natalie and Ben of Rebound Books)? And you know how they say we’ve all got a twin somewhere else in the world? Well, I think I’ve just found Natalie and Ben’s twins in Wisconsin in the US: husband and wife team, Chad and Andrea Thorson of The Bookish Life.
They also have a love affair of books and a dislike of throwing them out which has turned into a business they run ‘out-of hours’ alongside their ‘day jobs’. They use snippets of text from vintage books and make them into jewellery and accessories. So you can literally wear your favourite book on your sleeve – or neck, or wrist, or hair! I decided to find out more about Chad and Andrea and their cute little literary life. Here’s what Andrea had to say …
Andrea and Chad and two of their favourite books
Tell me about yourselves. You say on your blog that you are a husband and wife team – what are your backgrounds?
Chad and I have been married for almost 15 years. We’ve always been creative. During our college years, Chad focused on Fine Art and I focused on Graphic Design. He worked in libraries and bookstores from the time he was in high school up until just a few years ago. He’s now working for a company that captions phone calls for the hearing impaired. I have worked at a phone company for nearly 12 years, but have always had a passion to make things. Chad and I have always shared a passion to own our own business and hope to make it a full time gig in the future. We have an eight-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter who are creative, hilarious and keep us busy!
Where did the idea to start The Bookish Life come from and when?
Our business has evolved a lot since it started around 2006. As long as I can remember, I have been a collector of old magazines, books, comics, vintage wrapping paper, maps … just about anything that has a snippet of something that catches my eye. I first started using these things to make collage-style cards and art. When we started making and selling our creations, we made a huge array of different things ranging from recycled magazine gift bags to French text magnets to screen printed clothing with Chad’s artwork. We were just making things that we liked but didn’t really have a clear vision for our business. We used books in our work, but also used many other mediums. Our business was called ‘Space Oddities’ back then. It fit the randomness of what we were doing at the time.
I really think what turned the corner and made our business more ‘bookish’ was a box of water-damaged Tolkien books. Chad was working at a used bookstore in 2008 and brought home an entire box of Tolkien books – dozens of them that were going to be thrown away due to damage. I started using pieces of the books, little by little. I made note cards with text from the “A Shortcut to Mushrooms” chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring along with little mushroom embellishments. I made LOTR text magnets and book cover pins. Chad drew a Gandalf image that we screen-printed on actual book pages. And little by little, we used those books in so many different ways. Our line of items continued to grow, but we still didn’t have a clear vision.
We expanded our literary line a year or so after we started selling our items at a local weekly farmers’ market. We had a lot of great feedback about the recycled book items. We loved how quickly the literary items sparked conversations with so many different kinds of people. At a certain point, the other mishmash of items we had been making previously just didn’t seem to fit anymore with our expanding line of literary goodies. We wanted focus and cohesiveness. We came up with the name ‘The Bookish Life’ in the summer of 2011 and went ahead full force with our concept.
How did you go about making this happen?
It was gradual and still is a work in progress! It’s very much a labour of love. We would both love to quit our day jobs and make this our full-time gig right now, but I think this is still a few years off.
How do you fit The Bookish Life around the rest of your life?
We both work full-time during the day while our kids are at school. We’re lucky enough to have similar schedules, so we can fit in some quality family time most nights. After the kids are tucked into bed, we switch to bookish mode and get to work answering emails, updating our shop and filling and packaging orders. The kids often come with us when we vend at shows and my eight-year-old especially loves to help at our table. We vend at a local farmers’ market on Saturdays April through November and we usually all go and make a fun family day of it. I really enjoy the shows and markets. I love meeting people and talking about good books, exposing my kids to unique handmade art and new people! When we started our business we were doing a lot less and were way more stressed out. Somehow, now that we are much busier with it, we have managed to find balance.
Chad at a local Wisconsin farmers’ market
Andrea and her jewellery supplies
Where do you go to source your books?
We actually have a pretty big collection of damaged books that Chad saved over his many years working at used bookstores and libraries. We also source books from garage sales and thrift stores, but try hard to use books that are already damaged or very well loved. I really feel that when a book is already damaged, or if there are a million copies sitting in basements and attics across the world being neglected, I would rather see it in a piece of jewellery instead of being gone forever. The great thing is that one book goes such a long way! I cut the book covers to make into bookmarks to give away at the market, use book pages for wrapping and embellishments on packages and, of course, snippets of text in our jewellery, cards and accessories.
Have you made any amazing/unexpected discoveries along the way? Tell me about them.
As far as books go, we find treasures all the time! We buy a lot more books for our personal collection than we do for our business. The amazing discoveries are usually too good to tear into pieces.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought?’ moment? Tell me about it.
Yes! It may have been what sparked my motivation to start our business! Chad was working at a used bookstore around 2004, and I saw the recycle bin that they used for the books they throw out. It was crazy! They must have thrown out hundreds of books every week, probably more. These books were going to be gone forever. I was shocked. All of a sudden, I started looking at my giant collection of books, magazines, comics and other random tidbits in a different way. I got excited about saving these things instead of feeling guilty for using them.
What’s been your favourite creation so far?
I don’t know if I can choose! I have so much fun with every item. I think that every time we make something new, it’s my favourite thing. I especially love ideas that Chad and I come up with together and collaborate on.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love baking, hunting for treasures at thrift stores, collecting records, craft time with my kids and, of course, reading a good book.
What are some of your favourite books?
Chad: The Lord of the Rings series (Tolkien,) I Claudius (Robert Graves,) Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury,) Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Rock (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain.)
Andrea: The Stranger (Albert Camus,) To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee,) I’m a Stranger Here Myself (Bill Bryson,) Like Hell (Ben Weasel.)
What inspires you?
Spring. Words. Coffee. Simplicity. A perfect song. A great book.
Do you have new designs or ideas for The Bookish Life in the future?
We have a few jewellery items right now that pair book text with Chad’s illustrations. Here’s an example (below) – one of our literary bracelets featuring text from a book of poems by Edgar Allan Poe and Chad’s drawings. We want to make this concept a bigger part of our work so that each piece is even more unique and one-of-a-kind.
And you can find some of Andrea and Chad’s pieces in our store here.