Artist Spotlight: Angela Mead-Crenshaw and her Sustainable Passion

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By Shonda Dudlicek

Growing up in Flint, Mich., interior designer and artist Angela Mead-Crenshaw said she had to think outside the box when it came to chasing her interest in painting and drawing.

“I found materials. I was recycling and learning to work with what I had,” said Mead-Crenshaw, owner of Forward Rewind Design in Chicago.

Her mother was an artist with her own painting and wallpapering business, so Mead-Crenshaw often went to work with her. “She kept me entertained with art projects. She painted huge murals of Disney World and would surprise us with that at Christmas and our birthdays.”

She met her husband, artist Jonathan Mead-Crenshaw, about 20 years ago and that changed her path—she knew she wanted to be in Chicago with him.

“I was ready to get out of Flint. I always imagined living in a big city like New York or Chicago. At 18 was the first time I’d been to Chicago, I came to visit and never left. I fell in love with the city,” she said.

The Mead-Crenshaws moved to Nashville, where she studied interior design and started a painting business with her brother. She eventually transferred to Columbia College back in Chicago.

“I took all those experiences, learning how to get my work out there, wallpapering with my mom. It helped me get my foot in the door,” Mead-Crenshaw said.

Forward Rewind Design specializes in sustainable interior design. She works with local materials and finishes, items that have a low carbon footprint like recycled glass, low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints or solar panels.

“Mostly I look at what people have in their home and how to reuse and re-purpose it,” she explained. “It’s repairing, reupholstering, using sections of wallpaper and tile. I use companies that are eco-conscious. I have networks of different companies.”

She hires Chicago artists, designers and contractors to complete projects. With a demolition, Mead-Crenshaw sorts the materials and takes them to Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago, which diverts items from landfills for reuse. She teaches workshops at Rebuilding Exchange and in the Maker Lab at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. “All of my projects have a common theme of recycled art,” she said.

Some of the items she’s used most often are old photo frames and antique wood furniture that can be painted and updated.

“I like funky, bold prints,” she said; her favorite material is chilewich, a textile that can be used for walls or rugs. One of the restaurants she redesigned, Indian eatery Tikka n’ Curry in Chicago, used chilewich on its counter and as wallcoverings.

She also creates custom feature walls, hand-stenciled floors and furniture, living moss walls, custom wallpaper and handmade accessories.

Mead-Crenshaw’s background in the restaurant industry led her into hospitality design as her niche.  “All those years waiting tables and bartending have paid off because now I have a deeper understanding of how a restaurant should really be designed,” she said.

Of course, due to COVID-19, many of Forward Rewind Design’s projects are on hold. But Mead-Crenshaw said after working nonstop, it was nice to get a break.

She also faced a challenge familiar to many—helping her sons with e-learning over the past few months.

“I’m a laid-back parent, so to have all these scheduling changes is difficult,” she said. With the wide range in ages—Skyler, 16, Ezra, 11, and Milo, 7—”their homework is not the same. There are different websites and apps and it’s hard to keep passwords and logins all organized!”

The shutdown presented Mead-Crenshaw with a slowdown she needed. “I’m going back to basics and what I truly believe in. It kind of grounded me a little bit and I follow my intuitions, keeping myself involved in the green community.”

“I had no time for house projects—but now is the time. I needed to take a step back and have a breather,” she said. “My focus is on how to re-brand and market my business in a COVID-19 world.”

She thinks people will have a greater appreciation for hands-on work and their homes now that they’ve spent so much time in them.

Mead-Crenshaw said she educates people on how to have green homes. “It’s a fast-paced world we live in, ‘hurry up and get it done,’ but we really need to think about what is best.”

She also hopes people will tire of online shopping. “I’d like to see more storefronts and boutiques. In the future, maybe there will be more shopping in person, now that we’re stuck inside we will re-appreciate the experience of going out and seeing things and touching things and building things. People will care about what’s important more than saving five bucks. I hope people will think about that more. I hope people will think about that more and how they miss it.”

For more information on Mead-Crenshaw’s work, visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/refineddesignchicago or follow her on Instagram @forwardrewind.

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