Michelle Starbuck Designs

Michelle Starbuck is a jewelry designer based in Chicago, IL. Her style is a balance of organic and geometric design, beautifully hand-crafted from vintage findings. A rotating assortment of her stud earring designs have become staples in our curation, and her Elder Necklaces are one of our favorites and a S+B best seller. 

 Michelle's Design Studio, photo courtesy of Michelle Starbuck

Michelle's Design Studio, photo courtesy of Michelle Starbuck

Here is a brief interview with Michelle about her love for jewelry design:

Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?

 That would probably be when I decided to go to school for painting instead of something that would actually help me get a job and make money someday.  I have a lot of interests, in fact I also have a degree in Psychology and would have a Biology minor, but I wouldn’t have graduated in 4 years.  I almost went to grad school for Art Therapy or Business.  But I always ended up choosing being happy over money or success.  

How did you get started in jewelry design? Is it something you were always interested in?

I started making jewelry for myself with broken pieces of vintage jewelry that I bought on Ebay.  I was working at a boutique in Chicago at the time so I was able to study the handmade jewelry in the shop and figure out how it was made.  I had always loved jewelry, but hadn’t thought about making it.  Even though I was still painting after I graduated from college, I wasn’t trying to show or sell it.  With jewelry design, I got to make things and be a business owner which I’m also really interested in.  

Where do you find inspiration for your jewelry designs?

My design process is sort of backwards.  I look for materials first and then design around them.  I use a lot of vintage findings that I dig out of old warehouses.  I’ve definitely reached a point where I can look at a piece of metal or a bead at a gem show and know immediately what I want to do with it.  I seem to get on certain tangents with shapes and colors which makes the collections a little more cohesive than random.  

Are making things a part of your past?  

I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making things.  Even when I was a little kid, I would load up my wagon with stuff I made and go door to door trying to sell it to my neighbors.  I had a lemonade and slushie stand too, but with friendship bracelets and painted rocks for sale on the side.  I learned how to knit and sew when I was 5 so I made a lot of clothes for my dolls.  I was really into making stationery at one point and would make all of the cards and wrapping paper for my family’s gifts.  And then high school and college were all about painting.  I remember being worried that I would never be able to pick one thing to focus on. 

How do you balance work and life?

I have definitely not mastered the work/life balance yet.  I started my business 11 years ago and had a full time job for 9 of those years, so working all the time is just part of my routine.  Earlier this year, I moved my studio back into my apartment with the hope of getting that balance back.  I think as long as I’m able to make all my meals at home (I really love cooking) and my plants and garden aren’t dying, I’m doing an okay job.  I would like to be better about taking days off and not working too many 10-12 hour days.  I love my work and my business so much, it’s just hard to shut it off.  

What do you like most about where you live? 

I live in Chicago and I don’t drive, so the accessibility of the city is really important to me.  I can walk to a lot places and there’s a train stop a half a block from my apartment so I feel like I can go anywhere.  I don’t think I could live somewhere that forced me to get a car.  I really don’t like driving.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Editing myself.  I have so many ideas and things I want to do, but I have to remember I’m only one person and I can’t do it all.  I’m pretty good at saying no to other people (finally), but not to myself.

What makes you happiest about what you do?

I love getting into my studio early in the morning and having a long uninterrupted work day.  I like working on new designs better, but production work can be nice sometimes too.  I also really love keeping track of the business side of things - particularly my spreadsheets.

If not jewelry design, then what?

Great question.  I’m constantly freaking out when I realize I don’t have a backup plan.  I’ve always wanted to open a store - not a jewelry store.  I have several ideas worked out for that, but I don’t want to jinx it.


Artisan SpotlightKatie Neuman