Kathryn Parker – the beautiful brains behind the amazing Pineapple Paper Co…

I am so honoured to introduce the next talented lady in my #LiftMumsUp series – my dear and very beautiful friend, Kathryn Parker. Kathryn is a busy and devoted Mum to her four gorgeous children – Henry, Charlie, Hughie and Andie and as many of you now know, she is also an extraordinarily gifted graphic, stationery and brand stylist. With over 20 years experience in magazines, she recently took a leap of faith and opened her very own ‘Design Studio by the Sea’ – Pineapple Paper Co. Kathryn is the brains and creative force behind this inspiring Northern Beaches based business and it has been such a delight to watch it go from strength to incredible strength. Today she already has a long list of grateful and happy clients (myself included!) and a growing wait list of amazing new clients.

When I remember back to meeting Kathryn for the very first time, it amazes me to think that it was only two and a half years ago – it feels as though she has been in my life for so much longer. At the time she was pregnant with her youngest daughter Andie and was hosting a baby shower morning tea for another mutual friend, Naomi. I remember thinking how calm and centred she seemed – softly spoken with a quiet, placid and intelligent reserve. She also struck me to be a woman with enormous integrity and someone who wouldn’t waste words or say something unless she genuinely meant it. Almost immediately I felt such respect for her and as our friendship grew, so did my immense admiration…

Because as many of you possibly don’t know, Kathryn’s journey into Motherhood was an extremely difficult one. When her first child Henry was just eighteen months old, Kathryn began to notice that he wasn’t developing like other children his own age. She says that at the time, she felt as though some of his actions and behaviours were unusual, that he wasn’t reaching obvious milestones and that his personality and sense of self were slowly fading…in her own words, “it was like little switches were going off.” It wasn’t until Henry turned five (after years of intense therapy, misdiagnoses and not knowing) that Kathryn and her husband Stuart were given some definite answers…when a name was finally given to Henry’s condition.

What Henry actually has is an extremely rare chromosomal disorder (Phelan McDermid Syndrome) which affects the brain’s development – it is not hereditary and only a few hundred people in the world are currently living with it.

In light of the daily obstacles Kathryn faces (and always will face), her courage, strength, determination and positive approach to life never ceases to amaze me. She is caring and generous and is also the sort of person who, when she puts her mind to something, is fairly unstoppable. As a private and somewhat reserved lady, talking about herself and her family doesn’t come easily – which is why I am beyond grateful that she felt comfortable to share her story with me. Her words have touched, moved and resonated with me (as a Mum and as a friend) in ways that are very difficult to describe.

Kathryn’s interview is below – I hope you enjoy…

Me – Kathryn tell me a little bit about Pineapple Paper Co and how it came to be.

Kathryn – Well I’ve always been a graphic designer and have always really loved stationery and cards. I worked on some beautiful magazines for close to twenty years – Inside Out, Vogue Living, Vogue Entertaining and Travel and Bride to Be…I then made the decision to freelance for a while and when I had my first son Henry I pretty much decided to have a break from work and focussed on being a full-time Mum, which was so special. Then a great opportunity came along a few years ago to work (as a consultant) for a retail store and I really loved getting back into designing again. So for three years I worked as a consultant and designer and then I decided it was time for a change – so I started up Pineapple Paper Company late last year. My business involves developing a stationery range and it also involves branding and logo design…and funnily enough the brand development is what I’ve been loving such a lot and what has taken off the most.

Me – It must be so rewarding to sit down with clients and help them to visualise where they want to go with their business and brand identity?

Kathryn – It really is – often when people first come to me they’re not sure where they want to go (visually) with their businesses. I always start by creating a mood board with clients – it helps me to articulate their vision and express their dream.

Me – I find all of your mood boards to be so amazing – where do you get your inspiration from?

Kathryn – Everywhere really…it depends on the brand and obviously it depends on the client. I always keep an eye on what trends are around at the moment, but a lot of it, with the branding especially, is just about being true to what the company itself represents. The greatest source of inspiration really comes from the client and knowing what it is they are all about. And I do stay true to what I like – I feel that most people can now recognise my style.

Me – I love how your business description reads ‘Pineapple Paper Co…Design Studio by the Sea’ – how important are your beach-side surroundings when it comes to your work?

I put ‘Design Studio by the Sea’ because the name came to me when I was in Hawaii last year. It came from the beautiful warmth, my family travels and the stunning tropical environment. I just wanted a name that was easy and relaxed and a name that reflected what I’m all about…I was never going to be this big design studio in the city. I’m also so passionate about our coastal lifestyle here in Avalon, the relaxed and healthy way of living and the incredible beauty – it’s inspiring.

Me – It amazes me to know that you are also a busy Mum of four –  is it hard to divide your time?

Kathryn – Working and maintaining my independence is extremely important but the kids and Stuart will always come first. I’ve seen how the children actually benefit from knowing that I have other things going on. They do know I’m working a lot now and I think (especially for my eight year old daughter Charlie) they seem really interested and proud. Work is good for me and it’s great for my confidence. It’s certainly not easy…sometimes I find that it means lots of late nights and I don’t get a lot of down time – the kids will go to bed and I think “right, now is my chance to get things done…” that’s difficult sometimes when all I want to do is sit down and have a cup of tea! I have to be extremely organised but I’m happy with the way it is and I know that in a few years I’ll have more time to do more.

Me – What is the most challenging thing about being a Mum who works from home?

Kathryn – The most challenging thing for me is time management. Sometimes I really need to sit there and get my head into something and I can’t just do that in half hour chunks. But at the moment I don’t have those big blocks of time so I have to use the hours in my day really effectively.

Me – Any advice for Mums wanting to start out in business?

Kathryn – I believe that there’s no ideal – there’s no perfect time to start. I think that no matter what the children and family are always going to place demands on you as a Mum, so if you want to do something badly enough, you’ve got to bite the bullet and go for it. Sometimes I feel like I’m totally torn – I’ve got the kids doing this and the clients wanting that – but it’s about accepting that it’s probably never going to be 100% ideal and working with that.

And this is sometimes a tricky thing to say but in all honesty I do really value having my independence as a female…it’s always been extremely important to me. I am also very conscious of the fact that I am so lucky to have a job I can do from home. I don’t have to have many meetings and most of my work can be covered remotely – at this stage in my life I couldn’t even consider going into an office because I’d be taken away from the kids and Stuart for too long.

Me – Kathryn I know that motherhood has been extremely challenging for you at times…if you feel comfortable would you like to chat a little bit about your eldest son Henry?

Kathryn – Yes, so I have four lovely children and my eldest Henry is now ten. When Henry was born we thought everything was absolutely fine and he was just the most divine baby. But as he got older there did seem to be a few little things that were unusual but as a first time Mum I just wasn’t sure. At about 18 months it became apparent that Henry wasn’t reaching his milestones and I knew then that something wasn’t right – it was like little switches were going off. But for quite a few years we just didn’t know what was wrong with him – he was diagnosed with autism but that’s not what he has. He has a syndrome called Phelan McDermid Syndrome (which means there is a chromosome deletion) and it’s a brain development disorder – but we didn’t find this out until he was five years old. So all this time we were doing therapy for Henry (intensive, 25 hour a week therapy) we thought that he had something else. With the disorder he has he couldn’t learn or retain any information and he just didn’t sleep – it was an incredibly challenging and sad time for us because we had to accept that Henry wasn’t going to talk…by the age of two and a half/three he was a very different little boy.

Me – As a Mum myself I can only begin to imagine the pain you felt and how hard life must have been for you and Stuart at that time.

Kathryn – It was an extremely difficult and very sad time for us – it was like losing a child but without any acknowledgement from society. I mean there were times there when I thought I would never ever be happy again. But I had my daughter Charlie as a baby and I just had to keep going. I mean lots of people know what this is like – to have something that is so overwhelming and so sad but you find a way to live with that sadness. It’s there – it’s always there, but I just saw it as a choice. I knew I had to get on with life and we now accept it and make the best of a very challenging situation. When Henry was little I found my way to cope with it. I ran a lot, I kept myself very active and I kept helping him with as much therapy as I could. I feel great peace now knowing that I did everything I could to help him and I gave him the best possible start in life.

Me – Did you find that as a result of your experience with Henry, you distanced yourself from other Mums and families?

Kathryn – Yes absolutely – it was a very, very lonely time and I think a lot of people just didn’t know how to cope with it. It’s so challenging for any parent who has a child that doesn’t fit into the norm – and Henry’s disability is huge. Luckily I have made some really amazing friends who have stuck by me – they know Henry, they love him and they aren’t phased by him. Henry is in full time respite now…we struggled for many, many years trying to keep him at home but he needs one on one care around the clock and he also needs a purpose built home so he doesn’t run away – he can’t live in a normal home environment. I think now as a family we are just doing the very best we can. It’s so sad that Henry can’t be at home with us and we miss him all the time but I have accepted it now – there is no alternative and as a family we weren’t going to cope if we tried to keep him at home with us.

Me – And how do you feel the experience with Henry has impacted on your other three children?

Kathryn – They all absolutely adore Henry and Hughie and Andie are so little that they never understood the gravity of the situation. Charlie had to grow up on her own a lot – she watched me do therapy with Henry and I used to worry about it so much – it was tough on Charlie for sure but she’s such a good girl and I think in a way she’s benefitted from everything – she’s very mature and wordly for her age – she’s compassionate and she’s got another insight into life that things aren’t always going to be perfect. She totally understands that this is what life can be about.

Me – Do you feel that you look at the world differently now?

Kathryn – The experience with Henry has changed the way we look at life a lot – as difficult as the situation with him has been for Stuart and I, it has also made the simple achievements of our other children so precious and amazing. Talking, pointing, imitating other children, behaving, sleeping – it has just meant that we celebrate the most simple things. We are so appreciative of the smallest things and have most definitely learnt not to sweat the small stuff, which is a real gift.

Me – Kathryn, I know that so many people find you to be inspirational. As a Mum and as a Mum in business – you have some exciting new projects in the pipeline. That must feel pretty exciting?

Kathryn – Amazing! I’m so pleased with where the business is headed – the clients and businesses I’m working with are incredible and their products excite me. I put my heart and soul into my work and I really care about what I do. It’s not just a job to me – when I can capture a client’s vision and they love what I’ve created for them, it is the most brilliant feeling and brings me enormous satisfaction. Every day I feel very lucky to be doing what I’m doing.

You can find Kathryn on Instagram @pineapplepaperco_ or head to her website www.pineapplepaperco.com.au/

Kathryn has also been working on a new stationery range (including cards, invitations, notecards and gift sets) which she plans to launch in September – the range will be distributed Australia-wide. 

Above: Some recent work for The Dharma Door…mood board and look book.

Above: The Dharma Door icons and postcard.

Above: Beachwood – mood board and branding pattern created for postcard.

Above: Editor Interiors – mood board and business cards.

Above: The Loft – mood board and logo (for my husband Mark and I).

Above – Brand stamps for Petrina Conlon Interiors and my business, Palmy Platters.

Above: Pineana Avalon – logo and mood board.

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