If you live in Nashville and have even a passing interest in fashion and interior design, you’re likely familiar with Gen Sohr, the stunning tastemaker behind successful local lifestyle brand, Pencil and Paper Co. Moving to Nashville in 2003, Gen and Benjamin (her husband and business partner) left their life in San Fransisco behind and transitioned their careers from retail to home design, renovation, and beyond. Nearly two decades later, they’re infusing color and pattern into everything from Instagram feeds to retail concepts to product collaborations. Please welcome this week’s FACE of Nashville, Pencil and Paper Co.’s vibrant and dynamic Gen Sohr!
SB Editor’s Note: Make sure you check out the Local Lightning Round video at the bottom of this article, in which we ask Gen some additional, fun, Nashville-centric questions!
What brought you to Nashville?
I grew up in Miami, and my husband, Benjamin Sohr, grew up here. We worked together for about 10 years in San Francisco and then decided we were ready for a different lifestyle — to be closer to family and have a fresh start. It was a wonderful time to get to Nashville before it got super crowded and busy. I almost feel like a local now! Nashville is a really welcoming community, and I found this great group of creatives. It has been a joy to be here and watch this city grow. There’s an incredible influx of people from all over, so we’re thrilled that we can be a part of that creative community that’s happening here.
What inspired you to launch your lifestyle brand?
It’s a bit of a happy accident. My background is in retail. My husband and I worked for Old Navy for many years; I focused on visual merchandising and marketing, and he did in-store design. When we got to Nashville, we started a little store, and I had a baby, which felt crazy. My husband and I were both commuting, working for big retailers, and eventually, it hit for both of us that we wanted to be based here.
We built a house in the 12South area, and people would knock on the door and ask us questions about it. That launched us into buying and renovating houses and doing design work. The Pencil and Paper brand transitioned from all of that. We founded the brand a little over 10 years ago, and it has morphed.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My style weaves into how I want to look at the world and what my lens is. I love color and pattern. I really try to come from an optimistic place, and I think surrounding yourself with color and pattern is such a mood-lifter. It makes you feel good to be surrounded by that. I’ve always loved vintage and collecting, and all of those things inform that aesthetic. But as with any creative, we’re always evolving and changing. I’m always drawn to new things, but my lens is always drawn to color and pattern.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. As a creative, it’s the lens through which you view everything that you do. Travel is such a great jumping-off point; there’s nothing more inspiring than getting out of your day to-day-space, seeing new things, exploring architecture, going to flea markets, and experiencing new people and how they live. To me, that’s exceptionally inspiring, so that’s one of my main motivators.
What are you currently working on that we can look forward to?
We always have a lot of balls in the air! We’re excited because we have an opportunity to partner with other like-minded creatives and female founders. I’m such a fan of working with other creative women. We launched a dress as part of a collaboration with Print Fresh, a dynamic print- and pattern-loving brand out of Philadelphia. They do the most wonderful loungewear and pajamas, and I desperately wanted to get a dress into the mix with them. We’re about to launch a really great day planner in the fall with another female-owned company that we adore: Sugar Paper Los Angeles, and then we have another really exciting collaboration with two incredible women — Neely and Chloe. We’ll be doing a whole travel line that’s very colorful and happy and pattern-filled.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I think a lot of advice is given through experience. I’m grateful to have grown up with a mother who worked really hard. I watched, and I felt like my life was within my control. You shouldn’t be waiting for somebody that magically spins your life a certain way. I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility — the feeling that if I worked really hard, had a goal, and set out a vision for what I wanted, that I was fully able to accomplish that. It wasn’t about somebody offering the right job or [having] the right things fall into my lap. We have the ability to create the life we want, and that’s a motto that we use for Creative Club. I’m truly a believer that each one of us has the ability to get to the place that we want to get. I suppose that advice comes from watching my mom work really hard to make the life she wanted.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Creativity. Creative interactions drive me, and I’m fortunate to have other creative friends.
Travel. This last year or so, when we haven’t been able to travel, makes me more aware than ever that it’s something we take for granted. I’ve traveled quite a bit for work, and there’s such a hustle around that. It’s hard to be away from family, but I recognize that it’s such a special opportunity, and one that I find truly inspiring … To see how other people are living and experience architecture, other places, food, and textiles.
The third thing is to have something that I’m passionate about. Having something you’re passionate about is such a gift, and I’m grateful every day to have found something that brings me so much joy.
Thank you for sharing your passion and creativity with us, Gen! And thanks to Jessica Amerson for the stunning photos.
Watch the 3-minute video below for our lighting round interview questions, all about Nashville, with Gen Sohr: