We had the good fortune of connecting with Kurt Bauer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kurt, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in a humongous family in rural Michigan. My paternal great-great-grandparents were Michigan pioneers who emigrated from Bavaria in the 1850’s and my maternal great-grandparents were Illinois pioneers who emigrated from Baden-Wurttemburg, the German state next to Bavaria, in the 1890’s. The reason I start with them is that they were all very industrious farmers and entrepreneurs who made or grew everything, and they never wasted anything, being immigrants and living through WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. Especially my mom’s side that was similar to Amish. I was always very industrious, adventurous and artistic as a child, always creating something from whatever I could find in barns or garages or attics or basements of my family. After working in Yellowstone National Park for 5 seasons and graduating from a parochial teacher’s college in Minnesota, I taught school for a couple of years. Then I joined the United States Air Force as a photojournalist – to fund graduate school, earning a master’s degree – where I won awards, accolades and medals for journalism and photography, whether from precariously maneuvering 1,700 feet down the highest sea cliffs in the world on the back of a temperamental mule to write a feature about a historic leper colony on the Island of Molokai … to daringly being tethered to military aircraft, dangling high above the scorching sands of the Middle East, capturing the intense action of Operation Desert Storm. About 10 years after getting out of the USAF, I started to use my GI Bill money to attend a prestigious interior design program here in San Diego … with the end goal of creating an accessory line. Took 5 years of going to school in the evenings after work, but I graduated with highest honors, achieving an Allied Membership in the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). I now draw on all of my diverse education, background and experiences to create unique upcycled and repurposed pieces to turn my client’s homes into the coolest ‘cave-sweet-cave’ on the block! Seriously, could anything be more fun!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My main product – ‘Kursters Drink Coasters’ – was born during a creative meeting with a former design firm colleague who wanted me to create something for her personal new eco website about 8 years ago. I told her I had been to an estate sale that past weekend and bought some salvaged cork flooring. I thought maybe I could make drink coasters out of it. (That $5 box of reclaimed cork flooring yielded about $800 in coaster sales eventually!) I was hooked. I was wondering, what else could I upcycle and repurpose from estate sales?! I was always going to them anyway to buy cool items for our house. So, I bought a box of old travel maps. Then I bought some vintage dress patterns. And rolls of vintage wallpaper I discovered on dusty garage shelves. Old damaged kid’s books like Dick & Jane. Old game sheets for Yahtzee. Old yardsticks. Basically, all memorabilia no one else really wants … and generally ends up in the trash bin after a sale. My main background is in writing and marketing, so I thought … I need a cool name instead of just coasters. I named them a combo of my first name and coasters … Kurt’s coasters … Kursters … ‘Kursters Drink Coasters’. Within a month or so, I had them in a boutique in the Little Italy area of San Diego. Probably about 30 on a tray. Soon, I was in other boutiques. And another. About 6 years ago, I was invited to be part of a cool art show around a rooftop pool on top of a beautiful boutique hotel in downtown San Diego. By then, I had dozens and dozens of styles. Such an amazing night! I sold so much and met so many cool people! It was a bit crazy! How it works in that circuit, once you’re in one show, others see you and ask you to apply to be a vendor at their event. Other than this crazy year, I usually do about 25 makers markets a year. It was about that time I realized that I needed a more encompassing brand name … plus an ecommerce website … and business social media … and marketing materials. While I was in the United States Air Force in the 1990s, I won ‘room of the month’ twice and a friend made up a nickname and dubbed me ‘Kurtasaurus Domesticus’ because my room was so … designed! That’s where the brand name came from – ‘Kurtasaurus’! I had repainted my dorm room walls a cool gray, a huge black floor rug over the yucky carpet, black & white leather furniture, a black poster bed. I made the side tables from glass block and concrete pavers, plus all of the artwork on the walls. Even switched out the light plates and plugs to be gray. It was more like a very 90’s Manhattan loft than a dorm room! Sorry for taking you down memory lane … back to my work! So, over the past several years, my coaster