Pete Panciera | Designer
We met Pete Panciera through the now online store Lone Flag, which has always been a community hub for creative connections in San Diego. Pete is the owner of Carlsbad-based Norden, a home goods brand with a product line that ranges from ceramic candles to graphic wool blankets and locally made dishware. Founded in 2014 alongside his wife, Erika Panciera, the duo focuses on well-designed home accessories that can stand the test of time — and infuse their distinct, Scandinavian-inspired perspective into their products. A genuinely kind and generous person, Pete has honed his craft through years in the industry as an art director and graphic designer. Pete is always willing to share his experience growing his own brand, Norden, and we are thrilled to feature an interview with him here.
What originally drew you to your craft? Was there a particular experience or personal calling?
Since I was a little kid, I loved art and drawing — I can always remember wanting to create a brand. I remember being around seven years old and drawing logos in my sketchbook and wanting to make patches to sew onto my pants to brand them. I think “Fuz” was the name I always drew the logo for as a kid, haha. Fast forward a few years, I ended up working in NYC as a designer at Zoo York, the iconic New York skate brand. There, I got to see firsthand how a brand was run. At the time it was owned by Ecko which was a really large company, but the Zoo York design team was small. That experience taught me all the aspects of what it takes to run a brand, from planning to design, sales and marketing. Being a skater, having a design background, and spending the formative years of my career at Zoo York was the perfect mix of experiences for me to formulate and start Norden. I took all of that knowledge, my wife and I’s interest in interior design and architecture, and love of home fragrance and combined it all together to start the brand.
To what do you most attribute the development of your craft? Did you have a mentor or formal education?
Overall as a brand, we think of ourselves as a design company. In that aspect, I have ten plus years of experience as a designer and freelancer, plus I went to the University of Connecticut and got a four year degree in graphic design. Going to school at UConn was a great experience, but actually working in the real world has helped me the most. Whether it’s getting custom glass vessels made, working on our website, or creating marketing campaigns, the skills to understand and execute those projects were picked up from working on a wide array of projects for various clients over the years.
Another thing to note is that at Norden we physically make a lot of our products in house. When the brand launched, I was personally pouring every candle that went out. On the production side, reading, watching videos, visiting people’s studios and seeing how other brands make product has helped me to hone my craft. Now I’m able to pass on that knowledge to our employees so they can make everything. It’s a constant learning process, though, and we are working with natural ingredients, so sometimes there are adjustments to be made or hiccups along the way.
What kind of risks of 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?
Oh man, I could talk for hours about this! It’s important to share that I never intended Norden to turn into a business, at least not in the way that it exists now. I literally started with the intention to try to sell about a hundred candles, that’s it. Because of that, I set the brand up like that from the start with no plan, and no real structure. Over the last five to six years, I feel like we have been streamlining our processes and slowly learning how to run it as an actual business/brand. It’s funny, I feel like I talk to businesspeople who say, “Running a business is easy, it’s creating products and being creative that’s hard.” I find it to be quite the opposite, I could come up with a brand and a product no problem, but I hate doing spreadsheets and financial reporting. Realizing this, I’ve tried to build a team of professionals around me to help out with the ins and outs of running the actual business, so that I have more time to work on the brand.
When thinking about the future of your work, what are you most excited about?
Now that Norden has survived through our formative years, it feels like we have a great foundation/platform to build on. We have made a structure for the brand to exist within that keeps everything flexible. If we want to make a rug, we make a rug. If we want to work with third party brands and do some retail, we try to do retail in an interesting way. We want to adapt to the changing market and keep our customers interested. We are moving towards cycling products in and out more often, and creating styles that only live for a certain period of time before they sell out and are replaced by new products. I think the future of Norden looks fluid.
Is there a television or film character that reflects your personality in real life? If so, who?
In a self deprecating way, I always joke that I’m like Michael Scott (from The Office). Being a “boss” doesn’t come naturally to me, I feel kind of whacky and out of place sometimes having to take life and business so seriously. Because of that I probably tend to be a goofy person to work for and slightly scatterbrained. Oh well!
What piece of advice would you have loved to receive when first starting a brand?
This will probably sound so stupid, but I wish I literally knew what a business was and how inventory, cost of goods sold, and profit worked from the start. When I started Norden, I was just freelancing, so all I understood was working my hours/completing projects, sending an invoice, and getting paid; simple as that. I wish someone told me “Incorporate and get your legal structure in place, start using accounting software to keep track of your sales and expenses, here is how inventory and cost of goods sold works, and if possible you should get some seed money to finance everything.” I started Norden with zero money and I was trying to run it like a freelance design business. Yikes! We’ve come a long way.
Is there anyone whose eyewear style stands out to you?
I like when someone’s eyewear becomes part of their face. I think of people like Spike Lee or the architect Philip Johnson with their thick, graphic frames. In contemporary context, I think the designer Geoff McFetridge has great eyewear style. If you drew a caricature of him, you would have to include the glasses, they are part of his look.
When you’re not working, how do you recharge and stay inspired in San Diego?
My wife, Erika, and I have a two year old son, Oskar. I love hanging out with him and playing, bringing him places, and seeing the world through his eyes. Having a kid has changed my whole perspective on life. It’s really challenging and exhausting sometimes, but I do get energy and inspiration from parenting.
To stay physically recharged and engaged, I have lots of hobbies — too many hobbies! Currently I’m really into cycling and I ride as much as I can. Getting out and riding has exposed me to so many places in San Diego I had never seen, and going off road and being in nature makes me feel relaxed.
Design inspiration has always come from travel for me. Seeing new spaces, cities, and cultures is at the core of the things we design at Norden. I’m sad that we can’t travel at the moment due to the pandemic, but hoping we can go on a new adventure (safely) soon.
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