I love storytelling. I'm pretty sure it's a part of my DNA, as my mom has told me that when I was a wee tot, I would entertain patients with my stories at the local blood bank where she worked as a nurse. So today I have a story to share with you: it's a story of an incredible renovation of a historic space. It's the story of a woman who conceived of starting her own business, along with her firstborn son and a set of twins, all in the span of a couple of years. It's the story of a love for vintage treasures. And it's the story behind one of my all-time favorite companies, eeBoo. Last week, I was lucky to have the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the eeBoo studio, and sit down with the founder and creative director of eeBoo, Mia Galison. If you're new to eeBoo, this company is a rare gem in the sea of generic plastic toys you often find for the kiddos. Click here to browse through eeBoo's fantastic collections of illustrated puzzles, cards, learning games, flashcards, and more. I'll also be linking to some of my favorites below.
What an incredible space to work in, right?! Here's the story behind this glorious 5000+ square foot studio, set on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The eeBoo team has only been in this studio for about a year. Before then, Mia and her crew of illustrators and designers worked in a basement and a cramped apartment that doubled as an office.
This space was a ballroom once upon a time. Later, it became a Japanese restaurant, which was raided shortly after Pearl Harbor. Then, the space sat empty for a long time. When Mia and her husband Sax found the space, there were no visible skylights, and those back windows you see (in the photo above) were not there. The space was just enormous and screaming potential. The skylights were an amazing discovery found on a hunch when they excavated during the renovation. The ceilings in the studio are loft-high to start, and these skylights cast a noticeable sunny glow on the space and seem to push off that feeling of being trapped inside (that most offices channel). The schoolhouse lights hanging from the ceiling are from a lucky eBay score (Mia bought 16 of these lights for just $8 a piece!!).
Down the stairs, Mia's husband has an equally stunning studio. You've probably seen Saxton Freymann's work — he's the designer behind the produce art of Play with Your Food. Mia and Sax share a love of hunting for vintage finds, and they regularly hit up the 26th Street flea market in Manhattan (Mia has memories of shopping there as a kid.) They regularly travel to flea markets in the Northeast, and near their home in upstate New York. One of Mia's favorites: the Madison Bouckville flea market. That's on my calendar for next year! Mia outfitted the eeBoo studio with antique pieces that all tell a story. I was blown away by the vintage furniture: cabinets with lovely drawers, schoolhouse chairs, and even a 1930s purple sink in the kitchen! After all the costs of renovation, they had to live without some upgrades. Mia brought in a bunch of big fans to keep the space cool, as air-conditioning was not in the budget.
Rather than cubicle walls, gorgeous Asian rugs define each employee's space (and they each got to choose which rug they wanted!). Mia wanted to tie in a design element as an ode to the studio's former life as a Japanese restaurant. While the rugs technically originate from China (not Japan, as you can't find large Japanese area rugs!), the rugs do capture the vibe from that corner of the globe. The lovely mirror panels on the wall are original to the space. Mia added the custom built-in shelving. Here's a peek at Mia's workspace.
And not surprisingly, the creatives behind eeBoo have set up an inspiration wall. The wall is filled with bits of products and concepts they're working on for the future (think 2010), plus images, prints, lettering, and Pantone color chips to spark the imagination. A single gameboard takes a couple designers multiple weeks to get ready for printing. Their attention to detail — deciding on just the right color orange for an illustration or the shape of a game piece — is remarkable. You'd think the eeBoo team was designing for the President, rather than six-year-old kids.
I absolutely LOVE these paper birds that eeBoo will be debuting in January.
And Mia walked me through some of her favorite eeBoo pieces, a few of which are loving recreations of some vintage games she found along the way.
This cool Space Game (from the 1950s) and these matching cards inspired a couple eeBoo products. Mia loves simple. classic games with artsy illustrations.
That's Mia Galison on the right, working with Brenda, her design director. It's impossible to talk to Mia and not hear her passion for her work. She's always had a love of making things, and she created a company that lets her do what she loves to do on a full-time basis. The design aesthetic of eeBoo is not meant for the shelves of Toys 'R Us. But that's the beauty of it. Mia works hard with her team to create products and games that get kids learning and capture a little wonder and affection from children (and adults alike.) She works equally hard to find specialty shops around the world where eeBoo games are a fit. The company itself seems to be run similar to the smallest mom + pop shop, and there's a revolving door of friends and her kids popping by the studio. Mia and Sax each have their own businesses, yet in this shared space, Sax just walks upstairs to sort out the kids' schedules with Mia.
It's easy to be blown away (even a smidge jealous) when you see a space like the eeBoo studio. But what's also clear in talking to Mia: no business starts out successful. Mia's first few years were anything but easy. She created eeBoo, had a kid, and a year later had twins. She never took a maternity leave, and the first five years of the business were filled with worrying about money and complete exhaustion. But you also get the sense that it was all worth it. The entrance to eeBoo (see first photo) has several shelving units displaying the 15-year-old company's full line. (Mia said she's clocked 8 months in the Javitz Center if you add up the time for all the trade shows she's done!) Here's a list of just a few of my favorites from eeBoo:
+ these Valentine sets are coming out this January!
+ fun illustrated maps of the U.S.
+ super bingo games
+ fantastical notebooks
+ classic spinner games
+ flashcards that really teach
+ advent calendars that sparkle with glitter
+ my all-time favorite alphabet wall cards — so sweet!
I'll leave you with one of Mia's favorite things in the studio: this creepy kind of cool Mother Goose mask mold she has in her workspace. I love it.
A giant thank you to Mia, Roisin, Sax, and the eeBoo crew for letting me invade their space with my camera and questions for an afternoon! It was so fun seeing where all the creative eeBoo magic comes from! I hope you enjoy your incredible space for many years to come!