Monday, September 15, 2014

insta-faves 04: 45 wall design

today i'm happy for two reasons. first of all, it's my 100th post! secondly, i get to bring you a new insta-fave. since beginning this blog, i can honestly say that this series of interviews with my favorite instagrammers is my absolute favorite of the things i've done. i continue to be in awe of the talent and art to be found on this little dear-to-our-hearts app, as well as the community of kind people there.

this morning i'd like you to meet someone who was my friend before instagram, but who i've really forged a deeper connection with through following each other there in the last few months. everyone, meet traci yau of 45 wall design. graphic designer, shop owner, wife, mom, and steward of one dapper cat. i just love her style, her feed, and truly, i love her, so i'm thrilled for you to get to know her a little bit today.

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asd: traci. thank you so much for branching out beyond only talking to dexter the cat today, and for chatting with me. i'm so excited you're here! i once described you as “the coolest person on instagram.” (this can be corroborated by a real human). you were the first person i ever followed, and for a long time the only person. i remember not really understanding what instagram was, and only knowing that every time i opened it, there was another really awesome picture by 45 wall design. (sorry i didn’t “like” them, by the way; i didn’t know there was a like button). i finally realized there were other people on there and other really awesome pictures, but yours remain at the top of my favorites.

45WD: Thank you Laura and I love you tons. I wish we lived closer to each other!

asd: me. too!! alright, i’m going to come at this interview in a bit of an alien brain-harvesting way. there are a lot of us who want to know the secret formula for how you make a 2x2 square look the way you can make it look, so i’m hoping you’ll be our mentor for a few minutes. when did you start using instagram, and how has it evolved for you over time?

45WD: Let’s see...I started playing around with it in 2010? Was it even around then? haha! I know not a lot of people were using it so I just sort of played with adding filters and then stopped because I didn’t really see the point. About a year later, a good friend of mine (Wendy Chung) encouraged me to give it another try and also encouraged me to follow people I admired. I started to be inspired by what I was seeing; my photos have really changed over time and my feed has become more clean and cohesive. I dropped the frames first, then stopped using the filters...especially when I found out about the VSCO app (a simple to use photo editing app) and figured out my voice and my point of view. I also really love the microblogging aspect of it and I’ve made some new friends too.

asd: in my world, you were the first person to ever do a ‘styled shot.’ give me a quick tutorial on how to compose a good one.

45WD: Really? Oh no! haha! As in most things I attempt, I sort of fly by the seat of my pants and hope it works. I think you first have to figure out your voice. I tend to like clean lines, not a lot of clutter, and bright spaces, so my styled shots will probably (hopefully?) represent that. I like to juxtapose hard and soft things, and while I love symmetry, sometimes it’s too much so I’ll throw an element in that knocks it off balance a bit. You also have to be willing to edit. Try taking one thing out and it might make the shot so much better. But I guess the biggest thing is to find other styled shots that speak to you, that inspire you, and then practice, practice, practice.

asd: bonnie tsang teaches a class on how to make your photos visually appealing. if you were the teacher, what would your outline say?

45WD: Lighting. Lighting. Lighting. You can have an expensive camera and still only get poor shots if you’re not paying attention to the light. Likewise, an iphone can take gorgeous shots just because you know where your light is. Also, don’t be afraid to try different angles. Just squatting down might give you a completely different point of view on something. Also...and this is completely nitpicky of me: try to make sure the parallel and perpendicular lines in a shot line up (roads, buildings, etc).

asd: what kind of camera do you use?

45WD: My iPhone and my Canon Rebel DSLR

asd: what editing software?

45WD: Mainly photoshop, but if I’m on the go I use the VSCO app.

asd: your shots all have a similar feel to them. what are your go-to edits?

45WD: Exposure. I always start with the exposure and then work from there. I don’t add filters to my photos anymore...they all come down to just editing the basics (exposure, saturation, contrast, etc).

asd: who are the instagrammers that you love?

