7 questions with Kelley Sandidge, founder of mid-century modern store Hip Haven

A graphic card with an image of Kelley Sandidge

Photo provided by Kelley Sandidge

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Twenty years ago, Austinite Kelley Sandidge was on the front edge of both entering the e-commerce landscape and bringing back mid-century modern style.

Since her home goods business Hip Haven opened in 2002, it has gained national acclaim and her signature planters have been sold in stores across the US and internationally.

And now, two decades later, she wants to refocus on Austin.

Hip Haven’s 20th anniversary party is this Saturday, so we spoke with Kelley to learn more about her plans to celebrate + how she hopes to expand her local presence.

How would you characterize your journey to Hip Haven?

It has been a winding road. I had a background in children’s museum exhibit design and building so that provided me with some technical experience with fabrication and materials. Following that, I worked for several years in interior design-related sales and design consulting. Added to that, I was a serious enthusiast and collector of mid-century furniture and accessories. At the time, they weren’t as insanely popular as they are now.

I discovered these planters on eBay that had this egg shape on a tripod, and I just thought it was a charming shape. But they were very rare to find, and when you did find them they would escalate in price because people loved them so much. I thought ‘You know, this is something I could make, because I know I have the skills to do this.’ And I realized that other people would want them, too.

It really started out as a hobby, where I was selling them on eBay. And then progressively, I kept moving to more sophisticated technologies … ever since then, I’ve been selling that same molded fiberglass planter.

How have you seen e-commerce change since you founded Hip Haven?

[I founded Hip Haven] right at the dawn of e-commerce really kicking in. At that point, there weren’t a lot of out-of-the-box e-commerce solutions, so you really had to create one with your own web design. It was the Wild West era for boutique sized companies doing online sales.

It’s interesting to reflect on how quickly everything changed. Every couple of years, I would up the sophistication level and try to adopt any of the new developments in technology. And it got easier and easier to reach the online shoppers. It took a lot of energy and effort to get here, but it was all enjoyable — I really still like what I’m doing and I still love the products.

A close-up image of Hip Haven's signature egg-shaped planter.

Sandidge’s signature Retro Bullet Planter is the product that launched Hip Haven. | Photo provided by Kelley Sandidge

What major milestones do you think helped Hip Haven reach where it is today?

I’d say that first press hit was a motivator. [I thought,] ‘If this is going to merit the attention of the opening pages of “Lucky” magazine, then I really need to take it seriously.’

Additionally, I collaborated with a friend with a parallel business, and we did a trade show at a market in Dallas together. I received my first wholesale order for a couple of dozen of [my planters,] which at the time seemed like a major deal. It was a big, big deal. And now of course it seems kind of quaint.

Can you tell us the background of your signature product, the retro bullet planter?

It’s a reproduction of an idea from the mid-century era — an egg-shaped bowl in a tripod. There was no one single design or company making them — they were made by multiple companies. … I just created a design that was a hybrid of those aspects I liked the best, the size and the configuration.

I brought it back to life and took care of all the trademarking and the necessary things, and people were really happy to have that accent as an option again. Because when you design a great, mid-century style space with furnishings, you really want those side accents to complete the look. And people really enjoyed them.

Mid-century style is making a comeback right now. Did you anticipate that resurgence when you opened Hip Haven?

I did not anticipate it would become so mainstream. At the time, it was a niche interest, but it was such a passionate niche that there was enough business. The people that liked it really liked it, and they really wanted the classic pieces to go with it. … We’ve just kept making them, and people keep wanting them.

When we branched into lighting, that was exciting. It’s such a fertile ground for product design, because lighting has so many possibilities. I think of it as being like shoes or jewelry for a space. You can go crazy with color and configurations. I’ve really enjoyed doing reproduction lighting, where I’m imitating [mid-century] style, but I’ve also made some completely original designs that look like they could have been from that time period. Our lighting division is just as exciting to me as the planters, but you know, all the designs are like children to me, and that’s coming from someone who does have an actual human child.

Sandidge standing in the Hip Haven showroom.

Hip Haven’s 20th anniversary party will include live music, a discount on products, and vintage pop-up shops. | Photo provided by Kelley Sandidge

Do you feel like there was a community in Austin interested in this style when you started?

I do. And again, I was content at that time to work with a more niche market, you know, a smaller audience because I was small and I could keep up with their demands. But there were always people here in Austin who were interested. And in the early days, because I had been interacting with the design community, a lot of my contacts from that world were very supportive. They were all really pulling for me.

Interestingly, because I was web-based, I probably didn’t take advantage of the Austin market to the degree that I should have, could have. And that’s actually something I’m trying to change now, at this unusual juncture at 20 years. I’m realizing that because I finally have the space and the bandwidth to think more about my Austin market — and it’s really untapped, it’s so large now and there’s so many people that would be interested in this — it’s long overdue for me to really put some time into connecting with Austin people.

How do you plan to do that?

I am trying to open up more opportunities for face-to-face contact. I’m not quite ready to have regular store hours, but we are always available by appointment and in a very easy to find location with good parking. And we are going to start doing regular open house events, where you can come and go, where people can buy our stuff without making an appointment.

And this party we’re going to have for 20 years is kind of the kickoff for that idea. … We are excited to do more to communicate with our Austin audience and make ourselves available to them and show them what we do. So, we’re hoping that this is the start of a new chapter in that way.

Event details:

Hip Haven’s free + public 20th Anniversary Party will take place at 3910-C Warehouse Row from 3-9 p.m. on Sat., April 23.

The first half of the event will take place from 3-6 p.m., and include:

  • 15% off goods from Hip Haven’s pop-up shop
  • Vintage decor + clothing pop-up shops
  • Vintage cars for viewing
  • Food, drink, and music
  • Door prizes

The second half of the event will take place from 6-9 p.m., and include:

  • Live music by 3 Balls of Fire
  • A debut art exhibit in the Warehouse Gallery
  • Cake and bubbly

Are you ready to party? Register online here.

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