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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Marketplace

Steven Kaishian and Pamela Anderson merge art and engineering with business.

Local couple casts good ideas into business plans


Starting one new business is a massive undertaking, but last year, husband-and-wife team Pamela Anderson and Steven Kaishian launched two new ventures.

The first business, Contemporary Pull, was brewing in Anderson's mind for a decade before it became a reality. In 2003, the couple remodeled its new home in Wauwatosa and Anderson, who is a neo-abstract expressionist artist, was unable to locate the ideal handles for her cabinets.

Finally, she saw a photo in a high-end architecture magazine. She called the San Francisco-based architect who installed the pulls and, to her surprise and delight, he answered the phone. She asked him where he purchased the pulls and told him they were exactly what she was looking for.

"He chuckled and said I wasn't going to find those anywhere. They were actually repurposed flower 'frogs' that he found in a London flea market," says Anderson.

Anderson expressed her disappointment to Kaishian and he said four words that would change their life.

"I can make those."

So Anderson created sketches loosely based on the pulls and Kaishian, an engineer by trade, put the designs in a CAD system to make the architecture drawings. However, because of other endeavors, they put the concept of selling the pulls on the back burner.

Finally, in 2013, the couple hired a local company to manufacture the hardware and Contemporary Pull was born.

The green initiative-based company offers four different designs of aluminum pulls that are available in a variety of finishes. The pulls are unique because when mounted they are flush with the cabinetry and do not stick out like traditional handles or pulls.

All Contemporary Pull products are made from industrial-grade aluminum and a water-based process is used during anodizing instead of harmful or toxic chemicals.

Anderson and Kaishian have adjoining spaces at Plaid Tuba and work on their art and there projects full time.

"We have a unique communications system," says Anderson. "We bang on the wall."

Anderson owned the Underwood Gallery from 2001 to '11 and serves as the current president of Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN).

Shortly after the couple started Contemporary Pull, they also started Infrastructure Canvas which features Kaisihian's patent-pending, reinforced stretched canvas product.

The canvas has a foam back to offer artists a stable, flex-free surface.

The concept for this type of canvas – as opposed to the traditional canvas which is stretched over a frame – came to Kaishian when he heard Anderson complain about the slack in her large canvas.

"It's unbelievable that no one thought of this before," says Anderson. "It's so simple."

Originally, Kaishian thought he was developing the canvas exclusively for his wife, but when he later showed the concept to artist Reginald Baylor, he started to realize that maybe he was onto something missing in the canvas marketplace.

Baylor – as well as artists Shelby Keefe, Stephanie Barenz, Chuck Weber, Jim Finnerty, Rita Maria Diaz and Kerry Rose Ramsden – have purchased his canvases.

"Canvases hadn't changed since someone put fabric around an open frame," says Kaishian.

Kaishian, who has 16 U.S.-approved patents, worked as a senior project engineer for 32 years. In 2012, he was downsized from Rockwell Automation, a year after the couple was married.

"That's what prompted us to do what we're doing now," he says.

Originally, he intended to stay in the engineering industry, but because of the interest in his products, he and Anderson decided to go into business – businesses – for themselves.

"If there's one thing I took away from engineering it's that when I tackle a problem and it doesn't work the way I expected it to, I move on. I never get discouraged. When something doesn't work out the first time, I know there's a solution to it. I just have to problem solve it," says Kaishian.

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