“Look for new and interesting ideas, move outside your comfort zone a little — fitting in isn't always a good thing!”
California-native Karlee Hickman moved to Memphis with her husband, a FedEx pilot, four years ago. It was a big move in many ways — geographically and culturally, certainly outside her comfort zone.
“I'm independent, but after a couple of months, I had a distinctive dark moment where I consciously had to make the decision sink or swim. Sink — meaning give up and go back to my family and friends in California or swim — meaning make the most of it and get out there and start making some roots,” she recalls.
Even at the beginning of her big transition, she could tell there was potential in the city. “I told my husband, “You mark my words. Give it 10 years and Memphis is going to be on those ‘Top 10 Cool Places’ lists.”
For Karlee, making roots wasn’t about fitting in. It was about making connections and letting her entrepreneurial spirit contribute something unique to the growth happening all around the city. She was so inspired that she gave her new attitude its own tagline — “Memphis Proud.”
“Memphis Proud embodies the spirit of the renaissance that's happening all around us right now. Memphis is cool place full of character and soul and enormous opportunity. Yes, my family and I happened to end up here. But that's changed and now we know better and are choosing to be here. We're proud to call this city our home and proud to be even a small part of the awakening that it's experiencing.”
After a few odd jobs as a waitress, a bartender, a nanny, and an au pair in Sweden, Karlee took her Fashion Design/Apparel Production education and interior design background with her love for collecting vintage furniture and created something almost unpredictable as a business — renting out vintage furniture and décor as props. Propcellar Vintage Rentals was born in 2013 from one couch she found at a yard sale then refurbished with aqua blue fabric and red legs.
The inventory grew with more and more requests to provide props for weddings, photo shoots, parties, and film productions.
Now Propcellar has a new home in a converted glass factory on Summer Avenue that channels the energy of the Broad Avenue arts district just south of their building. With 10,000 square feet of space, Karlee has seized the chance to not only store more inventory to rent but hopes to rent out the space itself for parties and photo shoots.
For the building restoration, Karlee enlisted interior designer Natalie Lieberman of Collect + Curate. Careful detailing and new lighting upgrade the space without losing any of the mid-century character. The showroom portion of the building hopes to be complete and open by early September.
In the hectic schedule of this major build-out, Karlee balances time as a mom of two young kids. "Balance is a generous word,” she jokes. Knowing she’s not exclusive to this day-to-day dilemma of finding time is part of the Propcellar service of saving their customers time in finding that perfect piece. She has taken many requests to find anything she doesn’t currently have in stock.
Her eye for style and vintage design doesn’t stop at furniture or interiors. Her design philosophy also evolves into personal style. “Editing is the most important step in any design process, be it clothes, interior or event design. Fabulous color selection is an art and makes all the difference in the world.”
And her style advice? Confidence. “Nothing looks as good as confidence. A gal is unstoppable with a great moisturizer, YSL Touché Eclat, blush, lip gloss, sunglasses, caffeine...and wine.”
Dress: Vintage. Purchased from Twisted Vintage Textiles “right here in good old Memphis!”
Shoesies: Chelsea Crew. modcloth.com.
Earrings: Southern Couture
Prop and shoot location: Jens Mid Century Chair, Propcellar Vintage Rentals.