Well-Crafted: A Family Heirloom Homestead in Rural Oregon

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Photo by Barry Rustin
A display of collected antiques, handmade pom-pom crafts and dried herbs sit on top of a rescued wine barrel inside the entry door.

From their rural family heirloom home outside Albany, Oregon, artists, entrepreneurs and homesteaders Jason and Cara Hibbs run the successful organic housewares and gift company Oh, Little Rabbit. Living in Cara’s childhood home, complete with several acres of land, a chicken flock, a minidonkey, a horse, two alpaca/llama mixes, bountiful gardens, fruit trees and more, Cara and Jason take inspiration from their homestead and the natural beauty around them for the original designs—which include canning jars, flying pigs,  lanterns, turtles, pinecones, squirrels, trees, herbs, carrots and Sasquatch, among many others—they create for their handprinted housewares.

Baby Bunny

About three years ago, Jason and Cara were living in Albany managing a storage facility. “It was the most boring job you could have,” Jason says. “We sat in an office all day, but no one came in regularly so it was really slow.” Cara had recently quit fine art school for illustration (because she couldn’t afford it), but she wanted to experiment with different art techniques, so she and Jason started making block prints. After printing on anything they could get their hands on—bags, journals, whatever—they decided to make a set of tea towels, “I think because we needed some towels,” Jason says.

They made a few extra, and a friend had told Cara about the online craft marketplace Etsy, so the couple thought, “Why not,” set up an online store and posted some towels. “We posted it on a Friday after work and went to dinner,” Jason says. “When we came back we had sold one. We felt a mix of excitement and a little fear, like ‘What do we do now?’ We’d never done anything like this before, so we were running around thinking about how we were going to ship it. We kept going and everything we posted would sell as quick as we got it posted.”

The two were printing using carved rubber blocks. They liked the effect but not the amount of time it took to create each print—about an hour and a half for each towel they sold for $12. They knew they needed to come up with a more time-efficient way to make their product, so they started experimenting with screen printing, starting with an inexpensive hobbyist kit they bought at a craft store. At the time, the two were living in the 400-square-foot apartment above the storage facility where they worked. As their business continued to expand, “We cleaned out the coat closet and we made this screen printing cart that we could roll in and out of it,” Jason says. “So the business literally started out of a coat closet in our old apartment.”

Jason had been in a competitive nursing program, and missing entry into one phase of the program meant he had three months off from classes. During that time, the business continued to pick up steam. The two realized it was time for both of them to consider jumping in full-time if they really wanted to make a go of it.

“I had been thinking this would be my job and Jason was just helping me,” Cara says. “But during that period I realized it was growing faster than I could keep up with and that I couldn’t do it by myself. So we took that leap and dedicated all of our time to the business.”

The two haven’t looked back. Oh, Little Rabbit has exploded into an Etsy powerhouse and the company now offers wholesale items to retailers across the country, and sells a hefty quantity of merchandise through Oh, Little Rabbit online.

Building the Burrow

As the business was growing, Cara and Jason also had to get settled in their personal life. They quit their jobs at the storage facility, which meant moving out of the apartment. Meanwhile, Cara’s parents had put her childhood home up for sale right around the time of the housing market crash, and it had been sitting unoccupied for about two years. Cara and Jason had previously lived in the house as a rental for about a year, and they loved its rural location—not to mention the fact that Cara’s father, a builder, had handbuilt the home. They decided to buy the place from Cara’s parents. It was also the perfect setup for their business because of a large backyard workshop equipped with power and water, which they were able to easily convert into a screen printing studio (they also upgraded from that old hobbyist machine to a professional screen printing setup).

Living in a place so tied to nature is important to Cara and Jason, both personally and professionally. “I’ve always enjoyed going into town or to Portland for a day to go to a fun restaurant or something, but I would really rather live out of town,” Cara says. “We like having the pasture and having animals and having a garden.”

Living nearer to nature also offers inspiration to the pair as they develop their designs. “We’re on the country end in our artwork, and having chickens and a garden and canning our food gives us lots of ideas for the business,” Jason says.

Cara and Jason also love that their home is a family heirloom. “It feels right to me to live here,” Cara says. “Growing up, my mom would garden and can and so it’s come full circle with me now being able to can and take care of the gardens. It’s been a nice transition to adulthood. I respect it more and it means a lot to me knowing they put in the hardwood floor and the insulation. The house means a lot to us.”

A Perfect Nest

Handhewn ceiling eaves, a bannister made of a tree that fell on Cara’s grandparents’ farm, patio pillars salvaged from a nearby historic home— Cara and Jason will never change these elements of their home. Yet the two have made other changes to make the house their own, most notably designing and creating much of their own furnishings.

A hobbyist woodworker, Jason built their dining room table out of scrap wood he collected from their local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. He’s also built coffee tables, chairs and more. “We’ve gotten to a point that if we need a piece of furniture and it’s not upholstered, we’re going to make it ourselves,” Jason says. “The dining room table is 100 percent reclaimed wood. It’s something that was going to be thrown away and now it will be in our house for the rest of our lives.”

