Elysian Exchange: Chelsea Fuss of Frolic!

Written by Jessica Comingore Photography by Chelsea Fuss

It’s been a quiet few months around here, and truth be told, I needed the time away to clear my head and think about what I would really like this space to be. There is often a demand to do it all and be it all, but I think it’s important for us silence the external pressures we face in life, and dig deep to uncover what is truly important to us. Creating content just for the sake of it has never appealed to me, and first and foremost, I want this to be a space where I can connect with readers on topics that uplift and inspire. For me, this always comes back to telling people’s stories; to sitting across the table with a cup of tea (physically or virtually), and sharing the things that make life challenging and interesting. And if I can use The Elysian Edit as a space to engage in those conversations, I’ll feel I have fulfilled my purpose.

So, what did the time away uncover? Well, I continued to come back to the idea of our sense of place and how it informs the work we do. We often hear that, as creatives, it’s imperative to live in a big city where you have access to culture, people, and the ability to cultivate more work. But what if we challenge that idea? With the creative landscape rapidly evolving, and the ability to operate a remote business easier than ever, I sought out a few inspiring individuals who have recently made moves. Not all for the same reasons, but all from more metropolitan cities to quieter locations on the map. Does this change our way of living and working, and if so, how? These are the questions I’m curious to ask, and today I’m introducing the first in a series of interviews around just this idea. I’m delighted to begin with one woman who I’ve enjoyed following along with for many moons — Chelsea Fuss of Frolic!. Chelsea is a stylist and florist who, a few years ago, picked up her life in Portland, Oregon, and planted roots in Lisbon, Portugal. Chelsea opened up about uprooting her life and business, taking risks, and what a creative community means to her.

1. You spent many years living and work in Portland, Oregon — a city known for its burgeoning creative scene. What prompted your move to Lisbon?

I originally left Portland to travel indefinitely and take a break from my work as a commercial prop stylist, knowing I wouldn’t return, but not knowing exactly where I was going. I sold everything and was volunteering on organic farms around Europe for about a year, and went to Portugal on a whim. After a month in the interior, I decided to go to Lisbon, and within days fell in love with the city. After a week I knew I wanted to live here.

I’ve wanted to live overseas for years, and it was several years of living in Portland and knowing that, as much as I loved it and my incredible creative community there, that after 14 years, my time there was well over. But it took a few years to disconnect, and not get swept back in by opportunities and the comfort zone I had there. My mantra is, “Why not?” It helps me do scary things!

2. We often hear that our surroundings greatly influence the type of work we do. As a creative, do you feel your perspective towards work has shifted at all since your move overseas?

Because I was on the road for so long, I had to put big (or pretty much any) work ambitions with my business on the back burner, and I definitely live at a slower pace as an expat as I try to adapt to life here. Since I am a stylist, I tend to soak up whatever is around me, and the more time I spent in the countryside towns in Europe, the more I came to love a layered, undone aesthetic, and vignettes that show age. My approach to work and the type of design I want to create changed from the composed, often pulled together “American” look, to something more disheveled, crumbly, and undone. That said, my work is always a bit behind where I want it to be, so let’s just say that’s something I am striving for. Because I pared down my life and work infrastructure, I am also creating out of very limited resources with many boundaries, which is a big challenge, but ultimately more inspiring in the end.

Now that I live in Portugal, I am drawn to the native vegetation and architecture of Lisbon, and have slowly been incorporating that into my work. I very much admire how in Lisbon, the design and art have a really natural, uncontrived feeling, where as in America everything tends to be focused on marketing (something I really never thought about until I moved). In Lisbon, people create to create, just for the simple joy, and not necessarily for money. For example, many businesses don’t even have signs.

3. Did you experience any fears or hesitations in uprooting your life to not only a new city, but a new country? If so, how did you settle those fears?

I didn’t have any fears initially, and it all happened so gradually, which helped. I found that once I tried to settle down in Lisbon, I encountered a lot of obstacles. It was a bumpy time for the first six months, and I became homesick for the first time since I had left Portland. After six months, I began to feel much more settled. I am still working through the language barrier, but I know that will just take time. Truth be told, I didn’t think much about what I was getting myself into, otherwise I may not have done it! Expat life is filled with incredible complexities, logistically and emotionally, that I never imagined. If we knew how hard most things are, we probably would never give them a try, right? I think I will always feel a bit stuck between two worlds, never belonging completely to either place.

4. What habits or rituals are part of your daily routine, and do they change dependent on place?

Coffee or tea time on my window seat each morning, trying to think of what I am grateful for, Instagram (it’s such a quick creative fix that I miss when I don’t have it!), walking (my feet are my main mode of transportation, so my workout happens naturally through my everyday errands and schedule). I always feel better when I force myself out of the house to walk.

5. What is the biggest difference between the creative community you have cultivated in Portugal versus the one you have back in Portland? Do you find people live differently and approach their creative work in different ways?

It’s difficult to compare, because my connections and friendships in Portland run incredibly deep, with a natural overlap of personal and business. Luckily I can still hang on to those relationships through technology. I don’t have those deep friendships in Lisbon yet, but I definitely found a warm, open community right off the bat. The hustle we experience in America is not really a thing here, but people are using the bare minimum to create businesses and art, which is incredibly inspiring. While I am incredibly thankful for the Internet and the connections it has made possible so quickly, I also found that Portugal was one of the easiest places for me to meet people in person (at markets, strolling through stores), as there is a general openness and warmth that I think is quite uncommon in many other places. There’s a directness, realness, and down-to-earth vibe that is overwhelmingly charming and refreshing all at once.

Design communities can often have a bit of an uppity nature, but I am drawn to people who leave their egos at the door, and that was easy to find here. I also feel really lucky to have a lot of family and friends in Portugal and at home that are not connections through social media or design, who keep me incredibly grounded in the realization that there is much more to life. This is imperative for me. I think with technology, it’s easier and easier to surround ourselves with people and ideas that are just like us, but that can be dangerous. I think it’s important to sustain connections with a diverse group of people, and something I am constantly striving to do. That said, a creative community is, of course, totally imperative as a freelancer.

6. Lastly, can you share three of your favorite people, places or things — specific to Lisbon— that are inspiring you currently?

My semi-recent obsession is Carpe Diem gallery, a modern art gallery, cafe, and abandoned garden in the center of Lisbon, located at an old palace. It’s the perfect blend of modern art and old architecture, and is alive with new ideas, a menu created in collaboration with artists, and an abandoned garden to hang out in. Their recent exhibit of watercolors by Pedro Vaz filling a crumbly room was overwhelmingly inspiring. It’s basically a dreamland.

Leather Goods by 226. Portuguese are often known for their elaborate and opulent architecture and design, but when they go minimalist, they do it really well. The sparse, sophisticated, handmade leather goods by 226 are some of my favorite for their timeless design and tactile quality that will look good for years to come.

Jardim da Tapada da Necessidades translates to the walled garden of needs. It’s one of the most beautiful and romantic gardens I’ve ever visited, the focal point being a grand, pink, glass house. Around the property, you’ll find a mediterranean succulent and cactus gardens, crumbly pink ruins, ponds, ducks, and if you peek over the wall, you’ll see a formal private garden from a palace next door. They often have concerts here, but I love just having a picnic or wandering around for inspiration.

You can find more of Chelsea by visiting her beautiful blog, Frolic!, or by signing up for one of her flower arranging courses.

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