Anna Griffin

{Excerpted from speech given at Southern Lady Magazineís "Southern Lady Celebration"}

The thing all of my designs have in common is...well, a layer of dust—I take old things and reinterpret them for today. Itís like repurposing, only with ideas.

I love old things, the older the better. My friends say I like how things look through 3 panes of dirty glass.

Hell, even my ex-husband was an antique—he was 20 years older than me!

Whether I am designing an invitation or a tote bag, I am always inspired by the past in general. But it is my past, in particular my relationship with my mother and grandmother, that really helped inform my design aesthetic and just generally make me the person I am today.

So, to tell you about how my business started, we have to go much further back than my design school graduation and tenure at Vera Wang, much further back, to two houses in a tiny town called Marshville, NC, that were separated by 4 feet and a tall row of boxwoods. One house was my great grandmotherís (this was the one I grew up in). The other was my grandmotherís, where I unofficially Ďstudiedí the art of being a proper Southern lady.

You know how little kids muse about what theyíll be when they grow up? Fireman...ballerina...what did you want to be—just shout them out—[pause for responses] well, I knew what I wanted to be—an entrepreneur (yeah, try explaining that one to your third grade class!). What I spent my time contemplating was what kind of business I would start. Itís only natural, considering my family tree abounded with entrepreneurs...well, entrepreneurs and artists (which answers in part how I came to this "kind" of business). I grew up in a very visual world, my mother was an artist and my aunt is an artist and both of my grandparents majored in art. I was always encouraged to notice my surroundings in a way that most people did not. I see the details first.

Growing up in my Great Grandmotherís house, surrounded byall of her things that had been passed down to my father, helped form my love of antiques and collecting. I really appreciated how every little thing had a story behind it. It seemed unnatural visiting friendsí houses that lacked the history so imbued in mine. Even as an adult, I find immense comfort in surrounding myself with things that have tales to tell—this has definitely carried over into my business. After I started my company, I kept thinking about the beautiful blue toile curtains that hung so regally in my grandfatherís room and was ultimately inspired to create some of my first notecards. When the cards became best sellers, I felt such a sense of pride—like I was paying homage to my roots. Much to my surprise, Scalamondrie had reprinted the antique pattern, so now I have new curtains that hang in a guestroom of my house, reminding me each time I pass them of the best seller my grandparents helped me create.

When I asked my Dad to tell me what he remembers most about me in those formative years, he said he used to tell me, "Stop running in the house!" but that was my normal mode of transportation from one end of the house to the other. Of course I did other things I shouldnít have as well, like practicing dribbling a basketball with such fervor that I knocked the prisms off the chandelier. I even roller-skated in our den to the beat of Disco Ď76. When my mother could corner my sister and I, she had us doing every craft known to man at our kitchen table. We would iron crayons between wax paper to make cool designs, we would bake shrinky dinks in the oven, we made Christmas ornaments and dyed Easter eggs, I learned to cross stitch at the age of 7 and to knit my own sweater at age 17. I made so many macramť owls and planters that I could have been a set designer for That 70ís Show. It all paid off in the end.

Living next door to my Grandparents was the best because my Grandmother (who is now 97 and lives in Hilton Head) cooked 3 meals a day from scratch for my Grandad, so if I didnít like what we were having for dinner, I had another choice just through the hedge. As she was the ultimate Southern cook, I could join my Grandmother for fried chicken and the most melt-in-your-mouth delicious corn bread every Sunday. She would make applesauce from fresh picked apples in her yard and let me run to the garden and pick the ear of corn I would have for dinner. Talk about local produce! When she wasnít working in her vegetable garden, or pruning her roses, my Grandmother was schooling me on the decorative arts—from flower arranging to faux finishing. She wasnít just a pretty face and homemaker, though, she was a smart cookie—she even ran the town newspaper. I donít know another soul who knows as many Latin names for plants or who could hold court over a dinner party as effortlessly as my grandmother.

Itís from my great-grandmother that I developed my passion for botanical prints. At the base of the stairs, among other places in our house, were the 18th century Lady Lowen prints that I absentmindedly passed thousands of times as a child. Itís funny to think that these days I spend so much time searching and collecting prints like those. I suppose I am drawn to their beauty now because I am able to appreciate it on my own.

Oh, and the antiques in her house, I definitely developed a love and respect for antiques at an early age. While most children feared the forbidden antique rugs and upholstered chairs, I had an admiration for them. I slept in a four-poster bed five feet off the ground and stored my cheerleading pompoms on an antique Sheridan breakfront while other kids slept in bunk beds and tossed their clothes with reckless abandon. You would never find clothes strewn about in my room, I knew at an early age the importance of what surrounded me and never dared to obscure their beauty with my clutter and dirty laundry.

My grandmother may not have had her own magazine or line at K-mart, but I think that I lived next to an honest to goodness Martha Stewart. I have to hand it to her, she cultivated my passion for collecting and decorating.

I didnít pay enough attention to the Latin names of all those beautiful plants and shrubs in her yard, nor did I retain every provenance on each antique that she said someday would be mine, but I did develop a love for all things old—the people and things that have come before—andI have turned that love into what I do for a living.

Click to read full speech


Anna Griffin of Anna Griffin, Inc.


Speech consultation (guest speaker at the Southern Lady Magazineís "Southern Lady Celebration")