Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Cynthia “Cindy” Johnson is a fine artist who sells consignment and retail furniture along with her own line of custom fabrics and wallpapers. As an added value to shopping in her store, she shares creative ideas on combining old and new pieces for a current, updated look. She is located a few storefronts down from the Princeton Wellness and Fitness Center at the corner of routes 206 and 518.



A six-foot blonde in modest heels, Cynthia “Cindy” Johnson is easily recognizable in any room. Add a backdrop of bright green and fuchsia fern-leaf wallpaper with an “Elephant in the Room Design” sign, and her presence becomes atomic. She commands the room.

The interior designer opened her home decor store in the Princeton North Shopping Center, just across from the Princeton Airport, in January. “I specialize in creating fresh and current style by combining previously owned, gently used furniture with new retail pieces,” she said from her showroom floor during an extra hot and steamy summer day.

Her shop is also the exclusive retailer of Cynthia Johnson Textiles, her own collection of often vibrant fabric and wallpaper designs. She says she can customize the colors to meet any customers’ needs.

When Johnson alludes to the elephant in the room, she is referring to the consignment aspect of her business.

“People often have a piece or two in their home that they don’t want or need anymore,” she says. “Maybe they are redecorating or moving into a new home and it doesn’t fit. The piece becomes the elephant in the room. They can bring it to us and we will find a new loving home for their elephant.”

Johnson will showcase estate pieces on her floor for a limited time, while the original owner remains the owner (title holder) of the goods until they are sold and paid for in full. If items remain unsold, after a certain period, the unsold goods are returned to the original owner.

Recent items on display included:

  • A chinoiserie demilune cabinet with hand-painted leather insets by design superstar Mario Buatta (Staten Island-born interior decorator for such clients as Malcolm Forbes and Barbara Walters) for the John Widdicomb Furniture Company, which was founded in 1858 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • An Art Deco style sideboard by Grosfeld House Furniture Company, which manufactured some edgy iconic designs of the twentieth century.

Johnson brings a special appreciation for the items in her store, stemming from her background as an artist and designer. She knows what goes into creating everyday household objects that some may take for granted. Whether a vintage Chinese cloisonné vase, cut crystal liquor glasses, or Sandrouni handmade decorative tiles, she will research the origin of the piece to learn and tell its story.

A dog lover, she likens the beloved and carefully curated objects in her store to puppies. “It’s like adopting puppies out,” she says with a smile. “I find good homes for special things.”

Johnson’s story began in Arcadia, California, where she was born. At age seven, her family moved to Basking Ridge, NJ, where she grew up and graduated from Ridge High School. She earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1989 and an Art Education Certification from The College of New Jersey in 1998.

After teaching art at Ridge High School for several years, she began a career in custom home furnishing. She was a designer and sales associate for Calico Home in Princeton, then became managing partner of TrueBee Design in Bridgewater. Her designs earned two U.S. patents, one of which led to a line of chic high-end ottomans made to combine functions:  footrest, tabletop, extra seat, and storage space.

Throughout her career, Johnson has also specialized in pastel and collage-mixed media portraits, especially of pets. Her design skills include: textile, interior, graphic, jewelry, and landscape. She creates her fabric and wallpaper designs using Adobe PhotoShop and is able to customize her print runs on a variety of fabrics and wallpapers. She can also custom print just the amount her customer needs, from the size of a table cloth to the size of a ballroom.

Johnson first entered the fine consignment industry in 2014 with Home Again Design in Summit, where she served as marketing manager. In a short while, she had designs on opening her own shop.

“I’m glad she opened Elephant in the Room Design,” says a recent customer, Lisa Burditt of Hopewell. “I like the personality of the people here. They are vested, and have great vision and ideas.

Johnson recruited her previous colleague — Polly Balland of Milltown — as her sales associate and together they are a team. Balland is also an interior designer and is up-to-date on recent furnishing trends.

“We encourage people to use older furniture pieces in new ways,” Balland says. “Most vintage furniture is very well made. A quality sideboard makes a great stand with storage for a flatscreen TV. Or, a vintage china cabinet could be used as a bar — a very popular trend right now.”

