If you’re new to the Women Who MAKE series, welcome! This blog series features an artist, maker or creative excelling in their field. This month I’m so excited to share the history and development of Simes Studios, as told through a visit and interview with co-owner Cindy Simes. Cindy and her husband (and business partner) Jorge have been bringing the tradition of fine art and decorative painting to Chicago (and well beyond) for more than 25 years. The studio consists of many talented artists, often working together, and using their specialities to achieve beautiful results. The studio is known for their murals, painted floors, eglomise (reverse painted glass), gilding and more.
It was a treat to visit their light-filled studio, once a stable in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. Cindy gave me a tour and told me a bit about her story and some of the wonderful homes, projects and designers she has worked with throughout the years.
Photography by Anna Sodziak
Centered By Design: Women Who MAKE Interview – SIMES STUDIOS
What are your first memories of making art or being creative?
I’ve been drawing since I was very young sitting with my Dad sketching. An art teacher in 8th grade sparked a special interest in art for me, as he had taught for 30 years and told me my drawings were the best he had ever seen in his class. Other teachers in junior and senior high were also very supportive. I did a lot of murals and art work in my junior and senior high schools.
How did your education or past work experience give you the confidence to go out on your own as a small business owner?
I worked many jobs to put myself through college: in stores, an office, doing freelance work, and when I was in Argentina in my early 20’s as well. I started and ran an art school in a city in Argentina and then also worked for several different companies, both art related and not. I was also doing my own painting and competing in salons, and got to know many interesting, working artists. I think juggling several jobs of varying types at one time lent itself to evolving into a more entrepreneurial frame of mind.
Tell us about the process of launching your business. Best parts? Biggest challenge?
We (Jorge, my husband and business partner) started our business in Buenos Aires in our mid 20’s, helping each other out with different projects commissioned by designers and architects at first. It took us a year or two to realize it could be a full-time job. I wanted to move back to the U.S. and closer to my family after 7 years abroad, and finally convinced him to try it for a couple years. We had a good portfolio by then, and chose Chicago as a good base for both fine art, interior design and architecture. Chicago has been very good to us, we were busy before we even found an apartment. The first couple years were a blur, our first baby, setting up a studio, and hiring artists to help us. But it was fun to work in something we had so much passion for. I always say I am grateful for the designers and clients that hire and inspire us, each job is unique.
What is your favorite part of the design process? What inspires you and why?
I like working with the clients and the studio artists to take an idea and bring it to life. I think our work is a happy medium between painting, design and architecture. I love that it’s like a puzzle, you are working in a space, and making it work with the other elements in the space: color, architectural details, period, scale, etc. We can make a room something really memorable. I almost studied interior architecture, and then decided to focus on fine arts/painting. But our work has wonderful aspects of both. I am also proud to provide good jobs for other artists with benefits, which is rare.
I find the most inspiration while traveling, when your mind is more open to new ideas.
What is the best advice you have for other female entrepreneurs?
Let your talent and passions shine and guide you, and you’ll find success in what you do. It is hard to make a living as painters, but not impossible if you work hard and are professional. Don’t be too shy or humble (I err in that ).
Also, you need to have some business training to be successful. Many talented people can’t make a living with their work because they lack the financial or business side. Find mentors, read about other entrepreneurs or hire good financial advisors. I find myself too caught up in the business side many times, and strive to balance the two.
Do you have a design philosophy, and if so, what is it?
I am not sure I would call it a philosophy, but I have a very keen eye for design, color and details. We have a strong traditional background, but strive to keep our work and materials contemporary and up to date as well. We are always innovating and want to be the best at what we do. We use our fine arts background in applied arts. I am always thinking of the big picture, how our work fits into the whole-the architecture, furniture, fabrics, and to make sure our work is refined and appropriate. We love adding personal touches to a client’s work too, the custom nature of it.
What was your “big break” moment? Did you have one, when did your business really start to soar?
When we arrived in Chicago, a friend of a friend from Buenos Aires arranged to see our portfolio. She was a socialite and art collector, and gave me a lovely note saying that it was some of the best work she had ever seen, and a list of the top 10 designers in the city at that time. She said to call on them and tell them she sent us. That opened a lot of doors for us, and led to many important commissions. I will always be grateful to her.
What do you enjoy most about the creative community Chicago?
I love the mixture of modern architecture, design showrooms, galleries, and especially the different diverse neighborhoods and events. You can always find interesting things to do and discover, even after living here for many years. We travel a lot, but it is always good to come home. Chicago is a beautiful city.
Centered By Design is my business name, but it’s also the idea that we can find a bit of sanctuary each day through design, that good design can center us and make us feel great. Does your design process center you in any way? If so, how?
Some days yes and some days no, it’s a sort of “flow” thing I guess. If I am working with the artists on a project or in meetings with clients, I am focused and happy with the work.
Our home always feels like a sanctuary, where we have a lot of our work, my husband’s artwork, books, and our family. But other times I am pulled in too many directions, or a job site is chaotic, or all the bureaucratic chores are a bit overwhelming. You wear a lot of hats as a small business owner.
So it depends on the day! : )
Cindy’s Chicago Favorites:
Many thanks to Cindy and Simes Studios for the wonderful visit! There are so many interesting uses for the studio, not just the traditional painting techniques that might come to mind. How about a beautiful piece eglomise glass paired with a metal base as a side or coffee table (or gorgeous backsplash)? Or gilding a piece of furniture or ceiling medallion? All things I hope to try with my clients in the future : )
Until next time, XO – CLAIRE
Claire’s creative energy comes from her unique perspective on the world as both a trained interior designer and a passionate yoga teacher. Her affinity for kitchen design, timeless style and eclectic decorating are shared here, along with lots of interior design education and tips. Thanks for being here, please enjoy!