Small Business: Spotlight on Walrus

I am so excited to bring to the blog my next featured small business!  In case you missed the first in the Spotlight series, visit this link to learn more. I knew immediately after I got off the phone with Camille and Wendy that we were going to hit it off.  When I visited their storefront, I was immediately struck by their passion and their creativity.  Camille and Wendy are the proud co-owners of Walrus, a local shop devoted to refurbishing and upcycling goods.  Camille and Wendy's adorable shop is located in a hip little block of Oakland, CA known as Temescal Alley.  With a storefront that was once a horse stable and carriage house, you automatically sense the history and charm of this little city block that houses other shops and local artists.

I enjoyed getting to know more about how Camille and Wendy work and their philosophy on why they do what they do.

You’ve recently started your business together.  Tell us about Walrus and how it came to fruition.

Well, actually, Walrus, was originally called Claremont Finders Keepers.  Wendy and I are neighbors living in a duplex on Claremont Avenue.  We were always seeing one another paint our latest finds in our shared backyard, and one day Wendy said, "Let's go into business together."  So we did! At first we sold our upcycled furniture on Etsy, Craigslist, and at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair.  And quite by accident, we stumbled upon an opening at the fantastic Temescal Alley location.  Not only was the location perfect, the rent is very reasonable, so we took a leap of faith and opened our teensy shop together.  With our new shop, we needed a new name.

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What kinds of qualities are you looking for when you are out searching for vintage pieces or other goods to refurbish?

Quality materials, number one.  We like our furniture to be made of solid wood or metal (we have a no laminate or engineered wood policy).  Things literally are not made the way they used to be, so we feel good saving a quality piece of furniture from demise.  Maybe a piece only needs to have a drawer fixed or the finish is bad.  When you have pieces of furniture that have stuck around for 50 or 60 years, it's a safe bet it will be around for another half decade or more.  You can't say that about IKEA stuff.

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How do you collaborate with new clients to create a piece that is uniquely customized just for them?  How involved are they in the process?

We once had a client who inherited this great, rustic table when she bought a house.  But the wood was mottled with little holes.  She has kids and didn't feel like it was a good surface to color or do homework on.  And wiping spaghetti sauce off it would have been a nightmare!  We filled the tiny holes with wood putty and worked with her to find inspiration pics (Pinterest!) to paint it like a farmhouse table.   She loved it and got a whole new table for a fraction of the price it would take to buy a brand-new one.

Your studio is located in a fantastic location surrounded by other local artists.  This must be a wonderful source of daily inspiration.  Where else do you find inspiration?

We find our inspiration everywhere really.  We're both really into decorating magazines and share our subscriptions with one another once we've read them.  We tear things out and put them on the wall in our studio.  We also get inspiration from shops in town.  Anthropologie is a huge inspiration to us because they often cobble pieces of things together to make something entirely new, much like we do.  I am a Pinterest addict, so there's that too.

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Having a business partner to bounce ideas off of and share responsibilities must be a great collaborative process.   What are some other ways you’ve found your partnership to be beneficial to your business?

We so often say that we wouldn't have done this without one another.   It takes a lot of heart and a lot of guts to open a new business, and our hats go off to folks who do it solo!  Wendy's strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.  Wendy is a great salesperson and she's very business oriented.  She keeps the books, seeks out the important contacts, and really powers through projects.  Wendy is not afraid to try new things either; she is always seeking to learn something new.  I am the researcher, writer, photographer, blogger, and pragmatist.  When something stumps us, like how best to strip a difficult variety of paint or disassemble a pallet,  I'll find the tutorial or explanation online.  I also take all the photos of our projects and document them on our blog and for Etsy.   I like to think of myself as the art director, though really we both enjoy coming up with new ideas for how to transform our latest ugly-duckling piece into something new and different.

I know you both have young children, and it can be tricky trying to “fit it all in” each day.  What are some tips/tricks you can share that you’ve found helpful in maintaining balance between work and family?

To be honest, we're still working on that.  Before we opened the shop, we had complete flexibility in our work schedules, though we did try to stick to working during times our kids were in school/daycare.  Having the responsibility of running a shop is a whole different ball game, but one of the reasons we chose our location is that many other shop owners have kids and bring them to work. The kids can run around the Alley together -- it's very community oriented.  We've also become much more efficient as working moms. I know we both do a lot of the business side of work after our kids go to sleep at night.    And if we have even a free 10 minutes, we use it to sand a piece or put another coat of paint on something. It's all about using the tiny bits of time we can get.

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Finally, tell us about one of your favorite or most interesting refurbishing projects you’ve worked together on so far.

You know what's funny?  We each take charge of our own projects or work on them individually through completion.  I don't think we've done something together since that table I mentioned.  But we take a lot of comfort in creating a schedule so that we can work together.   Wendy will hold the fabric in place while I upholster a chair cushion.   I'll hold a piece of wood in place while Wendy tries to take off a difficult bolt.  It's that support which really makes our partnership work.

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More about Camille and Wendy, and where you can find them both in real life and on the web:

Before becoming a stay-at-home mom and then co-owner of Walrus, Camille taught pre-algebra to 7th graders.  An interior design fanatic, Camille does some design work on the side while keeping tabs on it through her blog, The Vintique Object.  She lives in Oakland, California with her preschool aged twins and husband.

Before becoming a stay-at-home mom and then co-owner of Walrus, Wendy designed and built wetlands and researched  vernal pool ecology.  She loves to build new things and save old things, which her new business lets her do to her hearts delight.  Wendy lives in Oakland, California with her 6 year old son Walrus, her 3 year old daughter Yvgenia, her husband, 5 chickens, two cats, and a tank full of fish and snails.

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Special Offer!

Camille and Wendy have graciously offered my readers here a 10% discount on anything in their shop throughout the month of February!  Just be sure to mention "Lori Fuller Photography sent me!"  Thanks Camille and Wendy!

Store location:

470G 49th Street

Oakland, CA 94609


Contact:  |  (415) 265-3238