“In addition to repurposing old classic pieces with fresh new functions, people are blending vintage with contemporary for a whole new look,” Balland adds. “Our showroom vignettes display many current ideas for redecorating, repurposing, or refreshing your decor.”

Elephant in the Room Design also sells custom-order lighting, original artwork, and heirloom quality new furniture by two environmentally-friendly U.S. companies:

CR Laine  Based in Hickory, North Carolina since 1958, this company uses old-school construction practices. Artisans hand-tie double cone steel coil springs, use solid hardwood frames, and tailor upholstery by hand.

Harden Furniture  This New York-based company has manufactured fine, domestically-produced black cherry hardwood furniture since the mid 1800s.

Check the store website and Facebook page for information on the following educational events:

Motive8 Series:  This fall, Johnson plans to continue her Motive8 Series, which is free and open to the public and features guest speakers who discuss home and design issues. For example:  Stacy Matticoli, a certified organization specialist and author of “Put It There,” recently spoke about “Reducing Clutter.” The series will be held after store hours, with wine and hors d'oeuvres. Dates will be announced on the store’s Facebook page.

Princeton Adult School Lecture Series:  Johnson will be teaching interior decorating and design via the Princeton Adult School this fall. Classes will take place in her store, Friday evenings, from 7 to 9 pm. “We will have a different topic each session,” she says. “Sign up for one, or sign up for all.” Details on how to sign up will be available on the store Facebook page and via the adult school curriculum.
For more information, visit the store website:, email Cynthia at or telephone the store at: 609.454.3378.

A version of this article appears in print in the 1-September 2017 issue of The Montgomery News on page 16.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Is Your Work Process Making or Breaking You?

By Barbara A. Preston

We adopt all kinds of processes for “getting in the zone” and performing our best work.

  • My colleague Lorrell Winston sat on the edge of her seat, rapidly tapping her keyboard. A lit cigarette continuously dangled from her lips, smoke streaming into her squinted eyes. Hyper-focused on her computer screen, her expression registered either fear or euphoria, charged with adrenaline from her last-minute panic and reinforced with nicotine.

Part of Lorrell's work process included having a lit cigarette
in her mouth. She could not work without smoking.

  • Jack Kerouac supposedly wrote “On the Road” in three weeks, with the help of amphetamines, typing it almost nonstop on a 120-foot roll of paper. NPR Reporter Andrea Shea noted: “Kerouac typed about 100 words a minute, and replacing regular sheets of paper in his typewriter just interrupted his flow – thus the scroll.”
  • Yoshiro Nakamatsu, who invented the floppy disk, almost drowns himself. Apparently, “the closer he is to death, the more creative he gets,” according to a FastCompany Reporter Rachel Gillett. The inventor dives underwater and stays there until he attains ideas to make his inventions work.
These are examples of work processes that worked for these people. Yet, I feel compelled to add this sentence: The author disclaims liability for any personal injury, property, or other damage of any nature whatsoever, resulting from the application of any suggestions in this document.

All Work Is a Process

We all have a process, whether by default or design. Do you know yours?

I never really thought much about work processes until I became a consultant for Merck. The pharmaceutical giant had a process for most things. At least the Information Technology area did, and that’s were I worked for about six years as an internal communications lead.

Time is such a limited commodity in today’s work place. I feel many professionals do not have time to think about how they, or their employees, best work. As a communications director at Rutgers, I was basically a “seat of my pants” operation, stretched to the limit, trying to keep up with rapid technology changes and understaffed. I planned what I could, and tried my best to keep up with the work.

But at Merck, one of my jobs was to improve a learning program as part of an internal communications strategy to help employees to:
  • Adopt Better Ways of Working
  • Implement Innovation in Everyday Work
  • Apply global company processes to ensure quality work, meet strict government and legal compliance and regulatory requirements, and to get more done with less.
Corporations are always looking for ways to stay competitive in a constantly changing digital world, and to justify jobs — whether as an employee or consultant. I found myself in a race against tight deadlines to draft and implement a strategy to communicate and teach Merck employees how to work with outsourced providers, how to govern and measure work performed by suppliers and partners, and how to build continuous improvement into processes.

