Love Your Way: Walnut Studiolo
by Ted Savage / August 8, 2012
What does it take to make the break from convention and follow your heart? Our crew of passionate iconoclasts have taken many paths - artisanal chocolate, radical local vodka, DIY electronic music machines, hand-crafted leather gear for your bike - to find their Way. So the question is, how DO you start earning your living by doing what you love...?

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Hand-tooling clever inventions in leather, working where you live, setting your own hours, charting your course as you please...what could be better? How about working in happy harmony, side by side with your life partner? By these fine standards, Walnut Studiolo's Geoffrey and Valerie Franklin have it all.

Geoff designs and fabricates clever accessories from high quality leather, like the Bicycle Seat Barrel Bag, Leather Bicycle Mud Flap, Pocket Pannier, and Cribbage Board Belt. Valerie collaborates throughout, and handles all the business. Their products, over 20 so far in the Walnut online catalog, are by and large new media hits, having taken off after coverage on blogs like Treehugger and Gizmodo. And it all happens from their home office and garage studio.

Of course, it wasn't always that way. The dream of working for themselves, from home, together, was on their mind from the beginning, from when they first started dating, but events had to take their ups and downs. Both did their time at five-year-plus jobs, he as an architect at a firm, she, an anthropologist by education, as a business project manager. A layoff on his side, an opportunity to work from home on hers, helped to pull it all together.

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Making the leap from designing bike gear for his own use, to taking it to the world, also came in stages, starting when Valerie placed some of Geoff's creations on Etsy, "your place to buy and sell all things handmade." That, along with sales and coverage from a display at a local bike fair in 2009, were initial proof of concept, and Walnut Studiolo was on its way.

Geoff's product design skills are naturally central. Walnut's work manages to consistently find an enthusiastic audience. Their first hit, the Reusable Leather 6-Pack, a six-bottle holder perfect for mix-and-match craft beer runs, now with optional Frame Cinch to attach it to your bike, took off after wide online coverage. Their latest, the Bicycle Frame Handle, just closed a financing run at Kickstarter, where approving crowd-investors kicked in six times more than the requested funding.

As a couple in business, Valerie and Geoff's secret to collaboration without collateral damage is in literally giving each other space. They each have a personal and private work retreat, set up exactly as they like, and while the other is welcome to drop in, both have a door they can shut. Simple plan!

Sounds easy? Besides weathering long hours, fragile economics, and general small business stress and strain, "I learned from jumping in cold that you almost have to manufacture self-confidence and then grow into it," says Geoff. "I knew we were on our way when I found myself happy while doing it."

Geoffrey and Valerie Franklin's Walnut Studiolo...we love your way.

Walnut Studiolo is based in Portland, Oregon.

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