Interview: Katie Caplener

Interview by Brittani Lepley
Photography by Alexandra Valenti
Location: Justine’s Secret House

How did you get your start with VADA? Who is your inspiration? 

My biggest inspiration are my grandmothers, Vada Joy and Dorothy Mae. I started VADA while working at ByGeorge. I frequently wore vintage jewelry from my personal collection and clients were asking me where they could buy the pieces. Former BG owner and friend, Katy Culmo, encouraged me to start collecting more jewelry to sell. I filled a case with collected pieces, it sold out, and I continued to grow my collection. From the vintage jewelry business, I started designing new pieces which have always been made in Austin by my current in-house goldsmith and now, Studio Manager. It’s still just us five years later! 

We love the vintage collection you have. What is your process of finding these pieces? What do you tend to look for? 

I am constantly sourcing vintage and antique jewelry. I travel often for other projects and always prioritize buying jewelry wherever I go and have relied a lot on nurturing relationships with veteran dealers. I don’t have a specific list of styles I look for, I really trust my gut and buy what I would want in my personal collection at that moment. I do love anything with black enamel, especially mourning pieces, a huge reason I make new pieces with porcelain enamel in the studio. 

You do custom pieces. What has been your favorite custom to date? Why?  

I love creating completely custom jewelry but incorporating family heirlooms into a new design are my favorite projects. I recently used diamonds from an inherited piece and set them in a custom hand carved dome ring. Designing custom gold signet rings as mementos is really special too, I just did one with a face of a kitty! 

You also co-own another business called Feline Objects. I’d love to hear about it!

My business partner and I, both being cat lovers, were frustrated with the low-quality selection of cat specific products on the market. Our line, Feline Objects, currently consists of hand dyed natural shearlings, handmade wooden bed bowls, vintage hand-woven baskets, and a newly released custom acrylic cat bed with velvet cushion. We have been working hard to replace those awful carpeted cat condos, more products coming soon!

Describe a typical day for you. 

You can find me at my studio on South 1st every day of the week when I’m not on the road. Product development takes up a large chunk of my day, whether it’s designing new pieces to add to production or working on upcoming collaborations. I also take appointments in the space, most days I am meeting with clients to discuss custom work or delivering finished pieces. 

What is your favorite piece of all time? 

This is such a tough question! My favorite pieces in my personal collection are all heirlooms that have been passed down to me. My favorite found piece, if I had to choose one, is a bangle featuring two nude figures out stretched around the wrist. I hardly wear it, it sits on my desk as an inspiration piece. The best piece that I no longer have would be a Victorian gold snake ring with five large old mine cut diamonds, it sold at ByGeorge.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is in an old house that includes my friends’ store, Passport Vintage. My studio consists of a front office which I painted deep bottle green with antique sage green velvet curtains, and a workshop in back with all of our tools and equipment. My desk is an early 1800’s French wood table with carved roses and a mirror top with reverse hand painted roses. A vintage lucite snail table topped with my favorite publications: Teeth Mag, Girls Our Age, Puss Puss Mag, Cherry Paper, and various antique jewelry hardcovers. A huge painting by my partner, Wes Thompson, and two custom art pieces by Samantha McCurdy grace the walls, along with other antique nude oil paintings of strangers. Y’all come see me soon!