While at Merck, I had also worked for the IT Center of Excellence (IT COE) organization communicating best work practices and promoting the adoption of the Project Management Institute’s global standard project management processes.

Docendo Discimus, or “the best way to learn, is to teach”

Merck subject matter experts provided the expertise for course materials, and spoke at live webinars repeated around the clock for colleagues in Asia-Pacific, Europe / Middle East / Africa, and North America time zones. I took their brilliant ideas and know-how and presented the information in interactive-online classes, step-by-step guidelines, articles, internal websites, and videos.

If you would look at my resume, you would see a “communications and marketing” person. But, in working with the IT Supplier, Management, and Governance experts and the COE to teach business, process, and IT skills, I too have learned much. And it has changed me, in a good way.

Process is now fascinating to me, and here is why:
  • We have an incredibly short time on this planet, if you really think about it. We do not have time to waste.
  • For most of my working life I have been a full-time head-of-household single parent while simultaneously holding high level, well paid but demanding jobs. I’ve managed people, projects, budgets, marketing plans, and large corporate communications strategies. I had no family living close by to help me, and no week on, week off parenting schedule or free weekends. I’m not complaining, just pointing out how crucial it has been to find a balance in life.
  • Poor work processes and habits are not sustainable. At best, you will burn out or develop serious health problems.

Now I think a lot about how I can work smarter

I recently earned a Lean Six Sigma Green belt and a project manager certification, both from Rutgers University. I also read a lot to learn how successful people work. One book I highly recommend is Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. (2014)

In her book, Huffington reinforces much of what I learned at Merck, and have been implementing in my work. She is a strong advocate of project-based work, strategic planning, and building in metrics and tools to keep her projects under budget, to produce high quality work, and to implement timelines and keeping to deadlines.

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work instead of the quality of time we put in.” — Arianna Huffington
Another great resource is the Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). This 600-page book provides guidelines for managing individual projects and its related processes.

While the PMBOK guide has grown from an IT and Manufacturing background, I have found it especially applicable to Communications and Marketing – which are now heavily invested in the digital age. I began my career on the “content” side of things, but have increasingly had to learn and implement technology and evaluate best platforms for blogging, websites, video, podcasts, workflows, and more.

PMBOK is an awesome guide. It is helping me to navigate my projects and to apply and try new metrics in my work. It’s nice to have, and to be aware of, the repeatable series of steps and activities when approaching a job in a project-based environment.

Whether producing a product, or providing a service for a customer, either as an employee or a consultant for an organization, the PMBOK guide provides best practice processes for individuals, but also in combinations of working with other people, with machines, tools, techniques, materials, and improvements – all in a defined series of steps or actions.

In future blog posts, I will continue exploring work processes and suggest ways to apply these to communications and marketing projects. I will embrace change, since the best work processes are open to continuous improvement.

As Ben Franklin said:  “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

What is your work process?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so that we may learn from each other.

About the author:

Barbara A. Preston, owner of Preston Strategic Communications, is an award winning communications and marketing consultant. She has worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and The Lawrenceville School. She has performed consulting work for Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and the Mary Jacobs Library Branch of the Somerset County Library System. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic City Press; The Princeton Packet; The U.S. 1 Newspaper; and in CIO Today.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen's 
new autobiography

"I didn't want the horse race to be first and foremost. I wanted our band to be about something." Bruce Springsteen

By Barbara A. Preston
"The Boss" and I both come from boardwalk towns in New Jersey. We also share a birthday, 23-September, so Happy Birthday Bruce.
His new autobiography is on my reading list. (Birthday present hint.) As a fan, and as an editor, I am engaged by his recent comments in the media about why he writes.