45WD: Other than a certain Laura Irion?

asd: hahaha, now who’s the sweet one? laura irion on about flying by the seat of your pants! but seriously…

45WD: Oh man. That’s hard! @thedesignchaser @carolinavd @bec_tougas @manosdepiedra @mydeernl @meghan_plowman I could probably name 30 or more that are constantly surprising and inspiring me with their feeds, but these 6 are a good start I guess.

asd: one of the the most freeing pieces of advice (instagram-wise) i’ve heard so far was “it’s all for fun” from mandy mcgregor. what’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten?

45WD: “Post what you love”. I think it’s easy to get caught up in wondering what people want to see (especially when you get a bunch of people who stop following you)...but at the end of the day, it’s my feed and my voice, and i’m pretty upfront about what people are going to see if they follow me. And really, whenever I feel like I’m taking it too seriously, I’ll step back for a couple of days. It really isn’t that important.

asd: yes. everything you just said. it’s taken me some time to really follow that advice. some of my photos aren’t as well liked as others, but i’ve found it doesn’t matter to me in the least because i love them. that’s a great feeling. (sorry, not to hijack your interview there!)

asd: ever since i met you almost ten years ago (how is that possible!?) you’ve been ahead of the trends. we’ve already discussed how you were on instagram before i even knew what that was. you made a vintage circus party invite before that was a thing. your house was all white when everyone else was bathing in charcoal grey. any inklings about what is next?

45WD: You are way too kind to me Laura. I really feel like I’m a complete hack at all this. I think I stumble into a lot of things that might later become things (like the whole vintage circus thing). I also follow a few blogs of people that are always ahead of the trends a bit, so I see something I like and then I make it my own. As a designer, I need to constantly be open to new things and ways to grow. Design and trends turn on a dime these days and things can very quickly become dated and old (I think the whole handwritten/chalkboard thing is having it’s run but will soon be over). As I’ve also gotten older, I find myself drawn to simplicity and things that will stand the test of time.

asd: what blogs do you religiously follow?

45WD: I don’t follow too many blogs anymore (I think I’ve gotten too lazy), but the ones I always check in on are:

The Design Chaser

A Merry Mishap Blog

Of Trees and Hues

Oh-So Pretty

asd: what is your favorite magazine?

45WD: I love this thing with the magazines that are almost like different volumes of books. I love Kinfolk and Frankie. For work, I try to keep up with Print and How. I also feed my nerdy side with Entertainment Weekly and Doctor Who Magazine and Empire. It’s not all fancy design stuff all the time. :)

asd: you own a graphic design studio and shop, also named 45 wall design, and were recently selling at the renegade craft fair. your booth made me want to commit crimes. seriously, i wanted to punch you out and load the whole table into my car. you’re pretty lucky you were all the way in san francisco.

45WD: Thank you! Maybe I fly you out to be my brand rep for the next one!

asd: i do not know what that is, but yes. i accept. i also take back what i said about punching you. how did the show go?

45WD: Renegade has been a great learning experience for me as a maker. I shopped at Renegade for years and thought I knew the mind of the shopper...until I didn’t. I learned a lot about product placement and what I want the one second story of my booth to be as people whiz by. But it’s also so much fun. I’m a massive introvert, but for 2 days I love to meet customers and hear about what people are connecting with and just be a part of the great energy and creativity that comes out of that place.

asd: tell me how and when you started your shop.

45WD: I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design right when the economy tanked in 2008. Finding a full time job was near impossible, so after many months of searching, I decided to freelance and officially started 45wall design as a freelance design studio. Also around that time, a lot of my friends started having kids, getting married, etc, so I would design invitations for them. I got a lot of great feedback, so I started an etsy shop to sell the invitations. Then I stumbled into buying a little tabletop letterpress, which led to making cards...then I got into screenprinting...then making things from concrete. My style and my voice has dramatically changed in the past 6-7 years, but the making of the things is still something I really love doing.

asd: i know i ask the impossible, (empire reference!) but tell me what your favorite thing that you sell is.

45WD: It took me awhile to really find my voice in what I was physically making. The first things that started to feel authentically “me” were the simple screenprints and the concrete homewares. I really love my concrete coaster sets (I even use them at my own house) and vases.

asd: how about a few questions just for fun. what is your favorite documentary?

