Katie Leonard has an innate, and studied, ability to draw people together — through beautifully crafted events, conversations and spaces. Her craft, “community building,” is one that seems to be growing more vital in today’s world.
As the founder of Dutch, Katie has provided a platform for emerging businesses and artists in the San Diego area, and beyond. Dutch is a small, thoughtful home and lifestyle shop guided by a love of the Dutch lifestyle and aesthetic. Previously a brick and mortar shop in South Park, Katie has transitioned her store online and is focused on thoughtful experiences and collaborative projects tied to her wholly custom studio space, available via Airbnb.
We asked Katie a few questions about her craft, Dutch and the community she’s sought to build. Follow @adutchlife for ways to get involved in the San Diego community or plan a visit to The Tuberose Studio.
What originally drew you to your craft? Was there a particular experience or personal calling?
It’s funny how things in life tend to come full circle: I started my work life in community development before moving into architecture and design, but I would say that what drew me back to my craft was opening Dutch. The concept for the shop was to collaborate with artists whose work I admired to design and produce small batch products for the home – wood, ceramics, textiles – but it became clear to me very quickly that we were doing more than that. We were building a community of people who not only appreciated good design, but also wanted to be part of a larger conversation about sustainability and living with intention. Some of the challenges I faced working in community development on a macro level went away when we were simply talking design and life over coffee in the shop, and I saw that I could affect change on a really local level.
To what do you most attribute the development of your craft? Did you have a mentor or formal education?
I studied community development in college, and had a handful of professors that introduced me to the idea of intentional community – they were idealists in the best sense of the word. They believed in the potential of community to transform: cities, neighborhoods, the people around us, ourselves. Working this philosophy out in the real world has taught me a lot, and at times it’s been discouraging. Our culture places a high value on individualism. But I’ve done my best to hold onto that idealism – people are better in community.
What kind of risks or challenges have you encountered over the years building a business and brand? And did the challenges (or a particular challenge) change your path in any way?
I think opening a small shop like Dutch in San Diego was definitely a risk. We were unconventional. I read in an article once that we pushed the limits of the traditional shop – I learned to embrace that, and found that the people who understood us became our community.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
When we had our shop in South Park I found that it was easy to get caught up in the day to day. As hard as the decision to give up the shop was, it’s given me more space to create and collaborate with artists, come alongside other small businesses, and grow our community in a really intentional way.
Around the same time we made the decision to close the shop, my husband (a local architect) and I were in the process of designing and building a studio attached to our home in City Heights, and we asked a handful of the artists we’d built relationships with at Dutch to make custom pieces for the space. As the studio started to come together we realized it was really a continuation of what we had done in the shop. It’s become a space to gather people: we have hosted two cookbook clubs in our yard, we just started a series of small workshops led by local artists, and we’re working on a seasonal artist retreat that we hope to introduce early next year.
What piece of advice would you have loved to receive when first starting a brand?
That you can be true to your vision, while also being open to learning from experience. Some things are non-negotiable, but the ability to assess and shift is invaluable.
Not one person in particular, but I’ve been wearing glasses exclusively for the last ten years or so, and collecting images on an inspiration board – I’m drawn to people who’s eyewear seems like a natural extension of their personal style.
When you’re not working, how do you recharge and stay inspired in San Diego?
I love to walk and hike – I find both to be really meditative. I read as much as I can, and spend a lot of time with my family and friends. I’m always seeking out thoughtful places and experiences. I’ve become that person who’s in the kitchen after a really good meal talking to the staff – I’m endlessly curious about stories, because I think our stories are so fundamental to who we are in community.
For more features, check out David Kind on Instagram.