Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Lindsay Stephenson

This week we chat with Lindsay Stephenson, a freelance graphic designer who runs her own show over at The Penny Paper Co. When she's not dazzling us with her alphabet prints, personalized stationary and calling cards, we stalk Lindsay's Little House Blog. She's also a guest blogger for Style at Home Magazine and Mom to one year-old Oscar.

Why did you choose to go into design?
I never actually chose my career – it just all kind of happened casually over time. I grew up being exposed to mixing computer + art from a very young age as my Dad gave me a graphic tablet when I was 5. In 1984, a computer - let alone a graphic tablet was a rare thing in households. Fast forward to now, I adore computer graphics for the immediacy of the art form, and being able to explore different colours and styles with being non committal. Quite literally, the ability to press the undo button and start over are a perfect mix for my personality. I’m somewhat impatient and very creative, so computer graphics allowed me to test and create freely without feeling as though there was a commitment to one design, as if I were doing an oil painting or a sketch.

Where did you go for college/university and what did you study?
I went to Trent University and majored in Cultural Studies. I look back on those 4 years with great fondness for the professors, the university setting, the friendships and the life lessons I learned. I went to University to not find a career path, but to take the time to engross myself in learning. I chose Cultural Studies as it touched upon subjects I found interesting. To have that experience and to learn topics I found interesting is something I’ll forever be grateful for.

How did you get your first job in the field?
I had worked for a retail store throughout high school and university (during summer vacations). The summer before my final year at university, I saw a posting for a Summer position at their head office helping with their web team doing web graphics. Although I had no training I knew enough about computer graphics from being self taught (remember the graphic tablet I got when I was 5) that it seemed like a great opportunity to try something new. I applied and was hired that summer to work at their head office.
That summer position worked out – a year later upon my graduation from university they had invited me to help start up their e-mail marketing division. It’s unheard of really, for someone straight out of University (with a cultural studies major) to land this kind of job, but my love of design and computers was evident, and my knowledge of the company from having worked there as a teenager, helped me fit right in. That job quickly blossomed into me doing all retail store display graphics, advertisements, a catalogue. I became the one stop creative person at the company.
That small summer position was the catalyst for the rest of my career. Jobs usually never end – they are a stepping stones to something else. I ended up learning a lot about web graphics and ecommerce from just that one summer job, which eventually gave me the knowledge to open my own online store,

Is there anything you would have done differently or advise others about?
I would have taken some time off between graduating from University and starting my job, it was something that I really regretted. I wish I would have travelled a little more before life started to move quickly!

What made you break out on your own and was it scary starting your own business?
I had what I call my “Quarter Life Crisis” two years into my “dream” job that I had right out of school. Sitting behind a desk Monday to Friday was making me feel creatively stifled and I couldn’t see the rest of my life doing this day after day. So although I loved the company, the lifestyle was not for me. Eventually my fiancĂ©e, Aubrey (now my husband) told me to just resign, and to take my time figuring things out and he’d support us. We had little financial responsibility so could take that huge risk at just trying “anything”. Once I knew I had the support of my (soon to be) husband and he just said “do whatever you want” the fear went away and I just went for it. It was terrifying not knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – the uncertainty was terrifying. But when I knew I had support from family – I knew it would be fine.

What are some of the perks of your job & what do you like best about it?
Flexibility – The flexibility to be creative and try new things without having to run it by a boss. And the flexibility with my daily schedule. I can spend time with my family whenever I want. I know that sounds silly but my husband works weekends (has Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays off) If I were in a Monday to Friday job, I would never see him. I also love the flexibility that we can move.

What is your typical day like?
I really don’t have a typical day which is kind of why I love my job. But I usually work in the mornings, and have someone watch Oscar until after his first nap, which is lunch time. After that, I shut down for the day and spend it with Oscar. When Oscar goes to bed in the evening, I return to my office and continue to work. I take great care to have set times – so that my clients get one on one attention, and then Oscar gets my full attention when I shut down for the day.
What are some disadvantages of your job, that maybe we don't think about?
It is probably the lack of stability in finances. Some months are crazy awesome, and then there are always slower months. After seven years I am a good judge of what months will be slow and busy - so I’m prepared for them, but you are still vulnerable to a lot of factors.

You also run a very successful interior design blog called 'Little House Blog'.  What advice can you give to other hip + urban girls about decorating their first places?
Any reader of my blog will know that I’m neurotic when it comes to decorating, so I’m likely not the best one to give decorating advice. ;) But anyways, here are some of my tips that I have followed in our house.

(1) Don’t buy sets of things [like a bedroom set that comes with matching side tables]. I think a home looks nicer when you have sourced furniture from different places.

(2) I personally think that anyone my age will likely change their style over the course of our lifetime, so buy big ticket items (like couches and chairs) in neutrals. You can personalize the room by changing up the throw pillows, art and even smaller less expensive chairs that are easy to replace a few years down the road. I don’t know many people that have the income to replace big ticket items - so if you buy a neutral piece you can update it as your tastes change with (inexpensive) accessories.

Where are your favourite places to hang out in Toronto? 
Since having Oscar I don’t get out much, Starbucks is my wild day out. But I recently dined at Mildred’s Temple and had their burger and it was so good I’ve been craving it ever since.

Best places to shop for affordable furniture?
Ikea. The trick with IKEA to pair it with things from elsewhere so your house has a more unique vibe to it. I go to IKEA for all of my frames, I’ve used their kitchen cabinets to make a seating bench in our kitchen, I’ve hacked their side tables .... I think every room in our house has IKEA.

Where would you go on your dream vacation?
London, England or Costa Rica.

What would you tell your 20 year-old self?
Invest in Apple Stock. ;)

What advice do you have for hip + urban girls trying to figure out what they want to do?
I think it goes back to my story about how I just took a chance and applied for that summer job doing web graphics for the retail chain I worked at. That summer job really was the tipping point for me – I developed skills while being paid to do it. So start small in a company that you like, work hard, and learn as much as you can from companies that are successful.
Twitter: @PennyPaperCo
Home Blog:

Photo Credit of Lindsay & Oscar: Tynan Studio

Loved this? Meet another Hip + Urban Girl of the week here!


  1. great post! Lindsay has one of the best blogs out there!

  2. great interview! lindsay's eye for design is always inspiring :)

  3. I paid Designwali and Whitney to say those nice things. Lisa, thank you for the feature! I was so flattered. ;) xo Linds

  4. Love this Lindsay! It was sooooo great learning your story and the steps that brought you to where you are now ;) You're fabulous and awesome! xo

  5. This was a great story! Really inspiring! Thanks for sharing!