Beginning as a curious world devised by artist Michael Doyle, Apartment on Belmont was brought to life through a serendipitous meeting between Michael and designer, Samantha Wagner. Through their shared affinity for the oddities of the world and a belief that beautiful correspondence is an essential part of human connection, the pair collaborated on a line of cards, prints and accessories featuring Michael’s original artwork.
We visited Michael’s cozy West Seattle studio one summer morning and talked with this high-spirited, creative team.
Michael and Samantha tell us about your creative backgrounds. How did this collaboration come to be?
SW: Michael’s art has been a lifelong journey with specific focus over the last decade on honing his personal style and aesthetic. When we met I was working as a freelance art director after leaving my career in publishing. In retrospect our meeting feels quite fated. I was on a shoot for a local magazine client at the (now sadly closed) Rogers & Ryan store in South Lake Union when I came across Michael’s work for the first time. I was smitten with his fanciful, almost mischievous, style and impressed with the quirky subjects he chose for his cards. I had always wanted to do a line of stationery but felt that my strengths lay more in art direction and management rather than illustration. After a few months of emails back and forth I convinced Michael to do a commission for me for a holiday card. When he dropped off the painting to me, a quick chat revealed that he too had been looking for a partner with complementary skills for a stationery line, and well, the rest is history!
Michael, what does a day in the studio look like? Walk us through a typical morning.
MD: I like to approach my art as if it were a feral animal. When I get to my studio I act as if I have no intention of doing any art whatsoever and in most accounts you could say I avoid it. I fuss and tidy, I read magazines and old books. I make some tea and slowly coax myself towards my desk and very quietly start sketching out some images. As inspiration starts to flow, I build on each idea until it grows and usually have at least three projects going at one time. My discipline to work expires around three hours so I take lots of walks and coffee breaks and when it is time to wrap up for the day I leave a great big mess.
Samantha, tell us about your part in the creative process. How do you and Michael work together to develop the line?
SW: From the very beginning inspiration has flowed naturally between Michael and I. I remember our first mood board together was a truly shared expression of ‘yes, yes, I love that, yes!’ The line has always been rooted in sharing our passions and letting the Apartment On Belmont world unfold before us. Besides collaborating on inspiration I play a more technical role in the line. Michael works purely with pen, paint and paper. From there I take his work and I scan every piece. You never know when a seemingly insignificant little sketch will bloom into a larger idea. I then put together images based on his direction and together we finalize the line. I also curate our Instagram account with a mix of our work, our process and our inspirations.
Tell us about your major influences? Who are you currently following and/or inspired by?
SW: One of my biggest influences has always been Martha Stewart. She is an example of how constant evolution (even in light of big mistakes) can lead to a career well into your 70s.
Currently, from a brand/business perspective, I have been admiring Tuesday Bassen. She’s an immensely talented artist and businesswoman who has seemingly unending energy! I use her as a constant source of inspiration, especially when I need to get to work. Additionally, after a recent trip to the beautiful interiors store, Svenskt Tenn, in Stockholm I’ve also been devouring anything I can get my eyes on about the inspiring collaboration between designers Estrid Ericson and Josef Frank.
MD: I feel that Apartment On Belmont has become an abstract shrine to a nostalgic storybook world I have always wanted to live in. I would say that my biggest influences are the characters and creators of those stories such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Kay Gibbons, Zora Neale Huston, Sue Hubbell, Colette and Graham Green (to name just a few). Almost everyday I become obsessed with a new romantic throwback. Currently I cannot get enough of Vanessa Bell and the Bloomsbury Group.
What projects are you working on now? Tell us about your vision for the future of the brand.
SW: As our company grows we hope to broaden our reach and invite more people into the world we are creating. Our vision has always been to create an immersive world for our audience, a world brimming with quirky characters and beautiful, inspiring decoration and accouterment. While Apartment On Belmont is literally where Michael makes his home in Seattle, it also a figurative representation of a safe, welcoming and magical place with unending space for anyone who cares to stop by for an afternoon cup of tea.
MD: Samantha and I are working on some wrapping paper designs. It is a true form of collaboration where I sketch motifs and Samantha creates the patterns. We are very excited about this new work. We have grand dreams of creating wallpaper some day!