From ottomans, pillows and chairs, Nicole Crowder’s transformative custom home pieces have captured the attention of many, gracing the pages of Architectural Digest, Domino, Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes & Gardens and Elle Decor.
Now the Minneapolis furniture designer and upholsterer known for mixing vibrant colors and bold patterns is ready for the global market stage.
Crowder and the national retailer joined forces to recently launch the World Market x Nicole Crowder collection.
“Nicole’s approach to design caught our eye as we are always looking to bring eclectic, handcrafted pieces into our assortments,” said Terri Daniels, vice president of global merchandising and trends. “In addition to showcasing upholstery craftsmanship, his unique eye for color and pattern mixing on traditional silhouettes resonated with our brand.”
The limited-edition six-piece collection of chairs, convertibles, benches and ottomans is now available in-store and online. Pieces range from $249 (Malia Ottoman) to $1,499 (Denise Chaise Lounge).
Crowder said the upholstered pieces are meant to be stylish yet timeless enough that they can be passed down from one generation to the next.
“I was really inspired by this idea of creating new heirlooms that people could pass on to their families,” she said. “I wanted more color and color print. Even if it’s just in moderation with two different prints versus monochrome.”
Crowder has incorporated their signature style of bold colors and prints that are infused into shapely furniture. Although she usually sources prints, patterns and fabrics from other designers, she created her own for the World Market collection. Geometric shapes rule, although tropical themes can also be found.
A Marie tub chair features triangles in gray and yellow hues. The Erin Bench, a nod to mid-century modern, features an upholstered bench with a geometrically patterned dark blue and ivory cushion framed by an acacia wood seat and open, rounded shelves with golden capped feet.
Then there’s the Elaine loveseat, a curvaceous sofa, as well as the Malia storage ottoman, both adorned with banana leaf designs in a bold green hue.
“I really love geometric prints. It’s something that can ground you and I wanted something that wasn’t chaotic,” Crowder said. And “green is my favorite color for upholstery. I wanted to create a room that was an unapologetic pop of color that felt lush and inviting.”
Furniture as fashion
The collection matches his design philosophy that furniture should be designed for a catwalk – a cohesive collection with a strong editorial.
“I always consider chairs to be dressed,” she said. “They’re dressed for fashion and have a theme down the line.”
Crowder’s journey to becoming a furniture designer began in 2012. She was living in Washington, DC, at the time and dove deep into another craft she loved: photography.
“I was working as a photo retoucher when I discovered upholstery. The house I lived in had a lot of space to store furniture, so I started working on chairs, ottomans and benches,” a- she declared.
Crowder would shop antiques sales and Craigslist for chairs to reupholster and embellish. She taught herself through YouTube and through trial and error.
“I started selling at farmers’ markets,” she said. “That’s when I learned about the lack of upholsterers in the DC area and started winning clients.”
Before she knew it, Crowder was in high demand for reupholstering couches, loveseats, and other furniture. With business booming, Crowder rented a full-fledged studio. Eventually, she outgrew that studio and moved to a bigger one.
In June 2020, Crowder planned to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in furniture design and upholstery. But after visiting family and friends in Minnesota, she realized she wanted to come back and start her business outside of the Twin Cities.
“I grew up as a military kid. I was born in Germany and traveled to different countries and cities. Eagan is where I went to primary school before moving east” , she said. “The city has so much to offer in terms of the food scene and creations. It was more calming. I felt like I could just create.”
Opening the way
In September 2021, Crowder opened a studio in the Casket Arts carriage shed in northeast Minneapolis. Her 1,300 square foot studio is filled with upholstered pieces she’s created — sofas, chairs, decor — and more in the works.
In addition to the World Market collection, Crowder is working on a series of tablescapes as part of his personal collection – napkin rings, table runners, placemats and more. Additionally, she is in talks with a Canadian production company about a design show about the upholstery process.
Crowder said she was happy with her work for World Market, which is part of her Celebrating Designers of Color spotlight.
“They wanted my aesthetic and didn’t want me to change it or water it down. It allowed me to show my skills in a broader way. I could be as loud or as dynamic as I wanted and they thought that there was an audience for it,” Crowder said.
And she hopes the collaboration will be a springboard for other color designers.
“Having a black furniture designer at a major retailer like this is huge,” she said. “I hope it will open more doors for others.”