English hardboard, cork-backed placemats have long been a fixture at the family dinner table. For Lockie Markusen of Edina, the memories stretch back generations. “Growing up I used them, my grandmother had them, and I remember spilling on them and it wasn’t a big deal,” Markusen recalls. “I wanted these placemats again—but without flowers or horse-jumping scenes on them.”
She decided to create them herself. But building a business from scratch isn’t easy–especially with a houseful of kids and an entirely different background in hospital work and software sales.
Armed with more than 1,000 design ideas, including wallpaper samples and an antique Chinese vase (which local friend and graphic designer Katie Murphy replicated through watercolor), Markusen enlisted a few talented people to help. In addition to friends, she found French illustrator Delphine Doreau, Seattle-based illustrator Julie Paschkis, and MCAD students to interpret her ideas through paint, illustrations, and graphic design, which she then layered with various materials, such as marble, wood, silk, or denim for a more textured look.
In addition to fresh, modern, and colorful, Markusen wanted the placemats to be near waterproof. She spent a year searching for the right finish and found it in the UV coating on sailing charts paper, which can be soaked in water—or spilled OJ—for an hour with no harm done.
Markusen didn’t rest until the product met her standards of sturdiness and design. “With five kids, it’s kind of like I have a dinner party every night,” she says. “And I set the table.”
In the end, she got what she wanted: a placemat simple enough for everyday dining that’s easy to wipe clean, but also pretty enough for a formal party. “This is not saving the world, but I believe in the product and I want to sell what I absolutely adore.” Placemats ($56/set of 4) available at Five Swans, 315 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-473-4685, fiveswans.com