5 Tips for Creating an Artful Home
Toni Sikes, founder of Guild.com, talks about how art makes the home -- and what consumers are crazy about right now. Plus, get her top five tips for creating an artful home.
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Ten years ago no one would have dreamed that you could buy a wide selection of handcrafted furniture, one-of-a-kind art glass and original artwork online — except for Toni Sikes, founder of The Guild, now the biggest retailer of online art (11,000 plus pieces!), with headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin.
You are an artist at heart, but you don’t have an art degree?
My undergrad degree is in math and my Masters is in marketing research. I don’t have any training and I can’t make anything! But I have always loved art. It’s been very important to me all my life.
So how did you get involved in the art business?
I had a boyfriend when I moved to Wisconsin who was a sculptor, and I got very involved with him and tried to market his work. We had many friends who were artists and I saw how all of these talented people struggled to get their work out to different markets. I very much wanted to do something to help them. I started the Guild Sourcebooks in 1985 as a way to help them sell their work and make a living through their art. The Sourcebooks introduced this wonderful work to targeted markets, such as architects. And that was the genesis of the business, which we launched in NY. And then moved back to Wisconsin.
I wanted a real life, that’s why we’re in Wisconsin. We loved New York, but my husband is from here and he has family here and it feels like a real life here.
And the online business for consumers?
In 1998 I started a separate company called guild.com as an online retail company. The underlying goal was still the same but it was all about broadening the market to consumer. We showcase the artists, but they make and ship all the items directly to the buyer. We also did a print catalog, which we renamed The Artful Home in 2004. In all, there are more than 11,000 works of art available to consumers on our site and in our catalog.
You feature artists from Wisconsin?
We have artists from all over the country, and we do have fabulous artists from Madison and Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, our number one top-selling piece of furniture, a spiral coffee table, is made by an artist, Richard Judd, from 20 miles south of here. We want to bring artists from everywhere together with consumers from everywhere.
So, it’s getting art out to the masses?
Yes, I believe strongly that original art and beautiful things are important in our everyday lives to everybody, and I think most people believe that. When we survey our customers we ask them what is their motivation to come and visit us and buy from us, and they almost always say, "I love beautiful things." They don’t necessarily say, "I love art." They want to surround themselves with beautiful things and that’s how we can help them.
An important underlying principal is that we want people to feel comfortable exploring, looking at and thinking about art. That’s something that the traditional art world hasn’t necessarily been very good at. As you know, a New York art gallery is not always a fun and friendly place to go. And as a result there are a huge number of people who don’t feel connected to art, and we want to change that.
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