Kate & Julian Pastrana

Pastrana studio founders

Polaroid portrait by Jason Lee / Featured photos taken by Pastrana Studio.

In an industry filled with faceless corporations, mass-produced manufacturers, and disposable products, Kate and Julian Pastrana stand apart as true artists of their craft. Approaching every piece of furniture they create with a particular craftsmanship and personal touch, their products are built with a purpose that customers can anticipate passing down for centuries to come. In the midst of a hectic schedule and preparation for their first little one, Julian kindly shared some time with me to chat about his and Kate’s journeys prior to Pastrana Studio, ways they’ve managed to create a strong relationship as an entrepreneurial couple, and staying true to the same standards and honesty that their brand has been built upon.

I’d love to know a little bit about both your backgrounds. What was your journey like leading up to your career as artisans, and when did you decide to work together? I was actually a musician before getting into woodworking. I started designing and building pieces while I was working in residential remodeling. I would make furniture for my little apartment out of cheap materials, like 2x4s and plywood, but through those experiences I learned some basic skills to build off of. 

Katie graduated from UNT with a major in Textiles. She also did drawing and painting in school and has always been a very creative person. When we met, she and I really bonded over mid-century design, art, fashion, and music. We started designing pieces together for her house when we were engaged. Her attention to detail and level of standard really helped shape my work early on.

You’re both very intentional about everything you create. I’d love to learn more about the purpose behind the brand. Our brand really came about as an extension of our lifestyle. When we were designing and building pieces for our home, we didn’t necessarily have our business in mind. We just wanted to make the best quality of furniture that we could. Our aim was to create pieces that were not only beautiful and nice to look at, but highly functional as well, and that would also last us a lifetime. It was our way of making the furniture we wanted because we could not afford to purchase it at the time. Then after making several pieces for ourselves, we realized the potential and wanted to share our experience with others. The feedback we got early on really helped drive us and encourage us to start the brand. Either way though, regardless of being in business or not, at the end of the day, we are both creative people and would be making pieces, even if it was just to create something for ourselves. 

“regardless of being in business or not … we are both creative people and would be making pieces, even if it was just to create something for ourselves.

Planter stand, boxcar stool, and medium serving board.

Decorative ladder and low side table.

Tell me a little bit about that transition, from creating furniture as a passion project to realizing its potential to turn it into what it is today. Were any major risks made during the time? I don’t think either of you came from an entrepreneurial background, so starting a business together had to be a little daunting. The transition was definitely a hurdle that had to be overcome. Neither of us really had any background in business or knew the first thing about creating a legit brand. However, with some thorough research, we were able to navigate the proper direction of how to go about doing it the right way. It was a bit of a struggle for me personally, because at times it seemed discouraging and more difficult than I had anticipated, but I’m glad that I didn’t let the process completely knock me off course. I learned a lot from having to go through the logistic side of the business, and while we still deal with it from time to time, now I can focus on my true passion, creating.

Earlier, you mentioned creating products regardless of whether or not it was a business, and I love that mentality. Would you say this approach to creating products has had anything to do with Pastrana Studio’s accomplishments and successes thus far? I would like to think that it does, because people want to buy into something much bigger than just a product. Us pouring into Pastrana Studio as an overflow of our desire to create is a genuine story that I think people are drawn to. We are creating something that we would use in our own home- and we do, everyday. People want to ‘buy in’ to something that they know the creators themselves believe in and I think that has played a role in our success.

“people want to buy into something much bigger than just a product.

What’s it been like to be in business with your life partner? What have you both learned from working together? I’ve found that I really enjoy working together. I could not imagine doing it any other way. I think that our personalities compliment each other in a way that lends to our ability to work together in this way that maybe other couples could not do. It’s hard to explain, but at times it really seems as though we know what the other is thinking. Katie is more visual than I am though, so it helps her to see something in person in order to critique it. My mind works in a way I can see the end result completed in my head. So combining those two different methods is sometimes difficult. For this reason, we create prototypes of our pieces out of cheap wood before working on the actual product. This way we can look at, sit in it, and change things here and there before making the final piece. The one thing that we are still learning daily is to turn off our creative and business minds at the end of the day and just enjoy our home. Because of our desire to create, we are always looking for new projects and things to do to our home. It is a blessing and a curse in way, but we love it.

