by Jean-Bernard Hyppolite
Angela Heithecker and Tom Brubaker, both 40-something, opened HOBNOB Design, 7916-18 Germantown Ave., 12 years ago with well-crafted, colorful handbags, rugs and all kinds of unique items. “Angela actually made the handbags out of vintage fabric,” said Tom.
“The name came from a brainstorming session with friends. We were looking for a vintage word that conveyed fun and socializing, having a good time.”
A customer cruising thru HOBNOB may catch an item from a flea market like a plaque of a marlin head or a carnival wheel. It’s easy to appreciate the design of a rug or the beauty of a craft, but after hearing the back story behind certain items, there’s a new appreciation for the creation of something as simple as a doormat. Under the front table a few feet away from the entrance lies a group of mats that are derived from “float ropes.”
Float ropes are outlawed in Maine due to the harm the material caused to sea life. One couple saw mounds of this type of rope (enough to fill an entire store), and instead of letting it stay around, they weaved it into doormats that are sturdy, never lose color and maintain a long lifespan. Angela proceeds to mention a client she represents named Beehive Kitchenware. “It’s from a couple that lives in Fall River, MA. They’re making all sorts of metal-ware.”
Tom and Angela specialize in two separate fields. Angela focuses on creative aspects such as color consultations, buying and interior work, while Tom handles marketing and other business-related aspects. “It’s a classic ‘artist meets business,’ and that clash occurs, and we’ve dealt with it for more than 12 years,” said Tom “I’ve learned to be more flexible and less regimented. I think Angela’s learned through the process that there has to be some order, planning and structure if something is going to go off the way we want to go off …” Angela added that Tom has become “less nagging” as well.
Angela’s desire to continually collect vintage fabrics without knowing exactly what she was going to create with them is a major reason why HobNob still exists today. “Starting the business was fueled by me wanting to continue collecting vintage fabric. I would buy the bulk of whatever I found without knowing what I was going to make out of it. Tom was going a little crazy … I almost had a room full of fabric, so I decided to make something functional with it.”
After majoring in metals and graduating from the Crafts Department at the University of The Arts in Philadelphia (formerly PCA), Angela tried her hand at fashion accessory design and then spent five “great years” working in the Philadelphia studio of Galbraith & Paul. Following the birth of her second child, she decided to begin creating handbags from her vast collection of vintage fabrics — and HOBNOB was born.
Angela gained a following by selling her items through boutiques, traveling to locations in the Northeast. One of her first shows was at the Chestnut Hill Spring Flower Festival several years ago. After a while the constant travel became too stressful. “Basically I was setting up a store every time I did a show. I was setting up a boutique and breaking it down. It just wasn’t what I wanted to continue doing.”
Angela ended up having her handbags featured at Artisans on the Avenue, where she found success. After realizing that perhaps designing handbags wasn’t enough, Angela tapped into interior design, and ended up representing other clients both locally and nationally, along with selling her own designs. “Transformation has always been a part of my creative process — using vintage buttons, antique tie-silk and long-forgotten hand-sewing methods to create special handbags. My creative process has now expanded into transforming domestic interiors.”
“One of the things we do is search flea markets, thrift stores and yard sales for furniture that has some great bones. They’ve got great legs, the wood is strong, typically mid-century and earlier,” added Tom. The couple have the found furniture reupholstered and rehabilitated, creating one-of-a-kind items.
“It’s typically hard to see past a condition in items that people have loved for years but which are worn out and falling apart,” said Tom, “but Angela has a great eye to be able to see something and envision it in maybe a certain fabric or in a different way. And once it’s re-purposed like that or reupholstered, it’s something people really want and are willing to pay for.”
Angela, originally from Buffalo, NY, earned a BFA in Metals at the University of the Arts and took additional courses in interior design at Philadelphia University. Tom, originally from Lancaster, PA, went to school for business at Eastern University and did graduate work at Drexel. The couple, married for 22 years, currently live in Mt. Airy. They have two children, Celia and Owen, the former in 8th grade and the latter in 11th grade, both at Germantown Friends School. For more information, visit www.hobnob-design.com or call 215-313-8441.