Elbowgrease

Lauren Skunta is the owner of Elbowgrease Design. She creates custom displays and art installations. Read on to learn more about the lady behind the captivating designs.

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Growing up, what was your dream job?
I always knew I wanted to work in the arts but for as long as I can remember I thought that working in the arts and making any money meant a compromise from what I REALLY loved to do. I thought - well I could make money as an illustrator, a graphic designer, or a photographer but guess what? I hate being on a computer all day. So graphic design was out and there were plenty of reasons I wouldn’t have made it in careers that typically make money in the arts.  My dream job was (and still is) being able to make things with my hands all day.

An installation created by Lauren for the Open Air Art Museum in Holmes County. With help from Britni Cartier,  14,000 hand-dyed paint stirrers  were suspended from the trees over a hiking trail in November 2016.

An installation created by Lauren for the Open Air Art Museum in Holmes County. With help from Britni Cartier, 14,000 hand-dyed paint stirrers were suspended from the trees over a hiking trail in November 2016.

When and how did the idea for Elbowgrease come to you?
I was a display coordinator for Anthropologie in New York for a couple of years. I was working hard, stressing myself out, balancing budgets, putting together proposals, planning out calendars - and then it clicked. I thought “why don’t I go into business for myself if I’m already a one-woman department?” That job was the best training I could have received as a creative entrepreneur but if I’m going to care that immensely about my work, I’m going to do it as my own business.


"Put everything you have into your initial plan and be smart about your finances. that way, if success happens, you are there to catch it."


This paper headdress was originally worn by stilt walkers at The Knot Fashion Week Gala at the New York Public Library. Photo by Janelle Putrich

This paper headdress was originally worn by stilt walkers at The Knot Fashion Week Gala at the New York Public Library.
Photo by Janelle Putrich

What has been your greatest success since starting your own business?
I  would say adaptability has been my greatest success. Accepting almost all jobs that came my way and putting everything I had into them. When I first started out, it was mostly shippable backdrops. Then that turned into chandeliers, which required me to learn electrical skills. Then smaller items like escort cards, then site-specific art installations, then styling on photoshoots, then corporate art pieces. Everything has been a stepping stone and adapting to the work that was offered to me has been my key to staying afloat and moving forward.

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What is the best piece of business advice you have received?
I’m not sure who said it, but I’m sure I didn’t make it up- “Plan for success”. I’ve always thought that if you’re worrying about your back-up plan, your initial plan has already failed. What if you have some HUGE boost to your business happen and you can’t get out of that side-gig work to fulfill orders? Put everything you have into your initial plan and be smart about your finances, that way if success happens you are there to catch it.

What do you like most about your workspace?
My metal tables. A fellow lady-boss was throwing out two large square metal tables and I was lucky enough to receive them. I’ve made A LOT of random things on those tables and after I’m done with that project they are a blank canvas ready for the next project.

Photo by Janelle Putrich

Photo by Janelle Putrich

What characteristic do you most admire in other entrepreneurial women?
Badassery. Women who just are. They stick to their guns, they don’t get caught up in just “doing well for a woman-owned business.” They are concerned about being on top of the business game in general.  They support women, but they aren’t making it a competition among each other.

Photo by Olivia Richards Photography

Photo by Olivia Richards Photography

A window display created for a wedding reception. Each side showcases an animal that represents a piece of the couple's personal history. 

A window display created for a wedding reception. Each side showcases an animal that represents a piece of the couple's personal history. 

What piece of advice would you give to women starting their own businesses?
Have your living expenses for the next year in the bank before you even start. If you’re worried about finances you won’t be able to take opportunities that could advance your business.

What is something you could not go a day without?
Audio - I’m a sucker for listening to anything but music while I work. I have to listen to dialogue on a TV show or a podcast. There is something about conversation going on around me that I don’t have to participate in that allows my mind to zero in on the work I’m doing.

Name a woman, past or present, who you admire.
Frida Kahlo - I’ve always admired people who have a style, stick to it, and explore it deeply.