Take Five with Claire Theobald ’88

Claire Theobald ’88 is the co-owner and co-founder of Beatrix New York, a children’s accessories manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer whose products can be found in boutiques and department stores in more than 30 countries. After graduating from the College with a B.A. in architecture, Theobald earned an M.Arch. and an M.F.A. in graphic design, both from Yale. She worked for several design and advertising firms before founding Beatrix in 2008, upon encountering the dearth of well-designed backpack options for her twin kindergarteners. In 2012, Theobald was a winner of American Express’ “Make Mine a Million” competition for female small-business owners.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I believed it was a chance to reinvent myself. I did everything possible to downplay my preppy, sheltered Connecticut upbringing and took my cues on what was cool in 1984 from the likes of Madonna. That said, the young woman walking around Morningside Heights wearing lace headbands, an armful of black rubber bangles and oversized leopard earrings was wide-eyed at being in the second class of women and even initially a bit intimidated by the acute intellect of my peers. I’m pleased to say that after the first semester, thanks to my supportive professors, I gained a lot more confidence.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I was on the 8th floor of Carman Hall. When I received my housing assignment, I was slightly amused — just one year earlier, prior 8th floor Carman residents had infamously found a rug in a nearby dumpster and thought they had happened upon some free décor for their room. Upon unrolling the rug inside the dorm, however, they were shocked to find a body. Kudos to the housing office, however, as living on Carman 8 turned out to be a wonderful and pivotal experience in my life. I had a ton of fun and made multiple lifelong relationships. One of my suitemates and one of my floormates are not only still two of my closest friends, but also godparents to my children.

What class do you most remember and why?

I would venture to guess that if you asked any architecture student from my era which class they remember best, they would say junior year studio. For anyone planning to go on to a master’s in architecture, this class was critical for success. We were lucky to have fabulous professors like Donna Robertson, Roy Strickland ’76, Peggy Deamer and Susana Torre, plus a plethora of visiting critics from the School of Architecture — but, boy, did they keep us busy. I didn’t get out much that year, as I was usually in the studio designing, drafting and making models into the wee hours of the night.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

This would be a tie between the Low Library steps and the Avery Library reading room. In fact, I still love sitting on the Low Steps, catching a ray of sunshine on my face and wondering just whom I may encounter. Avery Library is the largest architecture library in the world and to have had access to everything from original Frank Lloyd Wright documents to the latest French design magazines was an incredible blessing. Plus, I always thought Avery Library, populated largely by creative types, had a unique vibrancy.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

In addition to the world-class education, one of the main reasons I chose Columbia was having New York City as the College’s extended campus. I took full advantage as often as I could, whether exploring art museums, Chinatown dumpling houses or the paths of Central Park. New York was a lot grittier then, and even though I prefer the city now, I am glad I got to witness that era in New York City’s history firsthand. That said, given the chance for a do-over, I would get more involved in clubs on campus. Being a student in New York City allowed me some incredible early professional experiences, such as an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many cultural experiences. But I wish I had balanced those and my academic workload with more campus opportunities.