Araya Jensen founder of Willful, and the latest additions to her line: Guatemalan wool goods.
When the housing industry crashed in the late 2000s, Araya Jensen was laid off from her job as a kitchen and bath designer. She started customizing wooden spoons by dipping the ends in brightly colored rubber to give them a comfortable, non-slip grip and a pop of color. They were a hit, and she quickly expanded into making wood bowls and other home goods under the label Wind & Willow. Three years ago, she opened a retail store and workspace in the Tangletown neighborhood of Minneapolis to showcase her wares, eventually rebranding the business as Willful. Its product line has since expanded to include handwoven wool rugs, throw pillows, tea towels, and cast-resin kitchen utensils—all featuring Jensen’s signature bright colors.
How did you start your own line of home goods?
Basically, I was forced into becoming an entrepreneur. When people ask me, “How did you do it?” I say that I would have never started my own business if I hadn’t lost my job.
How do your days as an interior designer inform your product designs?
When I was doing kitchen and bath design, selecting the accessories were not part of my job. You pick the tile, you pick the countertop, and boom, you’re done. The pieces that make a room feel comfortable are just an afterthought. It’s kind of a disappointing way to end the design process. I never thought, “Oh, I should do something about that,” but I think that’s where the seed for Willful got planted.
Did you initially intend to have such a broad product line, or was it more of an organic process?
It’s kind of like creative ADD. I constantly want to try new things. Or, someone asks, “Do you have tea towels to go with your wooden goods?” And I say, “I don’t, but I can!”
How did the line of woven wool rugs and throw pillows come about?
From working with the American Refugee Committee on their Maker’s Collection product line in 2014, and then visiting a refugee camp with the organization in 2016, I learned there are so many talented artisans out there that don’t have access to technology and marketing. I got connected with a family of artisans in Antigua, Guatemala, that does the whole process from start to finish—from shearing the sheep to spinning the wool. I saw what they were already making, and I thought, “How can I design something that plays off of their skills but is also modern and in line with my goods?”
What do you take into account when designing your products?
I always ask myself, “What would I like for my bathroom? What do I want in my home?” I want something soft but cleanable. I like things that look modern and colorful. Working with artisans overseas requires a lot of flexibility. With their natural dying processes, it’s difficult to get the color I want exactly. If I was trying to go for something exact, it just wouldn’t work. But that’s kind of the fun of it. Willful is all about things coming together organically.
Color is such a big part of Willful. Where do you look for inspiration?
Sometimes, I’ll be hiking in the woods or traveling in Guatemala, and find a color combination that’s unique and catches my eye. If it sticks in my head, I know it’s strong enough to be part of the collection.
By Jahna Peloquin. Portrait by Wing Ta. Product courtesy of Willful