A generous 5’ 3” tall, Pam Newton catapults herself into a jet black, rebuilt, 1996 GMC pickup replete with lift kit, the steering well towers above her brunette locks before entering the cab, providing the leverage for her entry. “I see myself as 5’6”,” she allows, but for those who know her, her interior design and artistic vision well exceed her stature.
Newton is an artist who finds inspiration in mid-century modern furnishings and has turned her own passion into a business that caters to the residential and business customers alike, while spawning a pair of incubators and co-working spaces for the artistically inclined. Her business, Uncommon Relics, is a design enterprise driven by her love for travel and nostalgia.
Originally from Rhode Island, her family moved to Kansas City before she could walk; she graduated from Grandview High School in 1983. “Spent some childhood years in Newport, always certain I was supposed to be a Vanderbilt after each visit to The Breakers -- pretty sure that’s where my love of antiques originated.” A brief stay in Phoenix fed her wanderlust, but soon she found her way back to Kansas City, where she worked in the advertising industry while starting a side-hustle in the wedding planning business. She cut her teeth in the broader event planning, consulting and catering industries. Self trained, she dubs herself an “accidental designer,” calling on those early roots in the event business as both inspiration and exploration.
Those early experiences came under intense scrutiny when she and her husband broke ground on their custom home north of Liberty. She and her husband Chuck built, with a nod to the past and commitment to a residence that had the feel of longevity and permanence, a broad ranch-style home in a location nestled between a mature stand of trees. The trees stayed amidst the construction which features rustic finishes throughout. The home features vintage lighting from Europe, custom tile work, barn wood siding on the floors and on the newly remodeled office, and old church newels. The home has won awards and launched her second career. She had an epiphany: why should people be subjected to extravagant priced cookie-cutter design, when the world is full of expendable, but timeless design elements. “I embrace being ‘uncommon,’” she says of her design sensibilities. Her residential design business grew with word of mouth and her own salty enthusiasm.
Of her process, when she finds that one piece she builds an environment around it. “I can’t describe it sometimes, but I know it when I see it.” Her largest design assignment to date was the iWerx facility in North Kansas City. At 36,000 square feet, the old Stor-Safe Warehouse was transformed into a co-working space and business incubator in 2016. Newton began her design journey there in the winter of 2017, working on a single commission with one office in the old Kroger distribution center which evolved into nurturing vignettes and settings throughout the building. “We’d walk by her work and always wonder, ‘what’s she going to make that into,’” John Miller, one of the iWerx founders says. “She has the unique ability to take something and bring it back to life. Her other talent is the ability to attract like-minded people from a variety of communities, artists, painters, wood workers. She’s contributed to a sense of community inside our four walls. We enjoy her contribution and she’s made a world of difference in our spaces.” Miller and Newton have been pivotal in preparing another iWerx facility in Gladstone. He says Newton’s thumbprint will be appreciated there as well.
Her own foraging into the entrepreneurial community has given rise to a vision of a co-working spaces for like-minded designers and artists. In February of 2018 her vision for just a space, and the need to vacate an over-packed garage, took shape in an old Fuji film facility at 1313 Atlantic in North Kansas City. “We’ve found homes for visual artists, another friend in the interior design world, a word-worker extraordinaire, glass maker and every one of them incredibly talented and collaborative,” she says. Taking a cue from Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park -- and featuring photos from his labs in designWerx’ Freedom Cafe -- the space lives by Edison’s motto, Tempus Fugit (time flies). With that no moss grows under her slight frame, when questioned about the space’s motto, she’ll confess her vision is a bit more basic. “We don’t need no stinkin’ plan. We just get to work and let the good juju flow.”
While construction has started on a next designWerx in the Northland, she spent the winter custom-designing an Airstream travel trailer. Literally visiting the factory in Iowa, Newton’s input was christened during the maiden trip took the Newtons to the East Coast last month. The trailer is new, the brand vintage, and the interior appointments appropriately mid-century modern bohemian. “ The bed of the truck bears her finds, mysteries to behold, if only in her creative mind right now. She single-handedly manhandles its treasures into the warehouse bay at designWerx destined for greatness...or reselling in her own garage sale.