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Mom Next Door: Casey Melton

Co-owner of F. is for Frank

Walking through her industrial workspace in the Dallas Design District, clad in blue jeans and a basic white tee, her hair pulled back in a messy bun, Casey Melton is candid, unassuming and every bit the cool, laid-back artist we imagined she’d be. “Then we put it in this machine and bake it for an hour and a half,” she explains, walking me through the arduous process of conceptualizing and creating one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry from scratch.

Casey is completely in her element and so is 1-year-old Lowry, who joins her mom at the “office” everyday after the pair drops Casey’s oldest, 3-year-old Walker, off at mother’s day out. When the duo arrive mid-afternoon to pick Walker up, Casey says they’re often covered in grit and grime, a sight to behold. “I come home and I look like I just jumped though a chimney sweep,” she says. “Lowry looks like she’s from a third world country. I’m so embarrassed to go pick up my son!”

However embarrassing, dingy clothes and blackened hands are small prices to pay for what Casey and her business partner Shannah Frank create: wearable pieces of art.

Fresh out of college and new to Big D, Casey answered a Craigslist ad that landed her a job under Shannah creating custom interior architectural elements for a company called Studio 3-0. In 2007, Frank left the studio to start F. is for Frank and brought Casey along. The rest is history. Casey soon bought into the company, becoming co-owner. Together, Casey and Shannah introduced F. is for Frank’s first jewelry line in 2009. “It was a natural transition,” Casey says of making the switch from custom architectural pieces. Between Shannah’s formal training in the technical aspects of metal and jewelry making and Casey’s sculpture background, jewelry just made sense.

They started by gifting experimental pieces to family and friends, and things snowballed from there. If you’ve seen the collection, you understand why. You’ll be hard-pressed to find similar pieces. Strong sculptural and architectural elements in their medium of choice, primarily cast pewter, make F. is for Frank’s pieces stand out from the pack. In their latest collection, they cast succulents, resulting in pieces that manage to maintain a dainty and feminine feel — while still making a statement.

Succulents were Casey’s idea, but Shannah was 100 percent on board. Casey says F. is for Frank’s success is largely the result of the women’s distinct styles meeting in the middle. “We do an amazing job of collaborating in our design process,” she says. “Shannah’s got an edge. I’ve got an edge, but she’s got more of an edge. We cater to two different audiences: super edgy and then more traditional.”

F. is for Frank is all about originality and, while Casey says she’s obsessed with Pinterest and occasionally draws inspiration from blogs, she and Shannah strive to avoid outside influence. “We really try to do our own thing,” she says. “The one time we tried to follow trends it was a disaster. We try to be trend setters.”

They’re obviously doing something right, because the response has been enthusiastic. Their jewelry is carried in close to 90 stores and a fixture at the indie craft fair and trade show scene. Right now the focus is on jewelry, but they still take on the occasional special project, creating custom interior architectural pieces like hardware and sculptures.

Running your own business is hard work, Casey admits. But she says F. is for Frank provides the perfect outlet for her creativity. A lifelong desire to create runs through her veins, and refuses to be ignored. “As a kid, my sister and I were obsessed with making things … tearing up the house,” she says. Her mother is an artist in her own right and worked for Plaid Enterprises, a company that makes arts and crafts supplies for Michaels, meaning the sisters never had a shortage of supplies. Casey recalls spending hours making papier-mâché masterpieces and painting Popsicle sticks.

During college at the University of Georgia, Casey went bigger. Deciding she was bored with her apartment furnishings, she began making her own furniture. Ultimately, this is what led her to pursue a degree in sculpture. At her dad’s behest, she also pursued a business degree, double majoring in sculpture and marketing. Eighteen-plus hours every semester kept Casey running, but she somehow managed to meet her husband Andrew during that time too.

In stark contrast to Casey’s freewheeling ways, Andrew is more serious and even-keeled, the yin to her yang. “He’s a total southern frat boy,” Casey says with a chuckle. “Totally conservative!” Andrew moved to Texas for a job with Sewell, and Casey followed two years later. The pair married in 2006 and, although they waited several years, whether or not to have children was never so much as a question.

Casey always wanted to be a mom. “We’ll probably have some more [kids],” she says with a girlish shrug. “Maybe we’ll adopt some.” Motherhood and a burgeoning business mean Casey is busier than ever, but she’s grateful for the flexibility her job affords. She admits it’s not perfect and every day is a juggling act, but she takes it all in stride, one day at a time. “It’s not really having it all,” she says. “You love it, but the kids are still just running around like crazy. But this is working for me right now.”

In truth, Casey wouldn’t be content without the chaos; she thrives on it. “I run around like a chicken with my head cut off most of the time,” she says. “I read magazines backwards. I lose things all the time. There’s no organization.” Organization may not be Casey’s strong suit, but she makes up for it in drive. The mom says she’s happiest when she has a full to overflowing plate and has no intention of slowing down. She’s in luck, because F. is for Frank is only gaining popularity, meaning Casey will be busy designing, sculpting, casting and perfecting eye candy for the rest of us for many years to come.

Published December 2013