More than ever, we are learning the importance of standing together and supporting one another when we can't physically stand together at all. With that in mind, we want to tell you about a small business that has long inspired us and that we have often partnered with to transform our furniture showroom into a natural wonder. Introducing, Sprout Home.
Creating places to thrive
What if places had the ability to change lives, empower us to be our best selves, and make us feel a little more okay with our quirks? What if we created these places? Tara Heibel did. This is the story of how Tara’s place, Sprout Home, changed Stephen’s life. But for the record, she changed more lives than one.
It’s 2003, and Tara had just moved into a small apartment in a (Northwestern) suburb of Chicago. She wanted to start her new life in Chicago by making her new apartment her own. She always loved plants and interiors—but when she went to find the things she needed, there were no local spots nearby.
But as Tara says, “If you can’t find it, make it.” So she did. She rented a small building on North Damen Ave and got to work. Tara’s positivity, creativity, and heart are contagious, and she was determined to bolster the neighborhood and all our backyard (and in-home) gardens, so she launched a new store, Sprout Home.
When Stephen Hill first set foot in the store over 10 years ago, he stopped in his tracks at the front door. Here, in the middle of the concrete jungle, he had stumbled upon a real jungle. Plants in all their forms sprawled into view, tall swaying ferns, wide fiddle leaf figs, and many plants we don’t yet know the names of.
Stephen had recently graduated with a degree in piano performance and was working hard to start his musical career—meaning long hours performing crowd requests at bars and coffee shops, trying to make ends meet and get his name out there.
But when he walked into the store, a wave of peace washed over Stephen, the mix of childhood memories elbow deep in dirt in his parents’ garden and the quiet calm that only nature brings. At first, he wasn’t sure if anyone even inhabited the store.
“Hello?” he called uncertainly.
And then, Tara’s voice through the green, cheerful and unassuming. “We’re back here! Welcome to Sprout! Let us know if you need anything!”
There was something charming about the interaction, almost as if he had stepped back into his parents’ home garden. So for that afternoon—and many afternoons after, he found respite among the plants, home treasures, and joy of Sprout Home. These moments felt like coming up for air and inspiration and out of the waves of achievement, performance, and striving for recognition.
For Stephen, these moments were only the beginning. About a year later, Tara had certainly impacted his houseplant collection, the economy was still struggling to recover from the 2008 stock market crash, and Stephen was tired.
One late winter afternoon, he decided it was time for a change. He stopped in at Sprout Home and asked Tara for a job. With spring around the corner and Stephen as a well known (and loved) customer, she obliged and he began stocking for spring, preparing the outdoor garden. Once again, he was elbow deep in dirt—and peace.
At home, he began to play the piano again, “I suddenly got to enjoy the piano without all the pressure,” Stephen explains. At work, he could get down and dirty, see the work of his own two hands and laugh with his co-workers (who began to feel more like family than just fellow employees). Especially Tara.
Tara invited Stephen to play a larger role in offering design direction to clients, eventually even asking him to become the Creative Director. “Tara invites each and every one of her employees to explore their interests and share their passions. Just as there’s no status quo in nature, Sprout Home is the same way. Each employee finds different things surprising and exciting and combines the products and plants in a different way to give the store new texture and dimension. This environment she created makes me excited to come to work, to play, to explore, and to discover the interests of my fellow employees every day,” Stephen explains.
As Creative Director, he began to understand and define the edges of the brand. “Sprout Home revolves around the natural world, the perfect balance between structure and playfulness, the practical and the unique, and the very culture of inclusiveness that Tara created,” Stephen describes.
Today, Sprout Home has expanded to include a kitchen store and floral store, reflecting new aspects of the brand in homemade cookware, woven hand towels, and asymmetrical wine glasses. “Ultimately, each of these things we add showcase another aspect of our personality and the personality of our employees.”
Tara built a culture where employees are encouraged to be themselves and explore their passions. She created a physical space that reflects and embraces the beauty of our differences in the variety of products and plants that Sprout Home carries.
Stephen describes the impact of a place like this, saying, "This variety of passions, people, and products make us Sprout Home. This place has certainly shaped who I am and made me more comfortable with myself.”
Stephen's life could have looked so different from the way it does today. But this place, Sprout Home, changed everything for him. Here, he found somewhere he belongs, where he can grow, and where he can encourage others to do the same.
Sprout Home is currently closed to protect both employees and customers. However, as both OFS and Carolina are long-standing partners of this small business, we encourage you to learn more about what they do and how you can support them here.