Studio Visit: Shelley Kleyn Armistead
In our editorial series, Studio Visits, we explore varying creative processes by connecting with creatives of all types. Since its founding, LCD’s intention has been to support and nurture contemporary arts and independent creators with unique points of view. This series will focus on the personality behind these individually developed processes, by examining the people and passions behind the work.
Here we talk to Shelley Armistead, Partner and COO of the local favorite Gjelina Group. An inspiration to those that she leads, Armistead is to blame for the incredible sense of community felt at any one of their locations – Gjelina, Gjusta, Gjusta Goods and MTN.
Tell us what you do!
I am the COO of the Gjelina Group which incorporates Gjelina, GTA, Gjusta, Gjusta Goods & MTN, and this year Gjelina NY.
How have you taken your role as Chief Operating Officer and made it your own?
I am passionate about the interconnectivity of it all. I have been able to fold in my love of product development into all aspects of the hospitality space that we currently reside within – from furniture, to light fittings, to ceramics, glassware, textiles, clothing, cookware, books – and it goes on. To be able to work alongside humans who are as passionate and are family members of our staff, is a real joy.
Tell us about a place you have lived that has impacted your work. How have you found that the culture of this place has infiltrated its way into your creative processes and outlook?
I adored working in the English countryside, living on 600 acres, and managing a 20-acre hotel property. My husband cooked in the kitchen and my father tended the walled garden and grew the food. The farmland was abundant with wild berries, damson, apples, pheasant and venison. If there was ever way that the interconnectivity of family, friends with a continual open front door policy, and land came together, it was there. There is a magic in that land, Druidism is strong, and the sisterhood is pretty phenomenal.
More locally, Oaxaca is huge for me. I initially started going there to connect with the mothers of the people we work with. As a mother with two sons, I couldn’t imagine being that far away from them, with reduced access for communication or visitation. Of course, the craftsmanship is incredible and every village has its own story, and it's compelling to visit. Then about 2 years ago something really shifted in terms of being there, and I know it is a lifelong connection. I am incredibly grateful to the families that I work with who take me in. We work together through ceramics, textiles, and maize.
How have you found that the culture of that place has infiltrated its way into your creative processes and outlook?
In Oaxaca earth is the source of it all; food, clay, corn, – it goes on. I love that they really celebrate soil as a life source. In England, the seasons influenced the way I ate and the flowers I grew. To go from one season to the next craving what fruit or vegetable was making its way to you is an incredible privilege. Also being so far from London, a lot of sourcing for the home and hotel was done through estate sales and flea markets. A responsibility that I really love.
How do you exercise your creativity within your daily routine?
I am incredibly lucky that my daily conversations include new plates for dishes within 3 restaurants – it’s fascinating to see what is inspiring the head chefs when they are working on a menu, and want a plate or a bowl to go with it. Same with glassware and beverages. Gjusta Goods is so ridiculous for this, it’s almost wrong to call it work, but I do get to think about what we can make, how it can tell a story within our restaurants and how it adds to us as a whole. I am naturally curious and wish I had another 12 hours in every day. My curiosity and seeking keep me inspired. I do know that if I am not feeling creative, deep cleaning my house gets me back on track. I wish I knew why, but it works every time.
You’ve been a key part in the development of Gjelina Group spaces, how does it feel to see your work realized?
I am not sure that one’s work is ever truly realized by oneself, which is the momentum that keeps me moving. I certainly appreciate the spaces for what they are, the stories that they hold, and the people who create the energy within them. But they are like humans, they change daily, they need a lot or very little. Which keeps me in flow, every single day.
Is the final product ever different than expected?
I may sound commitment-phobic, but it’s more a lesson in non-attachment to outcome. While there are images, a menu, or materials that have importance when building a space, I am more focused on the energy that they produce. Having too much attachment or control in its outcome results in a stiffness that the customers feel. I think the joy of any of the spaces I have been fortunate to be a part of, whether here or in England, have taken a life force of their own with the community’s daily involvement and their connection to our teams. Team energy can make or break a place. To some, it feels like its chaos. To me, it feels alive.
Do you have any physical outlets for creativity that you seek?
Museums, all of them and anywhere I travel. Libraries, the older the better. Symphonic Orchestras, in every country, I seek them out. Podcasts, I listen to them to and from work. For anyone in hospitality, Radio Cherry Bombe with Kerry Diamond is fantastic. All her guests are my heroines.
Where do you feel most productive?
Even though my work has me on the go 6 days a week, my home is my epicenter of creation and calm. My daily practice of sunrise on the beach where I walk, plan and then journal with coffee. But Saturdays are the most special day of my week; I will start a bone broth around 6 am (and bottle it 12 hours later, it lasts me the week), just before I take my eldest to his job at the farm where I will shop at the farm stand, go to dance class, cook on the beach for my friends, commune and my boys, eat and talk for many hours, sunset walk, and finish the day with playing board games and projecting a movie onto the ceiling. It is the most productive, yet grounding day of my week. I am completely in love with that day.
Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. They created food, art, and family. The three components of a happy life. I am eternally indebted to them for hiring me. They changed my life. Hilma af Klint, her work and her constant seeking.
A hotel on land, growing food, making medicine (I have a Bachelor of Science degree in homeopathic medicine), making furniture, textiles and ceramics. With bees and a river to fish in. My friends have heard me speak so much of this over the past 20 years, it bores them. As my friend Jess said on Monday, Shelley you have been talking about this for decades, f***ing get on with it. But it is coming, I know it.
Favorite place in the world?
A shack we have in Africa on a river, in a nature reserve, since I was 4 years old. I grew up cooking on fire in cast iron. We sleep outdoors, wake to the fish eagles and fall asleep to the fish jumping. Cooking on fire in cast iron is something that I still do today at my wobbly shack on the beach in Malibu.
An outfit that you would be happy to have on repeat?
I wish I could claim more sophistication, but any overall or jumpsuit & a rad pair of sneakers or Officine Creative boots.
LCD stands for Lust, Covet, Desire… what are you currently LCD’ing?
It’s not sexy but really coveting a vintage Dutch door for my house, a new tin roof for my porch for when it rains, a roll top bath on my deck, and an infrared sauna. Our hummingbirds would ask me for a larger feeder, our ducks for more bread.