Compass Rose Design creates modern heirlooms inspired by the stories of vintage artifacts. Based just north of San Francisco, Compass Rose Design is a woman-owned family business run by Creek and Johnny Van Houten.
My mother was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. I grew up surrounded by the artifacts of her Dutch family culture: my great-grandmother’s brass teakettle and potato bucket, my grandmother's turn-of-the-century glass marbles, chipped from use. A child’s dress zipped up tight in a storage bag: lace cap, scratchy black wool top and striped skirt, a beaded necklace with coiled filigree clasp. I wore that outfit every Halloween for as many years as it fit me. These items of daily Dutch life and identity infused my childhood with history and culture. These small objects were a bridge back to my family's historical homeland.
When I lost my mother in 2007 after a long illness, I moved to Holland for graduate school. It was healing to walk on the same cobbled streets my mother played as a child, to stand in front of the city hall where my ancestors married, to shop for vegetables in the same town square.
During many trips to archives in small I sought out my family tree and traveled back seven generations. I learned about regional dress and jewelry. I realized that that my necklace was a child’s version of the filigree button jewelry of Zeeland. The local tradition of metalwork can be traced back through families of silversmiths and Moorish conquests and Sephardic migrations to the Etruscan methods. These buttons are keepsakes and heirlooms and part of local identity. As I traveled around the Netherlands, small objects in dark corners of antique shops lead me down a trail of history, fashion, and politics. I started sending boxes keepsakes and trinkets home to California.
I founded Compass Rose Design in 2009 after returning to California to marry my sweetheart. I came home inspired by family research and traditional Dutch button jewelry. I set up shop in a tiny San Francisco apartment and started selling antique button jewelry at shows around the city.