It's More than Making a Living

A few years ago, Springsteen said in an interview: "You've got to find that thing you don't completely understand but that is truly coming up from inside you. If you don't reach down and touch that thing — then you're just not going to have anything to say and it's not going to feel like it has life and breath in it. You're not going to create something real, and it's not going to feel authentic." (YouTube Interview, 5-Nov 2013)

Why is this concept so important, especially in the the digital world? Because most people recognize good content when they see it. And, because you don't have to be a novelist, poet, or musician to deliver authentic content to your stakeholders (your customers, employees, investors, alumni, taxpayers, stockholders...). If fact, if you want to build relationships and earn the respect and trust of these people, you must reach deeper and address some real issues.

If you do not tell your story, someone else will and it may not be to your liking. Or, if you fabricate your story, as some have done in the past, you will be "found out" on the Internet.

Writing & Delivering Meaningful Content Takes Some Soul Searching

It helps if your company and your executives are "about something."

When I was 19, and still in college, I started my first job as a "paid" writer as a news reporter for the Atlantic City Press. I made $200 a week, which was not enough to pay for an apartment — not even a shared apartment.

Worse than the pay, I got to cover evening municipal meetings with dull agendas. If there was something exciting on the docket, my editor would assign an experienced reporter to the story.

Basically, I was charged with pulling something magical out of a monotonous void, something that somebody would want to read in the morning paper. I sat in the front row of municipal meetings, taking copious notes on my steno pad. Secretly, I sometimes hoped that protestors would appear in the town hall and make a scene.

I got stuck writing about the Shade Tree Commission. How exciting is that?  One article was about a row of beautiful ancient cedars along a highway. Another time, I wrote about a zoning board committee report on why a property owner should be required by local law to keep the authentic Victorian-era facade of buildings in the now historic-landmark zone in Cape May, NJ.

Eventually, I earned a first place New Jersey Press Association award for "Responsible Journalism," for a series of articles I wrote on landlords in Princeton who took advantage of tenants who were either mentally ill, homeless, illegal immigrants, or simply poor.

The lesson for me was that I learned to pull meaningful stories out of the void, and people wanted to read them. In fact, I earned multiple awards for stories that were not "sensational" but were important.

Thirty-five years later, I am still challenged by that void.

Business people, too, face that void whenever they have to place content on a webpage or press release. That content often comes with compliance, legal, and regulatory constraints. Also, the content is often vetted by committees of executives that can be time consuming, and the resulting content can become stale or so benign that nobody wants to read it!

Dull Content from Corporations, Businesses, and Even Alumni Magazines

Many corporate websites, employee intranet sites, alumni magazines, and other "marketing" channels miss the mark when it comes to quality, readability, and usefulness. Other times, politics can pollute the channels—for example, an ambitious director who wants to become an executive director who instructs Global Communications to post stories reflecting him or her in a positive light.

Sometimes, the Global Communications staff does not have the authority to say "no" to dull or self-serving content. Or, the staff does not have the guts to suggest that a leader rethink the content. To be sure, Global Communications folks want to stay on the good side of the leadership. They want to keep their jobs, and nobody can fault them for that.

As a result, it falls on the leader to judge whether the content has pith? Will it be meaningful to your readers? A good content strategist will advise you to be objective in telling your story, will elicit interactive feedback from your audience and will help you to develop ethical, transparent, mutually beneficial relationships with your stakeholders. Will you listen?

Whether you are communicating a concept, a process, data, a service, a product, or handling a crisis, a good content strategist will focus on helping you to create and distribute valuable, relevant, and consistent messages to your audiences. This person will know your audiences, and interact with them regularly. And will measure your communication successes using a variety of tools, from surveys to the number of people who open your messages, to the amount of time your message is open on the reader's screen, and more.

Ultimately, a good content strategist is going to help you and your organization to create something real, and build a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship with your stakeholders. And, it will feel authentic.

About the author:

Barbara A. Preston, owner of Preston Strategic Communications, is an award winning communications and marketing consultant. She has worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and The Lawrenceville School. She has performed consulting work for Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and the Mary Jacobs Library Branch of the Somerset County Library System. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic City Press; The Princeton Packet; The U.S. 1 Newspaper; and in CIO Today.