From the moment she could take her first steps, Katie Lippens remembers the feeling of her toes in the sand as she walked hand in hand with her grandma along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
The duo was in search of Mother Nature’s treasures — beach glass, Indian beads and pieces of driftwood — that had washed ashore. Each piece they found and plucked from the sand had a story to tell. There was one that resembled a giraffe, and another that was long and curvy like a snake. In that moment of childlike imagination, Katie could have never predicted that what she thought was just a silly game would later come to shape the course of both her life and her career.
With a grandma and mother who majored in art, Katie has always considered herself a creative person. All through school, she enjoyed taking art classes and later went on to pursue a degree in interior design. Although she found success in the industry, she quickly found herself searching for something more.
“I love interior design, but it focuses so much on creating for precise spaces,” Katie says. “I wanted something that would be more free form while still bringing me joy.”
As she began contemplating the infamous question of what’s next, the creatures from her childhood found their way back into her mind.
“I was out of work at the time after having surgery and started thinking of what I could do that would really make me happy,” Katie says. “I’ve always had a passion for the lakeshore and my grandma taught me to see driftwood in a different way. I started taking some of the pieces I had collected over the years and using them to make home decor for my friends and family.”
Not long after the first piece was assembled, Drifted Art & Design was born. With her grandpa’s old woodworking tools in hand, Katie began crafting driftwood designs on a larger scale with the goal of making each piece more unique than the last. Her background in interior design certainly didn’t go to waste, and she used this knowledge to create pieces that integrated texture, depth and color into anyone’s decor — regardless if they lived on the beach.
Since launching her business in 2014, Katie has collected hundreds of pieces of driftwood, both big and small, that have washed up on area beaches. Some may be surprised to learn that the best time to find driftwood is during the winter months after the ice shelf has melted away, leaving perfectly smooth wood in its wake. On any given day, Katie spends hours on the beach collecting new inventory, which she stores in her studio in the basement of her house, waiting for the right project to cross her desk that requires a particular shape and size.
“I love the fact that each piece has a different look and feel,” Katie says. “No piece of driftwood I find is ever the same, and I tend to hold on to different pieces until a design really speaks to me.”
Although Katie is constantly pushing herself to create pieces she has never seen before, there are a few signature items, including her driftwood wind chimes and watercolor Great Lakes paintings framed in wood, which keep customers coming back again and again.
For the past few months, Katie has been on the hunt for pieces in the shape of reindeer antlers, angel wings and Santa beards. Each winter she crafts a special holiday collection featuring ornaments, Christmas trees and other holiday decor, which are available for purchase at a number of holiday markets in the area.
“Similar to my home decor pieces, I try to add something new to my holiday collection each year,” Katie says. “Last year, I created a set of ‘Nauti Gnomes’ which were really fun for me.”
Staying true to her roots, the gnomes came with their own story line: they live in the dunes of Lake Michigan, go skinny dipping at sunset and drink Journeyman Distillery whiskey.
Looking back, it’s safe to say Katie’s grandma would be proud of how far she’s come.
“When I first started out, I was so scared,” Katie says. “Art is such a personal experience, and I didn’t know how people were going to react to it. My husband encouraged me to just create and do what makes me happy, and people would love it no matter what.”
Those interested in purchasing one of Katie’s designs or having a piece commissioned for their home should visit driftedartdesign.com.