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A Hands-On Approach to Building a Business

Elizabeth Kent’s interest in interior design and crafts began with sewing projects she was assigned as a child by her mother. She developed her abilities into a serious hobby over the next 35 years. With the assistance of the Richmond Career Advancement Center Elizabeth earned an Interior Design Career Studies Certificate from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in 2001.

In 1993 she obtained a business license and began Decorative Walls and Creative Arts. Through this business she combined her love of craft and home design and specialized in faux finishes. Elizabeth’s Classic Designs (ECD) began providing interior design services to the public in 1994 through her business, Decorative Walls and Creative Arts. Although business was steady and the work interesting to the proprietor, Elizabeth Kent, she began to move toward specialty furniture design, particularly focusing on custom made upholstered ottomans.

In March 2001, Ms. Kent obtained a patent for her unique ottoman design which uses the interior compartment as storage space and creates a versatile top, to be used either as a table top or cushion. This design makes an especially useful ottoman, one that is comfortable, and adds to table surface and storage. The usefulness of the general design and the array of decorative choices also make these ottomans a practical and attractive choice in any space in the home or office.

Ms. Kent immediately saw the market in the custom-made ottomans and has created more than 50 one-of-a-kind pieces during the past several years, all of which can serve as prototypes in future production.

Ms. Kent stumbled on the Commonwealth collegiate theme and has developed those contacts and themes as a central portion of her business. She presented her University of Richmond spider mascot ottoman to the licensing agency for the college and was accepted as a vendor in September 2004. Ms. Kent currently has a license with North Carolina State University and is researching several other state colleges, including William & Mary, James Madison, UVA and Virginia Tech.

Last year when Elizabeth began researching manufacturing options for her collegiate ottomans, she contacted New Visions, New Ventures, an SBA Women’s Business Center in Richmond, for help. New Visions New Ventures helped Kent to create a business plan. They put her in touch Mississippi State University who has a furniture manufacturing program. Jilei Zhang of Mississippi State University has been working with Kent and suggested that she consider manufacturing her product in China. Kent recently sent her first samples to China to identify manufacturers who would be interested in producing the collegiate ottomans. Locally in Richmond she is setting up a Richmond warehouse and manufacturing location for her domestic line of ottomans at the Jefferson Davis Enterprise Center.

Along with the collegiate lines, Ms. Kent plans to develop a home interior line, featuring a diverse collection of floral and geometric patterns. Some will also have popular themes, such as chess, gardens and books. The home interior line will be manufactured in Richmond and features hand craftsmanship.

Elizabeth also shares her artistic talents with the local community. Last year she taught a Chesterfield County Adult Education Class on Innovative Decorating w/Stencils and Faux Finishes. In the past she has donated furniture items for a silent auction to support the PTA of a local elementary school.