James and Joanna Grace spent years in New York City, where he marketed such designers as Kenneth Cole and she was a fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar and Elle. Finally the two decided to combine their taste for the traditional with their eye for the hip and create their own line of woven fabrics for fashionable homes. Their handprinted, generously cut towels, placemats and linens with trademark bee and rooster motifs are designed and produced in the Burns Court office of VanderPool & McCoy (his middle name; her maiden name) and grace such showrooms nationwide as Macy's and Nordstrom's. In Sarasota, they're sold at Morton's and Country Loft Antiques.
The bees and roosters were an instant hit when they first surfaced on pillows the couple designed, even appearing on the set of "Friends." Pillows led to potpourri balls, and escalating living expenses led the couple to Sarasota after a country-wide road trip in search of a new home. Here they started to put the bees and roosters on towels cut from flour sacks and integrate them into romantic French countryside scenes. Later they added a piqué line and a jacquard line, which is produced in a 150-year-old factory in France. They also added new designs, including goats, ducks and geese, and, for a West Indies collection, monkeys and palm trees.
"We produce what we think we would want," Jim Grace says. Or maybe Joanna says it; the two frequently complete each other's sentences and say their close working relationship is a reason for their success. It's helped them get through hours of hard work and setbacks, like the time a squirrel got into the office through the chimney and left sooty footprints all over a batch of freshly cut towels. They've synthesized his Harvard art-history background and her years of fashion and textile study in England into their fun and youthful product: witty, contemporary American designs on traditional European décor, like French lettering on a towel under images of a goose beneath a bowl of foie gras.
"We sort of put a whole new energy in the market because we showed people you can have fun," Jim says.