As long as you love what you do, I believe that’s what’s most important! I also think it’s great you both work and collaborate so well together. What’s your piece of advice to entrepreneurial couples for building a healthy business relationship? I think that what has helped us in our success of working together as an entrepreneurial couple is the balance of our personalities. For instance, Kate is more of the dreamer, whereas I am more of the one who will make my best attempt to make it a reality. I think that dynamic plays out really well for us. Also the fact that we really do enjoy a lot of the same things, whether that is style, design, fashion, music, etc. It all plays into our influence and typically lands in the same thought bubble to which the other is thinking. 

How have you found it most effective to communicate the quality of your products? Honestly, this is probably the hardest thing to communicate. In our world today, everything is at the click of a button and seemingly temporary. Here today, throw in the trash tomorrow, and buy the new thing. So trying to base our brand on high quality products that will last a lifetime presented us with a challenge. It is hard for people to understand and experience the quality of our pieces by just seeing pictures of them online. That is why we try to participate in local shows where people can experience the pieces in person and be able to touch, feel, and sit in them. That seems like the best way for others to get a grasp on the quality of our products. We are currently working on a more permanent local space that people would be able to do that, but that is still in the development stages. 

Taking a glance at your Instagram, I’d also say social media has helped at least a bit in showcasing your products’ quality. Your photos are very detail-focused, and it seems you have a considerable amount of support there. How important is it for Pastrana Studio to be a part of the online community? Pastrana Studio would not be where we are today if it weren’t for social media. It has been such a great platform to get our brand and products out there. The connected community that apps like Instagram have that support one another and cross promote has really been an awesome element to be a part of. We have met so many amazing artists and makers from social media and have made tons of connections through being involved in that community. Leather goods maker, Clint Wilkinson, is one we met through social media, and our friendship has grown and our brands do many collaborations as a result. We really enjoy working with other artists who have the same vision and passion as we do. 

What have been some challenges faced in these first years of business, and how are you planning to simplify some of these challenges? One challenge we have faced is determining where we want to take our brand. So this last year, we took some of the smaller items off of our website because we are wanting to create more of a craftsman-to-client business model, which would feature larger pieces that are made to order specifically for our customers. This allows us to put more detail and care in each piece, as opposed to just trying to crank out a lot of inventory to sell online. Our vision for our brand is creating larger pieces and moving away from smaller products. We are continually learning each day and are trying to adapt as we transition with this process. 

Details. Each barstool has a signature, number of barstool made, and date completed burned into the bottom of the seat in addition to its brand.

I’d love to know more about that ultimate vision for Pastrana Studio. Besides shifting your focus onto larger pieces, is there a general idea of where you might want to take the brand in the future? Perhaps plans for a growing team? I think that right now our vision is maintaining the quality of design and construction with each new product we bring to the brand. The process is such a long one, that while it may seem like a small goal, I think that some companies try too hard to grow too fast that they lose sight of their standards and experience a negative impact as a result. For that reason, we are not in a rush to grow into something that we could not handle, putting the cart before the horse, if you know what I mean. One of the short term items on our list of goals is opening our showroom space in conjunction with aforementioned Clint Wilkinson’s studio in downtown Denton. We are working in collaboration with him in building out the space for his new workshop, but the space will also house some of our pieces for the public to experience first hand. This space will also act as a space where we can meet with clients and discuss potential orders. We hope to be completed with this project in the Spring of 2017.

“I think that some companies try too hard to grow too fast that they lose sight of their standards and experience a negative impact as a result.

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