If you are familiar with Hester & Cook Design Group‘s work, it will come as no surprise that the female half of the duo behind the brand is a successful, creative woman who has mastered the art of entertaining. If you are familiar with the Wonderful Life Foundation, you also know that the female half of the duo behind this charity organization is a motivating, caring, giving mother and community member. If you haven’t had the pleasure of learning about the business or the charity, we are thrilled to introduce you to the woman behind them both: Angie Cook, today’s FACE of the South.
Can you tell us the history of the Hester & Cook Design Group? When did you open a storefront?
It all began during the restoration of our home, a 1929 Tudor, located in the Hillsboro-Belmont historic district in Nashville. We had just salvaged a beautiful, glass-paned door for the front of our home and were contemplating doorknob options (while drinking a bottle of wine, of course!). My husband, Robbie, grabbed one of the doorknobs and said, ”This would make a really cool wine stopper.” From that moment, our wheels started turning, and a year later, in 2005, we found ourselves at the wholesale market in Atlanta introducing our handcrafted stopper to buyers from all over the country. We were delighted that the stoppers were a huge hit. We quickly had to learn how to take this small-batch, handcrafted product and put it into larger production. By the end of that year, Robbie and I left our jobs and hired two more people to make it all happen.
Over the course of 10 years, we continued to add products and three brands: CAKE Vintage, Kitchen Papers and The Pencil Factory. We design our items ourselves and also collaborate with several talented artists. The cornerstone of our brands is that we produce all products in the United States; over 80 percent are produced in our studio or locally in Nashville.
Today, we offer the collection of brands under our umbrella of Hester & Cook. We have also partnered with two other local companies, including Sarah Souther of The Bang Candy Company, and SymGlass, a glassware alternative company. Both of these products are included in our wholesale offerings, as well as in our retail store.
In 2009, we finally made a move out of our home into a location on Broadway (in downtown Nashville); it was here that we opened up our storefront for the first time. We find operating a store in conjunction with wholesale gives us an opportunity to experiment, interact with customers and provides a laboratory of sorts. We love it!
In 2013, we moved our entire operation to Eugenia Avenue in Berry Hill. In our new home, we were able to expand the store to be much larger. Still, almost every item in our shop is American-made, which is very important to us. We offer the full range of all our own products, and a large selection of other unique items we curate during our many trips to market each year.
Our small, home-based business has grown from a four-person operation in our basement into a home office that houses a design team, customer service and sales, production and warehouse operations. Our Hester & Cook family has grown to 28 employees. We are so grateful for the growth and expansion of our business. In addition to the home office and flagship store in Berry Hill, we have a permanent showroom at AmericasMart in Atlanta and a showroom in Vegas.
Favorite item on the shelves of the H&C retail store?
I would have to pick our table runners as my favorite item. These are so versatile and fun … and can even double as wrapping paper. Although we offer a great selection of other products, one of my fun favorites is the line of celebrity items from TOPS Malibu; they have these fabulous wish papers that are perfect for any special celebration. We also offer a curated collection of stationery brands.
What are your entertaining essentials?
- Well, first on my list would be Kitchen Papers, of course! I designed Kitchen Papers to simplify entertaining and to be used with everyday dinnerware or fine china. I will always work a layer of paper into my table – even layered over a great tablecloth! I think layers are key to creating an interesting table.
- Simple and delicious food that appeals to everyone. We host a small group in our home each week and serve soup with fabulous garnishes, along with bread, which is among one of my favorites to prepare.
- Always use the good china. Life is too short not to enjoy beautiful things!
- A setup that is easy for my guests to help themselves to food and drink
- Candles, always
- Music. It’s the icing on the cake.
Do you have any new products on the horizon?
We are continually designing new products. We just introduced the first few items for collections we are working on. We created a runner and place mat for our coloring collection and also for our new marbled paper collection. We will be expanding on both of these concepts. We are working on some new holiday concepts and several collaborations, including another with Draper James. In addition, we are quickly expanding our stationery this year with the introduction of journals, more cards and developing a wrapping paper collection.
In addition to your business, you and your husband launched the Wonderful Life Foundation. What is the mission of the foundation?
Our mission at the Wonderful Life Foundation is to financially support families that have children experiencing life-threatening illnesses, primarily cancer. Our son, Will, developed a brain tumor when he was just 2. That journey made it very clear we were supposed to help other families going through treatment. In addition to our strong faith, we were very fortunate we had support, and the financial means, to be with Will during all of the illness. Many families are not so lucky and need support. Oftentimes, these families are battling an illness year after year with no end in sight. We are so very blessed that after four years of fighting, Will’s tumor went into remission. He is 12 now and doing fantastic. Our primary fundraiser is each year at the War Memorial in Nashville. We host a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life and a party following the show — complete with holiday fare and dancing. It’s always held the first Saturday in December.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Live each day fully present in that moment. Don’t let the fear of the future rob you of what is happening right in front of you.
What distinguishes the South from other regions?
You can’t beat the warmth and hospitality of the South. We still use the phrase “Southern charm” … and it’s true. The South is still firmly rooted in tradition, and this is a common thread that I see in the people and the way they entertain. The creative energy that is happening across cities like Nashville, Atlanta and Charleston right now is unique to the South and so inspirational.
What is your next restaurant destination?
I am headed to NYC for the gift show and will make my way over to Minetta Tavern, located in SoHo. They have the best rib-eye steak in the world … honest. When I come back home, I have been thinking about heading back to one of my all-time favorites in Nashville, Margot Café. It is always a fabulous meal, and the service is great. I always sit downstairs, so I can peer into the kitchen!
Do you have any good book recommendations?
I am not a big book reader. You can always find a culinary, shelter or fashion magazine on my nightstand – all over my home for that matter. The last book I had in my hand was most certainly a cookbook! It’s likely to have been one by Ina Garten or by the Cook’s Illustrated team.
Three Things You Can’t Live Without:
1. Our dog Sevi — he is part Pyrenees, part lab and is as lovable as he is large!
2. My kitchen … I do love to cook!
3. The Hester & Cook team. I could not make it without them — simply the best.