February 25, 2020

Cottage Vision Designs bringing creative possibilities to West Branch


WEST BRANCH — The latest addition to the storefronts of downtown West Branch represents the next step of a journey that began a few years back for Cottage Vision Designs owners Vicki and Dave Thomas.

Vicki has been running a mobile art business, Visions by Vicki, for more than three years, hosting canvas painting classes at various locations including in West Branch. The classes were selling out and had waiting lists, and Vicki and Dave began looking for a space of their own, happening upon the store’s current location.

“West Branch is very much like the town I grew up in, Lapeer,” Vicki said. “It’s very warm and welcoming. We could have opened a store in Midland or Gladwin, but I wanted to be at home, where everybody supports each other. I wanted to be in a small-town friendly kind of atmosphere.”

She said the West Branch community has already embraced the couple and their business.

“It’s nice to be in a community where everyone you talk to, they want you to succeed,” she said. “If you’re succeeding, they’re succeeding. You don’t feel like someone is trying to shut you down because of competition or feel threatened. The more the merrier — that’s the great thing about West Branch.”

The Thomases started working on the new location in May, and Vicki already held two successful classes in June in response to demand. One was held on the night of the Back to the Bricks Promo Tour, and a few tour members participated. The store itself opened July 10.

While the store will have a variety of products available for sale, Vicki said she wants it to be a creative space, as the several tables lining the back half of the store can attest to. Different classes will be taught by Vicki and guest artists — from canvas painting to bake and take and children’s classes — and she is planning to rent out the space for all-day creative events such as quilting or scrapbooking.

People will also be welcome to come in and work on their personal projects, or customize a decor item for themselves. She said someone can come into the store with a vision in mind and consult with her and her husband about it, and they will help that person create the item.

“We’re not cookie-cutter here,” she said. “My greatest joy is when they take my concept and add or subtract things to make it their own.”

Before delving into the world of running her own business, Vicki worked with at-risk teenagers at a middle school.

“I’ve always done art, but I had found myself single and trying to support myself seven days a week, with two jobs,” she said, noting that around that time she began to date Dave. “I’m a woman of faith, so I was constantly praying that God would put me where I needed to be.”

The pivotal moment came as a result of a secret sisters gathering at her church. Rather than having a typical gathering of gift-giving and eating, the ladies had a painting event.

“I just thought it would be a one-time thing, have fun with my friends at church,” she said.

However, immediately after the event the ladies began excitedly posting their paintings on Facebook and tagging Vicki, and she began receiving numerous private messages with requests for more.

“It became one of those things that just snowballed,” she said.

Dave was also essential in lending support at that time.

“Since day one he saw how it was starting to really have a life of its own after that secret sister event — we were just dating at the time,” she said. “He took me to dinner, he said, ‘I don’t know what is going to happen between the two of us, but this is what you need to be doing.’ He handed me his credit card and said, ‘Go buy what you need.’ He jokes, ‘I haven’t seen that credit card since.’”

And indeed, this new venture was the answer she had been looking for.

“I could quit my part-time job,” she said. “Ever since, this has been our full-time job, it has taken care of us. That’s where the name ‘Visions’ comes from. It was never my intent — I firmly believe it was God’s vision for me. He has taken me where I need to be.”

She said Visions by Vicki is still extremely successful, with a strong following in Southern Michigan. Thus, the West Branch store will be open from Wednesday to Saturday to give Vicki time to accommodate her other customers.

She said one special thing about hosting canvas painting classes is watching people create something uniquely their own.

“As women we’re hard on ourselves and hard on other women,” she said. “This is part of my mission — to show people we’re all created differently and we all view art differently. Even though we’re all painting the same painting, it’s going to come out differently because we’re all different people.”

Vicki also finds joy in watching people grow over time. She has been able to do that with a group of about 12 people who have been faithfully attending monthly classes.

“They have grown in not only their skills, but in their comfort zone and their confidence,” she said, noting how one woman was able to grow to the point where she could sit down and create her painting with very little guidance.

“I just love the art and I want you to expand it,” she said. “It’s all about the process and loving it, so even if you’re not good, you’re going to get better.”

Besides the classes, customers will be able to browse a growing inventory of decor items made by the Thomases — including porch signs, benches, trays and more — and items Vicki feels fit in with the feel of the business. She also hopes to create a specialized section with items made by Michigan women, such as candles, personalized jewelry and more.

Rather than displaying the items on typical commercial shelving, Vicki is embracing the building’s historic roots by using antique pieces such as an antique buffet and end table. In preparing the space, Vicki said the only thing she and her husband did was paint the walls from a beige to white and gray so the art pops.

“We tried not to do too much because of the historic look, the tin ceilings,” she said.

Continuing forward, the Thomases are working as a team at Cottage Vision Designs, each contributing their own strengths.

“He’s really strong in the areas I’m not strong at,” Vicki said. “I’m the creative side; I build the relationships with the guests. He builds — I can tell him, ‘This is what I need built,’ and he’ll build it for me. He’s the PR person — I’m a little more reserved. He’s able to really step out; he’s very outgoing and friendly and doesn’t know a stranger. We have a really good balance as far as getting things done.”

Cottage Vision Designs is having a grand opening July 26 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with appetizers, drinks, giveaways and more throughout the day.

The store is located at 320 W. Houghton Ave. It is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Monday and Tuesday by appointment. For more information, call 989-345-5185.


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