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RapidChat: Kelly O'Hara

When Kelly O'Hara's not riding the bus up and down Fulton, shopping for antiques, or eating her heart out in Chicago, she's devoting her time and talents to volunteer work that advances the local design community. Between TEDxGR and Design Week, she's in the middle of a pretty busy week, and if you've been to any downtown events in the last few days, you've likely experienced some of her designs. Read on for her take on home decor, life as a hyper-local Eastowner, and the design work that gets her excited.
Photo by Ryan Greaves

Between TEDxGR and Design Week, Kelly O'Hara's in the middle of a pretty busy week, and if you've been to any downtown events in the last few days, you've likely experienced some of her designs. Kelly is a Senior Designer at Conduit Studio with a love for karaoke, a thing for Instagramming cat butts, and a soft spot for Detroit. Read on for her take on home decor, life as a hyper-local Eastowner, and the design work that gets her excited.
Rapid Growth: It’s the first full week of May in Grand Rapids, which means West Michigan Design Week and TEDxGrandRapids. What has been your involvement with these events?

Kelly O’Hara: West Michigan Design Week is owned by several organizations - AIA, AIGA, IIDA, ASID and more; it’s an alphabet soup! I’m AIGA’s Mentorship Chair so I haven’t been heavily involved in executing WMDW but I’m looking forward to attending the Florence Knoll event and Studio on Tap at Flat Lander’s Bar. WMDW is proving the impact of design; it’s an economic force in this region.

These events happening in tandem is terrific. The groups working together have better resources to bring in someone great (like Richard Saul Wurman), and it gives everyone an opportunity to benefit.

Conduit Studio designed the identity for TEDxGR for the second year in a row. On the TEDxGR team, I share the Design Lead position with Kate Hunt. We’re responsible for the extension of the brand and how the audience expereinces the theme and brand during and leading up to the event. We consider every touchpoint of the brand from online presence, to day-of materials (badges, signage, apparel, swag), to physical space. It's been a really fun project to use this year's unique theme and identity to make it a super inspiring day for the audience. 

I made the mistake of getting drunk with Kate Hunt and Bill H-R and ranting about how I felt I could do a lot of things and agreed that night at Grove I would take on mentorship at AIGA as well as be Kate’s Design Co-Lead at TEDx. Don’t drink and volunteer, unless you want to be a busy person!

RG: What do you think about the opportunities for young designers here in Grand Rapids?

KO: I think it is incredibly inspiring to be here. I’m constantly amazed at the amount and the quality of design produced here. I’ve visited other cities, seen work, and came back feeling really proud of where the bar is in this town. What other cities might think are their best studios might not make the cut here.

RG: How do you tell something is good work?

KO: It presents a new take on an idea or something that gets me excited. There’s a level of polish. You can tell when something has been noodled on and refined… to a point. It’s also full of fresh ideas. With information so accessible, it’s so easy to share your work; you can see how quickly things are influencing other things. There’s a lot more copying; things get older. You see the same things. There are so many cliches. When I see something I haven't seen before it gets me excited.

RG: Tell me about your cat-themed Instagram account (@captain_and_bruce)?

KO: I wanted to partake in Instagram but I felt I needed a theme to work within. If it was what it is for everyone else - shoes, breakfast, using your account to promote the life you want people to think you have - I’d use it as a false acting.

I didn't want my Instagram to be about just trying to promote myself.  I wanted it to be a contribution not for me but for other people to enjoy. I felt treating it as a project of the weird and stupid things my cats do, because they are hilarious, that seemed like a more productive use of that time for me.

I just have an Instagram of cat butts. I think I like that. I could do vignettes of my succulents but I’d feel like every other girl. It seems everyone is art directing their life. Everyone is stage acting. It is so exhausting.

RG: Do you think this is a new thing?

KO: I think it is a more prevalent thing. Pretending you have a perfect life isn’t new but it is interesting because now people are doing it visually by staging photo shoots and moments. For people who don't work in the creative field it’s a nice foray into it.

RG: You house is so nicely designed. What is your interior design strategy?

