Written by Allison Engel
The quarterly pattern booklet that Fig Tree Quilts designer Joanna Figueroa creates for her fans is called Fresh Vintage, and the term perfectly defines her style. So it's no surprise to find that Joanna herself lives in a fresh vintage setting-a 1938 northern California cottage updated with plenty of charm, not to mention gallons and gallons of paint in her signature background color of buttercream. Getting just the right shade of cream to set off each room was her biggest design challenge, jokes her husband Eric. "There are 30 quarts of different shades of cream-color paint in the garage," he says.
Photo: Joanna and her family live in a charming cottage in California.
An Inspiring Studio
The couple, their three children (Ben, Zack, and Ella) and their dog, Emma, have lived in their San Francisco Bay area house for five years. Two years ago, they added a second story to provide a studio and his-and-her offices for Joanna and Eric, a political strategist. Every room reflects Joanna's unique color combinations, such as cream set off with apple green, peach, and aqua, and is decorated with original and vintage quilts and carefully chosen accessories.Photo: Inspirational fancies become a tableau in Joanna's studio.
A Home Full of Color
Every room reflects Joanna's unique color combinations, such as cream set off with apple green, peach, and aqua, and is decorated with original and vintage quilts and carefully chosen accessories.Photo: Design inspiration can come from anywhere for Joanna, including her ever-growing treasure of ribbon, laces, cards, and stationery.
Collecting is her passion. She haunts flea markets for objects that get her creative pulse racing, from vintage postcards to old suitcases. Once the treasures arrive home, she arranges them in vignettes around the house. "It's my organized chaos," she says. "I feel the need to put everything in its place."Photo: Found objects are stacked thoughtfully on a side table by the dining room window.
A Love of Quilts
She bought her first vintage quilt, a pink and green beauty, at a garage sale for $7. "Almost all my antique quilts have come from garage sales and flea markets," she says.Photo: Using fabric collections she designed, Joanna made this pair of quilts-"Prairie Sweets" (on top), which appeared in Fresh Vintage #6, and "Patchwork Girl."
Everything on Display
Tatters and stains don't faze her. She displays her finds, no matter what the condition. She still delights in a quilt's careful stitching or clever use of color.Photo: A quilt rack at the top of the stairs holds many of Joanna's own quilts, with a few vintage quilts mixed in.
Time to Design
Joanna does the bulk of her designing sitting at a desk in front of a wall cluttered with bits of ribbon, fabric swatches, photos, pencil sketches, advertisements, greeting cards, and quotations. "I look for items with color combinations I like, such as cards, gift wrap, pottery, and vintage textiles," she says. "I'll also play with colors using little stacks of fabric from my stash."
Since she doesn't have a large design wall, Joanna's quilt designs take final shape in the living room. There, she lays blocks and fabrics on the floor, then stands on the couch and peers down on the design, rearranging at will.
Photo: Joanna, at home designing in her studio.
A Twist on Tradition
Her quilts tend to be fresh variations on traditional pieced designs, incorporating both small-figured prints and romantic florals. Often, her quilts are accented with simple appliqués. Titles are drawn from nature and foodstuffs, such as "Nutmeg Stars" and "Dandelion Wishes", which uses fabrics from her fabric collection, Dandelion Girl for Moda Fabrics.Photo: A meandering stitch accents "Summertime Stars."
The Softer Side of White
If a quilt is pieced on a white base, the result is a brighter and clearer look, while if it's on gray or muslin, the muted tones of reproduction and Civil War-era prints work well. Cream backgrounds, which can span the spectrum from light ivory to a true buttercream, give a softer, warmer, and more antique feel according to Joanna, and the cream sets off colors, making them sparkle.Photo: "Checkerboards in Bloom" showcases feather quilting in its blocks.
A political science major with a minor in art, Joanna began quilting as an adult when she took a drop-in class at a mall, turning out a Log Cabin project. She made only four or five quilts before deciding she didn't like following other people's directions and would rather design projects herself.
In 2004, while she was teaching and designing at the Thimble Creek quilt shop in Concord, California, Moda Fabrics asked her to come up with a color palette for a line and some designs-in three weeks. "I was in the right place at the right time," Joanna says.
Photo: A sunflower quilt (originally a Fiber Mosaics pattern) on the wall of the living room is one of the "five quilts I made from someone else's pattern before starting to design my own," Joanna says.
A Strong Following
Her updated classics have hit a chord with quilters and spawned her well-received Fresh Vintage quarterly booklets. Her advice in the first issue summarizes why she feels that choosing a color palette is key to a project's success.
"Regardless of whether it's a gift, for my own home, or for a pattern, that starting place is always a ‘feel.' … I am most often inspired by a color combination I see somewhere, usually other than a quilt. … If you train yourself to look for color combinations wherever you go, you will be expanding the amount of inspiration you find a hundredfold. …Find your inspiration anywhere, refer back to it constantly as you choose your palette, and then stand back and watch as wonderful things happen before your very eyes."
Photo: Joanna's sons, Ben and Zack, read Harry Potter in the living room. "Caramels & Cream" hanging behind them is one of Joanna's designs.