Petaluma’s Catstudio makes products that evoke nostalgia and a sense of home
What place stirs up nostalgic feelings of good times and joyful memories? Is it your home state or town, a favorite vacation spot, your alma mater?
Wherever your happy place happens to be, a Petaluma-based design studio has probably made a pillow to commemorate it.
From Vail, Colorado to the Mississippi Coast, Kansas City to Queens, Catstudio is all over the map with whimsical pillows, drinking glasses, kitchen towels and other home accessories that pay homage to the places people love.
Founders Carmen and Terrell Swan have created a singular look with map designs that evoke nostalgia and tell stories about cherished places. Each is crowded with iconography that makes them as appealing to locals as to vacationers who may pick one up as a travel souvenir.
“It’s like an ode to these places,” said Terrell Swan, a tall, bearded promoter of fun. The Swans’ studio, set in an industrial area in north Petaluma, is a warren of offices, workspaces and storerooms bulging with crazy art, books, toys, posters, random ephemera and tchotchkes and stacks and stacks of products alphabetically arranged and ready to ship around the country.
The couple started with two hand-embroidered maps to commemorate the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. They proved so popular that the Swans, who at the time had their own clothing company, decided to devote themselves to making an ever-expanding line of pillows with designs inspired by the kitschy souvenirs so common in the 1930s and 1940s.
They opened Catstudio — a melding of their names — in 2000. Twenty years later their colorful catalog has grown to more than 300 geographical locations and 71 colleges from the University of Alabama to Yale. They also have added an array of other products such as zip pouches, thermal bottles and fine art prints.
These probably are not what you’re going to place in a formal living room. But they do make playful accessories for a vacation home or cabin, a vintage travel trailer, a motor home, a family room, a den, a summery porch or patio, a kitchen, a casual bedroom or even a college dorm room.
Celebrities such as Leonard DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Martha Stewart, Lionel Ritchie and Taylor Swift have been seen with whimsical hand- embroidered Catstudio pillows.
Like playing a game of Where’s Waldo, the Swans love spotting their designs on social media, in design magazines and on screen. Southern Living featured a Catstudio textile of Charleston put to use as a placemat. Popular blogger and TV star Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, photographed baking ingredients on a Texas dish towel. Pillows have adorned the sets of The Bachelor and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. In a Country Living feature on Carrie Underwood and her favorite things, the singer/songwriter singled out a Catstudio pillow of Oklahoma that included her native Muskogee.
Although some locations are more popular than others, all 50 states are commemorated with a pillow. Locals who want to show their Northern California pride can choose from Sonoma, Marin or Napa counties; the North Coast, Petaluma, Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Golden Gate Park, Carmel and Big Sur.
The geographical theme comes naturally to both Terrell and Carmel. She says she was practically born in a plane flying back and forth from Honolulu to San Francisco. Terrell took his first trip overseas on a ship to Europe before he could walk. They have spent their lives separately and together on wanderlust and even fell in love on a road trip through the great geographical landmarks of the West in 1985.