KO: My house is really unique. It’s an early 1900’s farmhouse, exactly the style of house I love. So the house is old, some things in the house are old and some new. It’s a mix of rustic and modern. I like to pay tribute to the fact that it is a farmhouse but I have mid-century modern pieces like the obligatory Eames molded plastic chairs. But then I have a really cool floral armchair from a church rubbish sale that was $5. A lot of our pieces are from antique stores.

I like Eastown Antiques, right down the street. Lost and Found in the Century building downtown is great, too. There’s a super weird indoor flea market at Centerpointe Mall, next to Best Buy. It’s mostly shit but there is a little booth that sometimes has cool stuff. I’ve gotten a few mid-century pieces there for really good prices.

I like to fill my house with things that make me happy. A lot of my things were made by my talented and creative friends. The buttfart pillow was made by Ryan Greaves (it has a whoopee cushion in it), mineral prints by Lindsay Jones, air pots from our friends at Bird and Feather. Those things make me happy; things I love made by people I love. And weird taxidermy from Craigslist.

RG: Rumor has it you rarely drive.

KO: I’m a big fan of The Rapid. I take the bus to/from work during the week, I actually do think it’s pretty easy to get around without a car if you structure your life that way. My house is right on the bus line, which was a big decision-making factor when I was house-hunting. The Y is within walking distance from work. I can take the bus downtown and then walk everywhere and then hop on the bus and go home. Or take a different bus and go to The Winchester or Donkey and from there I'm within walking distance of home. I can walk to the grocery store, which is also on the same bus line.

Now if I have to bring my car, I’m annoyed. People think driving is more convenient but I've been taking the bus long enough I think driving is less convenient.

RG: What do you like to do outside this city?

KO: Recently to celebrate my twenty-eighth birthday, I met my sisters in Chicago and we ate all the food. That is how I like to travel, through food. I genuinely remember trips and locations based on the meals I’ve had. Chicago is a really convenient meeting point for my sisters and I - there were a few places I hadn't been and wanted to go so we just did them all in one day. Which was easier for me than it should have been. We went to The Publican, Glazed and Infused Donuts, Big Star Tacos and Longman & Eagle.

I like to go to Detroit. My parents are there. I grew up in Royal Oak. Going to Tiger’s games is my favorite summer tradition.

RG: What is your experience like in Detroit?

KO: I have a fond place for Detroit. I grew up 20 minutes away but probably didn't go there as much as I should have. Now when I go back, I make a point to go in the city, to Slow’s, see what’s in the galleries. I really enjoy going to Hamtramck - there are cool record stores there. Eastern Market is wonderful. Speaking of Instagram, I follow people that live there and I love seeing the photos of the life and liveliness. It really warms my heart. I don’t know if I would live there again but maybe.

You look around at these homes that would be gorgeous historic mansions and they’re abandoned, burned, beautiful in their own way but inherently sad. I love the The Girls Guide to Detroit video; I get all gooey in my heart. There is a grittiness there. There is just so much happening here. It’s a very different vibe.

RG: Where can you be found around town?

KO: I go to the Y. I love the Y. When my friends from out of town ask me about my gym and I tell them I go to the Y they think it is weird but our Y is beautiful, clean, and has great spin classes.

We should give a shoutout to karaoke, my favorite evening activity. I go to Eastown Sports Bar and Kale’s on the west side. My go-to showstopper is California Love by Tupac. In Eastown, there was recently a sad song-themed Karaoke house party.

When I’m in GR I am pretty hyper-local. I live in Eastown, I hang out in Eastown. I generally stay in my neighborhood and my activities change with the seasons.

In the winter, I go to Caberfae to ski. They have a nice lodge and an old lodge where you can bring your own beer and your crock pot. I like the renegade lodge. Bring your flask, get toasty, it doesn't hurt as much when you fall. You have to do stuff in the winter to make it through. I make things, lots of crafting and cooking. I’ll make a big stock pot of soup on Sundays in the winter. I like to be cozy. And shoveling, too, I guess.

In the summer, I walk to the farmers market, play tennis, sit on a patio and drink in the sunshine, beach bum, have friends over for bonfires in the backyard. I’m looking forward to lots of that in the months ahead.

Molly Crist is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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