Featured Designers: Salthouse Studio


Holly Robins (left) and Holly Torneby (right) in their studio space. Photo credit Amanda Umberger.

Holly Robins and Holly Torneby are a design duo that met during their time at Seattle Central Creative Academy. Their newly created Salthouse Studios offers a nimble and experienced approach to creating for clients anything from identity to web development.

Graduating from the design program they knew they were going to have to “work hard to turn a creative passion into a career”. Before school Robins worked as a digital project manager for 9 years within a corporate environment and knew that she wanted to eventually work for herself. After school Torneby ended up working for an agency and Robins found a position at a startup. They began to discuss what it could look like to do something on their own. “We asked, what would it be like if we did what we are already doing but for ourselves?”


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They looked at a number of co-working spaces, settling on the Cloud Room above ChopHouse Row on Capitol Hill. One of their key values is to be connected to a greater design community and the Cloud Room seemed to offer what they were looking for. At Salthouse Studio everything is shared; from leads, sales, creative, development/coding and proposals. They believe they fill a needed gap in the creative market.  Many clients come them because they don’t want the responsibility of managing a freelance designer but the project isn’t the right fit for an agency that will likely bill outside the range of many smaller to medium sized projects. “We did a lot of research and we like to think our price point puts us right in the middle. And because theres only two of us plus a few contractors we work with we are really lean. We can get results quickly and we work really collaboratively.”

Robins and Torneby find that clients will often either have an idea of exactly what they want and a budget that can’t support it or have absolutely no idea what they want. According to Torneby  “We do a lot of what feels like business development. Even clients with ample funding sometimes don’t know where to start.” Salthouse can produce quick results because of their lean workflow. A highly collaborative branding strategy package can be delivered to clients in a few weeks which can be a stark contrast to an agency timeline. “It will be a challenge to grow and continue to offer the benefit of being lean for our clients.”

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Collaborative Brand Identity Work

One of their recent projects is working with a Bellevue-based startup named Intellasphere that provides a dashboard to streamline social media for customers. With a great product they found that their branding and the intended experience of using the product were not aligning. In the identity work Satlhouse Studio “…brings them in on that process. That first exercise that brings stakeholders into a branding workshop means they are usually very happy with the results we’ve created.  We listen to them instead of pushing a design onto them. From thereon we have their trust.” With Telesphere, “When they described their product they used words like elegant, smart, high-tech, enterprise.” When the stakeholders saw the discrepancy between the functionality of the product and the experience there was an ‘aha’ moment for them. Without doing a deep re-design of the web app or changing the functionality, Torneby and Robins “created a modern, clean and minimal user interface design that vastly improved the product’s usability”. Salthouse is now working on brand style board, logo iteration, and a style guide for Intellesphere developers. Next up is to delve deeply into user experience to ensure a consistent brand experience.

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We sat down with them to get a more in-depth view of the studio.

What has been the most challenging part of getting a fledgeling design house off the ground?

One of the most important factors in our studio’s success has been time management. We move quickly from one project to the next and are regularly meeting with clients, collaborating with artists, working with photographers, and consulting our development teams. Additionally, we find that people want to be heard. There is a delicate balance between ensuring you’re listening to clients yet suggesting the smartest solution to suit their needs.

What is the most memorable experience from your time at SCCA?

Hands down, it’s the experiences we created that came from the amazing community we built while attending SCCA. We were and continue to be inspired by many of our peers. We built lifelong friendships with people we respect & admire and feel so incredibly thankful to have such a talented circle of designers supporting us as we move forward.




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What advice do you have for aspiring freelance artists?

Under promise­ and over deliver.
Don’t be a diva.
Listen more, talk less.


What is your favorite swearword?
Lets hope you never have to find out…




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Walk us through one of the projects. How did you come to the design solution that you ended up with? What went well and what didn’t?

Many of our clients come to us wanting something very specific like a logo or a website. Once we do a little digging and listening, usually we discover that they need more. Business strategy and design are closely intertwined and our intention is always to create elegant design solutions that support & enable our clients business goals. Jujubeet was a great example of this. What originally started as project for print collateral soon blossomed into a full scale digital campaign. We were able to create a scalable ecommerce site and visual identity for the Seattle based juice company. Jujubeet has been wildly successful and one of the greatest challenges has been implementing lean design solutions to keep up with their growing business needs.


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Is there anything that the Seattle design community should know about you two or your business?

We love meeting other creatives and are always looking for opportunities to collaborate. We believe that work created as a collective is always better than work created as an individual. Stop by our studio anytime.

Salt House Studio is giving back to the community by offering a free happy hour design workshop 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, at the Cloud Room, in a partnership with Townsquared. Space is limited so to http://nvite.co/ccaa to reserve a spot.

See more of the great work of their studio at salthousestudio.com.

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