45WD: I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s been awhile since I’ve watched one! But my all time favorite still has to be “Helvetica”. I remember watching it for the first time and wanting everyone in my life to see it so they could finally understand what I do and why I do it (Graphic Design).

asd: did you make your bed this morning?

45WD: haha! Yes. I actually did. But we cheat a bit. We don’t use a top sheet and we only have our down comforter and duvet, so making the bed is easy. And yet somedays i still don’t manage to do it.

asd: i totally noticed that in your house pictures because i am anti-top sheet! ryan has accepted this about me only very reluctantly.

asd: what’s going to be your next purchase?

45WD: I just purchased some of the Muuto Dot hooks for probably something for the kid? I’m drooling over the new Beau Loves collection and am going to save for something special for my daughter.

asd: you travel a lot. what is your favorite place to visit- the one you would go back to again and again?

45WD: London. London. London. I would move there in a heartbeat (although leaving my house would be hard). There’s something about that city that got into my soul and everytime we go I feel like I’m home. Of course, there are tons of other places on my wish list (Stockholm, Copenhagen) and other places I want to revisit (Prague, Krakow). But London will always have my heart.

asd: tell me about the travel kits you make for your daughter. how did you come up with that idea?

45WD: When she was two, we took her to Paris and London. Lot’s of people thought we were crazy for taking a 2 year old on a big trip like that (“it’s a waste of money, she’ll never remember it”, etc), but travel and exposing her to the world at a young age is super important to us. But she was young, and I wanted her to do more than just tag along with us. I wanted her to interact with what she was seeing and connect to it. The very first travel kit I made for her was simply taking some of Miroslav Sasek’s gorgeous illustrations and making cards out of them. When we would go somewhere, say Notre Dame, we would pull the cards out and she would pick out which one we were at. She loved this little game and it made her really see things and not just ride along in a stroller.

When she was four, we took her back to London and since she was a bit older, I thought we could go a bit deeper with it. I loved having questions to ask her about what we were seeing and doing and it became a great way for us to connect as a family at the end of the day. Since then, we’ve been to Taiwan and back to London and Paris and I still make her kits for all our trips. Although they do grow and change in different ways each time.

asd: do you ever think you’ll sell them?

45WD: I would really like to...but thus far they’ve been really specific to where we are traveling and who she is. I have to figure out how to mass produce them! But over the next year or so I would really love to try and make it happen.

asd: alright, time to put a stake in the ground. who makes the best coffee on the planet?

45WD: Now you are truly asking the impossible! Ummmm…

45WD: In the SF Bay Area, I really love FourBarrel and Chromatic. Chicago has one of my favorites: Intelligentsia. And in London, it has to be Monmouth and Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. Yeah. I cheated. I really don’t think I can narrow it down to just one!

asd: haha, that’s ok. it was a cruel cruel question.

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how beautiful are this girl's pictures?! if you're anything like me, you'll love following along with her on instagram, so look her up for sure! oh, and when you do, you'll probably notice the word "eichler" tossed around a bit. that is a word i purposely left out of this interview.

that's because an eichler is an architect. an architect who designed a house. a house that traci lives in. a house that can't possibly be given it's due spotlight squeezed into an instagram interview.

so i'm beyond giddy to tell you that my 101st post is going to be a tour of traci's incredible eichler-designed home. would you like a sneak peek?

yeah. i know. 

come back on thursday and we'll take a leisurely walk through this gorgeous home. i can. not. wait. (obviously, because a sneek peak is supposed to be, like, one picture...not three). 

{update: the wait is over! see traci's full house tour here!}

i'll see you then! and thank you so very much to my sweet friend traci for sharing all of these incredible shots, and her lovely self, with us today.

{all photos copyright traci yau, used with permission}


  1. Laura! I so love this series! Thanks for introducing me to yet another totally amazing and gifted lady.

    1. thank you grace! this series has been so fun for me too...i'm so glad you like it!

  2. Ahh! Such a fantastic interview! I love the set-up, so much. So thorough, you did such a great job. :) And my dear Traci! Isn't she absolutely fantastic!? An incredible talent + woman, thank you so much for sharing this with us!! :)

    1. thanks so much latrina! and YES, she is a total gem. and i'm so glad to have found you through her! xo!


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