Oak Park resident Jeanne Nohalty has long had a vision for a place where people could come together to celebrate creativity, community, and the love of home. On June 20 she saw that vision come to life with the opening of Alley Cat Décor & Design Collective of which she is both Owner and Lead Designer. This new destination for DIYers and lovers of unique home décor is located in the heart of the Hemingway Shopping District at 715 Lake Street in Oak Park.
Last week we had the opportunity to meet with Jeanne, explore the space and even take part in a fun and inspiring workshop (Chalk Point 101). From this experience, there were five things we wanted to share with you about Jeanne and Alley Cat Décor & Design Collective.
#1 Soul searching (and a push from her friends) led Jeanne to her dream career
While today Jeanne is known as a design enthusiast and self-declared “thrift junkie”, her early career was not in interior design. For over 10 years she honed her creative, innovation and leadership skills while working in Development. During that time she raised over $10 million dollars in funds for organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association, Y-Me for Breast Cancer and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
While home after having her first daughter she had the chance to do some soul searching. “When I had my girls I wanted to be at home with them, but I knew I wanted to keep my toes in the professional world to some extent. I knew I wanted to do something creative. That’s when I started my interior design business. I had rehabbed a home. I had done so many projects personally and helped friends in a very casual way and they were the ones who kind of pushed me. I started She Decorates and then from there it blossomed,” Jeanne explained.
She Decorates allowed Jeanne the ability to pursue her life-long passion for interior design. The flexibility to work part time meant she could build experience and a design portfolio while not missing out on quality time with her two young daughters. But as she approached the day when both of her daughters would be in school full time (they are now seven and five) Jeanne knew that she wanted to go back to working full time. “I decided that I wanted to open a shop,” she said.
#2 But Alley Cat evolved into much more than a shop…
Nohalty’s mission for Alley Cat is to “provide design services with a relaxed vibe and make home improvement accessible, inspiring, and fun.” Jeanne acknowledges that some people have the belief that interior design is only for the “one percent”, but that’s not what Alley Cat is about. It’s about helping everyday people create the spaces of their dreams.
There are really four different things that Alley Cat provides local design lovers:
- Handmade and hand selected décor items – this includes hand-painted vintage furniture transformed by Jean and her team, specialty wallpaper, children’s vintage / décor and the works of a new local artist every quarter (right now the featured artist is Emmy Star Brown and her fabulous glass paintings and illustrations). Jeanne is a very mindful purchaser: “I think a lot about what we’re going to carry in the shop. I always look for an eco angle, I like to look for made in the USA. Not only are we looking for the quality and distinctiveness within the design but also something about the company that we really believe in because we’re a small business and I want to support other small businesses.”
- DIY project supplies – if you want to try your hand at painting furniture, Alley Cat Décor sells everything you need to do so. They carry Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan, Miss Mustard Seed® Milk Paint and all the tools, accessories and inspiration you need to create something unique and beautiful. Both types of paints have very low (or no) VOCs, are easy to use, come in a wide variety of colors and produce gorgeous results.
- Workshops – it was crucial for Jeanne that they would have a studio space for hosting regular workshops. She and her staff teach several different fun and educational workshops (including one for kids and parents) centered on transforming furniture with paint. You can also book a private party/custom workshop for a special event or group get-together. The team will work with you to come up with creative, fun activities tailored to the occasion. According to Jean, for these private events they will “teach two techniques, choose one and then paint whatever makes sense for the group. If going away maybe everyone paints a picture frame for the couple that’s moving away. If it’s a baby shower, you could paint a footstool, frame and a bench.
- Interior Design Services – Alley Cat Décor offers residential interior design services for projects of all sizes. According to the website, their “relaxed, friendly, and budget conscious approach to interior design makes the process of working with one our designers stress free.” Nohalty said that these services include something “as simple as a color consult. I’ll come into a client’s home and see paint splotches that they say have been there for 6 months to a year. Paint is really hard. We want the shop to be known as a resource. A place where we can take out all the fuss, simplify the process and make it fun. I really believe that what you have in your living space, while they are material items, are meaningful to people and your home is where you create memories. Everything that you look at really does affect how you feel.”
#3 The space itself was a restoration project
The storefront at 715 Lake Street was home to Peterson’s pharmacy for 85 years until they closed in July 2014. In the meantime Jeanne had been searching for a spot for Alley Cat Décor and happened to see that it was available when driving by. “All the windows were covered. I peeked in and I could see the built-ins and that’s when I started salivating. With the built-ins and the high ceilings it kind of has a woodshop/industrial feel to it. We are the first tenants in the space. It’s really a special thing. We painted the built-ins using our chalk paint. These are the original pharmacy desks. We painted one and left one unfinished, we thought it would be fun for people to see it. The two desks were originally in front and they had candy under the glass. People who grew up in Oak Park, they remember it. This is so symbolic of what we do. We were very happy that we were able to keep so much of what was here,” she said.
#4 Community is very important
Jeanne and her husband moved to Oak Park in 2008 when she was pregnant with her first daughter. It has been a great fit with her values: “it’s a vibrant, diverse community. There is an urban flair with great restaurants, shopping and culture. People are very progressive in their thinking and I appreciate that. They have more on their mind than what car they’re going to drive. It’s full of very creative people that really embrace the arts.”
Since they moved from the city she has been actively involved in the community, most recently serving as the Co-chair for the 2014 Pilgrim Community Nursery school benefit. It was very important for Jeanne that community be an integral part of Alley Cat Décor. One of the key ways they’re doing this is through the workshops – they are a fun way to bring to life the essence of the shop – creativity, community and love of home.
#5 The first step to being more creative is to edit (and hooks)
Jeanne feels the first step to truly allowing yourself to be creative and create a space you love is to edit. “Get rid of the clutter. People hang on to a lot of things they really don’t need. Maybe you need someone objective standing next to you as you get rid of things. Everything should have its place. I love organization,” she said. “It really helps you be more creative and create a sense of Zen and I think we could all use a little more Zen. It’s really just about being thoughtful, smart and hooks. I’m obsessed with hooks. It sounds so simple and obvious but I can’t tell you how many rooms I’ve been in where I say if we could just have a few more hooks here.”
Alley Cat Décor & Design Collective is located at: 715 Lake Street, 708-948-9320, www.oakparkalleycat.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, store is open Tues-Saturday 9:00-5:00 and late on Thursday 9:00 AM -9:00 PM.