A Handbag Designer Fashions a Creative Space That Fuels Her Love of Design

In this month’s I Need My Space feature, we explore the home studio of Caroline Groeneveld, founder of North of Grey
creative space - north of grey handbag designer
Successful handbag designer Caroline Groeneveld pictured above in her creative space. 

After Caroline Groeneveld gave birth to triplets some eight years ago, not only did home life change but so did her career. She no longer wanted to be the interior designer she had been for several years. It wasn’t that she wanted to say goodbye to the design world entirely; in fact, she had just finished renovating her own home in Bloomfield Hills. 

“Working on our home was the first time I felt like I got to do what I wanted to do without client input,” Groeneveld says. “I thought: What if I could put this much energy into products that I want and that I could mass produce?” 

So in 2019, she poured her passions into melding beauty with practicality and launched a handbag business called North of Grey (northofgrey.com). “I wanted to create items that lots of people can enjoy and use. I wanted to get into manufacturing,” says the designer, who grew up in Liverpool, England, and came to the United States in 1991 to take an in-home nanny position. In 1998 she enrolled at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and earned a degree in interior design. 

Recognizing that the luxury handbag market was saturated, she needed a new niche, which came to her as she went about the daily goings-on of life — running a household and taking on a few design projects here and there. The result: a handbag that can transition from being a busy woman’s catchall for everything from iPads to snacks for the kids when pulling over for some park time (she calls this the “gray” hours — “not mundane, but certainly the things we do in life every day”) to a smaller container for a woman’s free time, “the north of gray, the heart of the bag,” she says. 

“A mom and/or career woman wants to meet girlfriends, or go on a date, or shop, or go to a museum, and that’s when you use the smaller part of the bag,” she explains. “It’s for the woman who is on the go all day long, and who needs organization.”  

The company logo tells Groeneveld’s story. It’s reminiscent of the two liver bird sculptures that sit atop renowned buildings in Liverpool. 

“One faces the sea and the other the city,” she says. “I love them and had a sense that they were like me. I’m looking back to England and looking toward America.”

Here, Groeneveld takes us to the creative space where her design passion flourishes. Amid fabrics and samples, sketches, and CAD drawings, she shares how her home-studio surroundings inspire creativity. 

A Closer Look at Caroline Groeneveld’s Creative Space

To a degree

Groeneveld says she absolutely had to frame her CCS degree and hang it in a prominent spot near her work area. “I loved going to that school. That time was one of the best times of my life.”  

Story time

Her sons “pop in and out” of the creative space regularly. Sometimes Mom reads to them from a book called The Dangerous Book for Boys (upper shelf).“I met a woman in Plum Market who had triplet grandsons. We became friends, and she’d come to the house to see my triplets and gave us this book.”

Lady in red

A glass Kosta Boda figurine of a woman in a hat (lower shelf) takes Groeneveld back to a day when she and her mother were shopping. “My mom was fixated on that little glass object,” the designer says. “But she wouldn’t let me buy it for her, so I went back another time and purchased it for her birthday. It sat near her fireplace in England, and she loved it. After she died, I brought it back here. My mom is a big inspiration for me. She drives me.” 

Practically floored

“Interface carpet tiles (a commercial line) is amazing for this space,” she says. “If anything spills, you just whip a tile out and replace with a new one. The company has great colorways and great style.”

Light touch

A Charles Paris lamp (to right of Groeneveld) made of white bronze is one of the designer’s  favorite accent pieces. “It’s from a Baker sample sale. It’s a numbered, limited-edition lamp, and actually [my husband] Arie first pointed it out. It looks very automotive, and we both appreciate automotive design.” 

British accent

The British flag, in the form of a tapestry created by designer Vivienne Westwood, adorns one wall. Purchased in Chicago, it arrived in a “super huge crate,” Groeneveld recalls. “I had told my husband about the piece and how the saleswoman talked me into having it shipped. When the massive crate arrived, it was hard to imagine returning it; we laughed about it and kept it — glad we did.”

Pleasing palette

“I love fresh and crisp looks, so the room is mostly whites and blacks with pops of color. I’ve got to have pops of color,” she says. The walls are painted in her all-time favorite shade of warm white, Benjamin Moore’s White Dove. 

Healthy choice

Groeneveld’s Vari desk adjusts and can go as high as about 80 inches. With a history of back challenges, Groeneveld says she doesn’t want to be sitting at a desk all day. 

Pack a bag

Groeneveld’s luxury handbags feature Italian calf leather, suede details, and English bridle leather. The ones shown here are $1,600.

Want to take a peek into more homes? Read our other I Need My Space features here