line blew up to tons of styles, but last year, I roped it in a bit to get back to my roots where I started. I was thinking … what was the main reason people bought my coasters at events? What did they say? Why did they luv them? It was because the top sellers – maps, patterns, music, kid’s books – all brought back fond memories of their youth. Places they had traveled to … where they had lived, went to school, family vacations. The patterns reminded them of clothes they had worn to school, to their first job, that their mom or grandma or a favorite teacher had worn. I offer years 1941-1999 and they’re all titled with a name of a woman in her late teens or early twenties that year. They’re named after women I knew … my mom, sister, cousins, aunts, friends, classmates. Now, the same for Men’s, Boy’s & Girl’s. I also authenticate them to the exact year through online research (and I buy these patterns by the thousands each year … and just purchased a stash of about 800 from a seller in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this week). I never want a person to look at a set that’s titled 1972 and say to me … ‘oh, no, that dress is NOT 1972 … I wore that in 1967!’ People know when they wore a certain fashion. I know what I wore to high school. To college. My first job. When I was teaching. I’m very meticulous and I want people to have a strong, positive memory experience from my creations. I love to see them smile and tell me a story why they’re buying a specific set. I’ve heard hundreds of these stories. HUNDREDS! All very personal, memory-inspired purchases. And that brings me to my newest product lines. First, in one store where there is ample room, I recently added my ‘Platillos’, which are vintage plates … like from states or themes … and attach them atop vintage glassware to create something like a cake plate … but for keys or jewelry or small items. They’re selling like crazy! AND … I just ordered 150 meters of custom zippers and pulls … orange of course … to launch a line of pillows … ‘Kurscinis’ … that I’ll be making from vintage textiles I’ve sourced from estate sales or on my world travels. I came up with the name kind of like I did for ‘Kursters’. The Italian word for pillows is cuscini … so I switched it up with my first name and added an s … ‘Kurscinis’. They’ll be launching in early fall. Exciting!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I grew up in the fertile farmlands of Michigan, on a dirt road surrounded by my family’s fields … that my great-grandparents originally owned … and lots of my family have visited me here in San Diego … so that’s pretty easy. I like to introduce them to experiences that totally contrast home. First place here is Balboa Park with all of the cool buildings from the early 1900s. So much amazing architecture, history and art! Then to La Jolla to look at (and smell! HA!) the sea lions. Then, for sure, to Hotel Del and a tour of Coronado. Several of the ocean towns and piers. Besides the coast, I like to take them east a bit, usually on the 52, to see the mountains and totally different California landscape. Where I grew up near the shores of Lake Huron, seriously farmland as flat as a pancake with rivers and small patches of woods everywhere. Beautiful! For meals, we grew up eating mostly delicious German foods … mostly that we grew and made. So good! But here, I want them to try everything totally new and different. I was stationed overseas for nearly 6 years, so I want them to try Thai, and Japanese, and Chinese and Vietnamese. They are usually pleasantly surprised how good it is … and that it’s not just raw fish (but sushi is MY favorite!)! Also, other cuisines like Russian, Ethiopian, Italian, Indian. Sometimes, we go out for Mexican food … San Diego has the BEST Mexican food being on the border … but I’d rather make it at home for them. I cook a lot. Seriously, A LOT! We get all kinds of cool goods from a Mexican market and make it all from scratch. They’re always amazed at the variety and freshness and flavors. They think Mexican food is what they’ve eaten at Taco Bell (although that is yummy at times). I’ve been all over Mexico and tried a variety of regional cuisines, so I sort of combine lots of styles when I cook Mexican at home. I like my visitors to experience the beautiful nature of San Diego – the water and the terrain – along with the vast variety of cultures. It’s definitely a diverse region … which is exactly what I love about it!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Maybe I’m supposed to talk about other designers or entrepreneurs, but I would have to say …. my dearly departed mom and grandma. Both could make anything out of anything, worked tirelessly, luved their families, were very creative, luved to laugh, were industrious … and enjoyed everything they did. A total labor of love. They’re my inspiration in everything I create.
Nominate someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.