A skilled embroiderist and quilter, Cara also contributes to the home’s handmade personality. “We like to make things. We like having unique, one-of-a-kind things in our house,” she says. The two also collect antiques, and they display their finds throughout their home.

Natural Inspiration

In addition to being inspired in their designs, the land around them has also inspired Jason and Cara to make many of their products with organic cotton and sustainable practices. Jason says choosing organic just makes sense for their business. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t choose organic,” Jason says. “It’s available and it’s not much more expensive. If you can use a better product that’s better for the environment, why wouldn’t you? I’ve had lots of people ask us if our products are organic. We’ve never had anyone request something non-organic.”

Their love for land inspires everything the Hibbses do, from their business to their lifestyle. “The land around us is a gift and that gift is to be utilized,” Jason says. “If we can get a large amount of our food from our land, we want to do that before other sources. Since we moved onto the property we’ve planted a lot of fruit trees, so I like to make cider and right now I’m brewing seven gallons of mead.”

But most importantly, choosing organic honors Jason and Cara’s love of nature. “Growing up in the Northwest, you have mountains and trees and rivers,” Cara says. “Growing up with so much beauty gives us a lot of respect and caring for nature. Coming from an eco-friendly vantage point makes the most sense to us. We want to preserve what we have; we want to have that available for future generations.”

The Art of Business

Cara and Jason Hibbs founded Oh, Little Rabbit because of Cara’s unquenchable desire to create art. But the fact that they’re creating useable housewares makes the art even more meaningful to her. “In art school, so much was fine art and it was hard for me to see how I’d fit into that market,” Cara says. “It was so specific and not accessible to a lot of people. I like the idea of doing something that is useful to everybody—something that is utilitarian but also has a unique feel someone can relate to so they really enjoy their practical item.”

Jason and Cara love the idea that people can use their work to change the mood in their home or kitchen without a major overhaul. And they hope they’re creating timeless items people can use for a long time. “I like to think our towels could be put in a kitchen in the ’50s and not look out of place, and they could be put in a kitchen 20 years from now and not be out of place,” Jason says.

Although the two are running a successful business, they’re driven more by artistic expression than by marketability. “We definitely aren’t thinking, ‘Here’s whatever product that will sell, let’s make more,’” Cara says. “We’re more in the mindset, ‘What’s a new illustration we can do, what’s a new image?’  We have the hardest time doing something just because we know it will sell. We really believe in making things that are useful and meaningful.”

The two hope their success continues, because they say now they are spoiled with a career that enables them to fulfill their artistic passions while also living the lifestyle they’re passionate about. “When you do something you absolutely love doing it’s dangerous because it spoils you,” Jason says. “I don’t think I could go back to a regular job, I’m so used to getting up and enjoying work and setting my own schedule. If you want to spend more time on something, you go for it. You’re not responsible to anyone but yourself.”

Cara says that, although they invest a lot of time into their business, it’s worth it to do something they truly love. “At the end of the day it’s hard to get away from it, but we’re really lucky that we love what we do. The fact that it consumes more time is OK because we enjoy it and care about it. It’s fun to really care about your job.”

A Chat with Cara and Jason

What do you do when you need to get away from it all?

Cara: We are lucky we only live about an hour away from the coast, and that is usually where we go when we need a break.

What’s your favorite room/space in your home?

Jason: My wood shop

Cara: I love our family room. It has tall windows that let in so much light!

What’s your favorite antique piece in your home?

Jason: An old branding iron that we found at a flea market that coincidentally is my initials.

Cara: I have a small collection of vintage quilts that I have collected over the past few years and those pieces would have to be some of my favorites. I love the look of the handstitching and the old fabrics.

What’s your best-selling design? Why do you think that is?

Cara: The Mason jar is probably the best. We think it’s because Mason jars are so timeless. They have been around a long time, and people still use them today for canning, decorating and a million other things. People can relate to it, or have family memories linked to it. We know we do.

What’s your favorite music to work to?

Cara: We listen to all kinds of music when we are out in the studio, but lately we have been listening to a lot of folk music.

You find $50 in an old coat pocket. How do you spend it?

Jason: A bottle of scotch 

Cara: Something from an antique store. 

What’s one of your biggest goals for the next five years?

Cara: We really love what we do, so in the next five years we hope to keep going strong! We are always looking for new products to include in our line and add diversity. We are in the middle of developing a stationery line and are very excited to make that available soon!

Why, Little Rabbit?

Jason and Cara are frequently asked how they came up with the name of their business. It was inspired by Jason’s family who used this old Russian idiom when he was growing up. It roughly translates to “Oh, my goodness!” and might be said to a child who has mildly misbehaved or behaved foolishly.

Editor-in-chief Jessica Kellner loved the drive down to Cara and Jason’s gorgeous homestead and workspace in Oregon after the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington.