Today we’d like to introduce you to Abigail Plonkey.
Abigail, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I found my love of storytelling at a very young age. The fun for me came in creating my own world, my own stories, using my imagination for hours on end. Luckily, my parents encouraged me to dream and embraced my creativity. I grew up on construction sites, following my dad around. I learned to read a floor plan at a young age, and the smell of sawdust is still nostalgic to me. I remember drawing my dream house floor plan and my own fashion line on the back of prayer cards at church.
So, it was a natural fit to pursue my dream of interior design in college, where I earned my Bachelor’s of Science in Interior Design with a minor in Construction Management. I wanted to learn how to build the vision — not just envision a design. It was crucial for me to have strong ideas but ones that were implementable.
I graduated with one mission: to design restaurants and hotels all over the world. I planted my roots in Denver at small spa consulting firm, developing spa concepts (including menus, concepts, brands, storytelling, visioning, and experience design). I learned so much by expanding my creative exploration and working for Jumeirah, Starwood, and Marriott along with several other luxury hotel brands.
I found my voice at this company where I learned that there was a true need for storytelling and visioning. I learned that a good idea could come from anywhere. I learned to collaborate with others, and to start with the big ideas first, then refine and edit from there.
When the economy took a downturn, I was laid off. I was at a bit of a loss at the time, as I wasn’t sure how to categorize my skills. But soon enough I landed a marketing position at a local architecture firm, where I founded the brand experience design studio. There I developed one of the industry’s first fully comprehensive in-house agencies, something like a firm within a firm. Here, I was able to bring brands to market. These included Punch Bowl Social, Kimpton’s award-winning Henley Nashville and the Rabbit Hole (a secret dining experience within Henley), S*Park Sustainability Park, and several local fast-casual brands and concepts.
In August 2018, I founded Thrice Pop-Ups: a rotating supper club that brings immersive design, unexpected fare, and cocktails together in temporary spaces. I like to say that these pop-ups are designed to “wake your brain.” Thanks to my passion for food, drink, and design, I dreamed up this idea in order to bring something unique to the Denver scene. I wanted to engage brands and bring new chefs, mixologists, artists, and musicians to the forefront while bringing people together and connecting the community. So far, I have executed two one-time-only experiences (Korean Barbie Q and Chroma), and have at least six others in mind. My long-term goal is to take these pop-ups nationwide — and, one day, worldwide.
With the start of the new year, I decided to take a leap of faith and start a creative agency of my own: Maximalist. The name and the concept represent a philosophy rather than an aesthetic. It represents a conviction to maximize the experience, expanding my creative vision, and keep an open mind. The Maximalist’s mark is the seeking eye or eye within an eye. It represents a constant state of wonder, always looking ahead and looking beyond the expected.
Which brings me to today. Taking the risk to go out on my own wasn’t easy, but I’m doing it. I’m finding my way and my balance, little by little, starting a business and keeping the momentum to curate immersive experiences for Thrice.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Truthfully, the road has not been easy. Some of the humbling experiences along the way are burned in my brain, Yet, each stumbling block along the way has made me who I am today. I’m persistent, tenacious and determined. Rather than looking at these moments as failures, I look at how I can learn from them. Each experience makes me better.
The first major hurdle I faced early in my career was in college. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an interior designer, and I knew that Colorado State University had the only accredited program at the time. It was a tough program to get into as they only accepted 30 students a year. As many designers can attest, the interior design industry is poorly portrayed on HGTV. It’s more than picking paint color and pillows. Design is an art and a science. The CSU design program made this very clear. They weed out students after one year of classes to make sure they are serious before being admitted to the full program.
I was serious. I worked hard every day, didn’t miss a day of class, studied and practiced for the admission exam — a full day of design hands-on testing of knowledge and skill, illustration and design basics. I scored high on everything except for sketching. I remember waiting by the mailbox every day checking to see if my admission letter arrived. And finally, it did. I opened and fell to my knees when I read the words, “We regret to inform you that you were not selected for the Interior design program.”
I went to my advisor in tears, devastated. I didn’t want to go anywhere else or study any other majors. I wanted nothing more than to be a designer. The letter had said that my sketching skills were not up to par. I thought about it and decided that I would wait it out and apply again the following year.
I went back to my basement and found objects to sketch. I would sit for hours practicing drawing anything I could find: shoes, plants, lights, furniture, kitchen utensils, anything until I ran out of objects. In the meantime, I took more construction management classes to learn the basics and obtain a minor. That next year, I came back to the exam with a vengeance, a mission to pass that damn test and get into the program.
I was admitted that year. I still have a framed copy of the acceptance letter to remind me of my hard work, my goals, and my passion.
The challenges didn’t end there. Early in my career when I was laid off, I initially saw that as a failure. I left a place where I learned everything from my mentor about the creative process — collaboration, storytelling, experience design — and was spit out into the world armed with creative talent, but no idea how to apply it to other roles and industries.
Finding the job at OZ Architecture was reaffirmed my love for design, my work ethic, and my creative skills. I put a business plan together for the brand experience design studio and pitched it to the board. I was able to pursue that work for eight years and learned many lessons. I am forever grateful for the opportunity and support I received there; they truly empowered the entrepreneurial spirit.
My latest hurdle — and one I’m sure many can relate to — is starting my own business. I left the comforts, stability and support systems in order to go solo. Now, I am wearing all of the hats, and managing all of the administrative tasks of feeding a new business. Some days, it feels like drinking from a firehose. But I’m learning to celebrate the milestones and pat myself on the back when I need it.
Nobody said that starting a business was easy, and I’m sure I will continue to learn many lessons as I grow. Simultaneously while growing the Maximalist brand, I have been building the Thrice experiences that have come with their own set of blood, sweat, and tears. The passion for these experiences is what keeps me motivated and driven.
Please tell us about Maximalist.
I’m very proud to introduce my business, Maximalist. I founded Maximalist as a holistic creative agency specializing in branding, visioning, strategy, and experiential design. Because I’m a believer in thinking big, I’m constantly asking “what if?” and “why not?” Someone recently told me, “you are breaking the mold.” Things like this motivate me more than anything.
With Maximalist, I strive to create new experiences that tell a story, never repeating the same idea twice. My goal is to create unique experiences around a brand, breathing life into a brand and bringing my client’s vision to fruition.
I’m especially proud of Thrice, which brings immersive experiences to Denver. It’s the first pop-up of its kind with a focus on three key elements: food, drink, and design. The very first in the series, Korean BarbieQ, fused deconstructed Barbie dolls, feminism, and Korean BBQ into one experience — a mash-up of ideas that were intended to be provocative and slightly strange. I launched with BarbieQ in order to put a finger on the pulse of the Denver market, to gauge whether or not Denver was ready to embrace something different. It was so well received that the concept will be traveling to a few other like-minded cities.
The second Thrice experience was Chroma — a color-by-course, sensory immersion located in a vacant white box space in collaboration with Uchi at S*Park. We transformed the space and immersed guests in each color of the rainbow, experiencing color through all five senses, starting with sight, with projections that represented the emotion and meaning of color. For instance, with the color blue, we bathed the room in blue light and played audio of waves crashing. We served oysters and whole grilled fish, creating a sensory experience that encouraged guests to imagine being in the ocean.
My latest pop-up took place at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. It was a Negroni-themed Italian Disco experience for Campari. Opportunities like this make me think, “pinch me!” I love what I do and it never feels like work to me.
Other projects I’m proud of include Charley Co., a women’s co-working space at The Source. For this project, I led the brand identity including logo, tagline, business cards, brand deck, pins, stickers, website, grand opening invitations, website, and social animations. I also led the brand implementation as to how it would be experienced and expressed in the space. I found inspiration in my client, Charley Co. Founder, Bryn Carter, with whom I envisioned and executed unique touchpoints, from custom wallpaper to signage, all expressing a brand voice directed toward empowering creative, likeminded women.
I also feel especially gratified to have worked on Henley Nashville, an award-winning restaurant named Architectural Digest’s most beautiful bar in Tennessee. I led the concept development, strategy, and positioning, as well as brand identity and design implementation. This included the creation and art direction of a promotional video featuring music by Shakey Graves, custom wallpaper and hand-selected accessories of found objects from Nashville’s antique stores and salvage yards. I am extremely proud of the connections I was able to make locally, bringing together local artisans, potters, woodworkers, metal workers and leather workers that made every touchpoint come to life. I walked door to door and met these individuals personally. With the executive chef, I hand-selected all of the elements and details of the Rabbit Hole, a secret dining space, and Woodlea, the rooftop terrace.
I could keep going. Each project holds a special meaning in my career and feels like more than just a portfolio piece. I take each and every project as a new opportunity to maximize the experience, the design, and the opportunity. I’m committed to each and every client, and to bringing their vision to life, never repeating the same idea. I believe you can create an experience for any project, which is why I don’t limit my service offerings. Instead, I let my clients guide me and go along for the ride, taking on whatever is asked of me. I’ll do what it takes to bring the vision to life.
Learn more about my recent work at https://www.maximalistxd.com/work.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I had a chance to start over, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Each step I took, misstep I took, challenge, roadblock… each made me the person I am today. I am so driven off of challenges and thrive when people tell me ” no” or have doubt in me. There are always lessons learned, I am still and always learning. I recently learned a lot of lessons from my latest Thrice pop up experience. After it was all said and done, and I was banging my head against the wall, I realized, if it were easy everyone would do it. I know I am on the right path, I just have to keep pushing forward and headed towards a path, who knows if I’ll reach my true north or what I will find along the way, but I am excited for what the future holds.
- Website: www.maximalistxd.com, www.Thricepopup.com
- Phone: 720.732.5838
- Email: Abigail@maximalistxd.com
Triston Dimery, Elliott Clark, Sam Angel