There’s a bundle of energy sitting on a contemporary sofa inside Hazel Tree Interiors near downtown Akron. Her name is Karen Starr, an Akron resident whose effervescence at times would make a flute of champagne blush.
Along with her husband, Jon Haidet, Starr owns Hazel Tree Interiors, a studio store and custom picture-framing outfit that features art, furniture and one-of-a-kind pieces crafted exclusively from Northeast, Ohio, artists and home decor artisans.
But Starr’s love for Akron goes beyond running a successful business whose mission is to support the local economy and those who inhabit it.
Just this past March, Starr and co-author, Joanna Wilson, released their book, “A is for Akron,” a paean to the city and its rich history outlined in an alphabetized A to Z listing of the area’s notable places and stuff that make Akron, well, Akron. There’s A is for Archie the Snowman, who many might recall left his former longtime Christmas digs at Chapel Hill Mall and now makes an appearance during the holidays at Lock 3.
Starr lives in Highland Square, and in fact before her marriage lived in three different apartments at Twin Oaks. “Highland’s just a good fit for me, a great neighborhood and my favorite place to be,” she says.
One of her latest community projects is the free outdoor movie night at Glendale Cemetery, hosted by the Akronist / Akron Digital Media Center. The third annual event is open to all and will take place Saturday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. The featured movie is “The Neverending story.”
A few years back, Starr and some friends were taking a morning run through Glendale Cemetery, “When one of us said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to watch a movie here?’” Starr recalls. “The movie’s a fun evening.”
And she’s once again involved with the second-year cultivation of the Glendale Community Garden, a former vacant lot in a neglected neighborhood on South Walnut Street next to the historic Glendale Steps. Among the garden’s offerings are family plots, rain barrels, compost bins and ornamental plantings.
Being a good steward of the environment is important to Starr, not only through her work with the community garden, but in other facets of her life as well.
She’s a big proponent of sustainability and strives to use reclaimed materials, recycling and upcycling in her own design projects. Upcycling is taking waste materials or useless items and converting them into products or materials of better quality and environmental value.
“It’s an environmental choice and really important to me to use existing products in my designs or personal life, whenever possible,” Starr says. “Yes, I buy new products; we all do. But look at all of the turnover. ‘That’s not in style anymore,’ so we can get rid of that and replace it with something else. That’s just such a machine that if I could do a little part and slow it down and encourage people to honor what they already have, well …”
Starr pauses. “They don’t make it liked they used to,” she adds. “That saying exists for a reason.”
Green, sustainable community interests
Other community commitments keep Starr more than busy, so she’s not that heavily involved with but is a member of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
And on the second Wednesday of every month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Akron’s Musica Complex, Starr and other environmentally conscious folks meet for a gathering of GAINS, (Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability), founded in May 2012.
“GAINS is a group of people called sustainability practitioners,” Starr says. “The thing that pulls us all together is doing work with neighbors and community people who are interested in how to live more sustainably in our region.”
Topics vary and the program for GAINS’ meeting the day she spoke with the Akronist was titled “Growing Foods. Growing Jobs. Growing the Future.”
“How can we drive stronger the economy of local food?” Starr asks. “And how do we create jobs doing this?”
July’s GAINS program hosted a speaker from the Thriving Communities Institute who talked about ways to revitalize neighborhoods through land banking.
Visit www.facebook.com/GAIN4sustainability for more information.
It comes as no surprise that Starr involves herself with Highland Square’s Porch Rokr Festival, when area bands perform on porches throughout the neighborhood and lawns are covered with artwork.
“I have always been a singer; I love it,” says an enthusiastic Starr. “I sang all the way until I was 30, stopped, then started again at 40.”
Evidently, other activities consumed Starr during her silent decade. Like motherhood for one.
She’s been married to husband Jon for 10 years, and they have a 9-year-old daughter, Claire. When Starr does take the stage she says she most often sings rock cover songs, “which are really eclectic,” with local band Roxxymoron.
Theater, music and preservation
A Renaissance woman, Starr worked both on and off stage at the now-closed Carousel Dinner Theatre for many years, and spent four months in Okinawa, Japan, singing at a resort.
A community activist who grew up in Stow, Starr graduated from Archbishop Hoban High School and apprenticed with a noted interior designer in a studio in Bath for a number of years before starting her own interior design business.
Another way Starr furthers her mission of sustaining things locally is to support the Preservation Alliance of Greater Akron (PAGA), where she is on its marketing committee.
According to www.preservationakron.org, “PAGA actively encourages and promotes the preservation, maintenance, restoration and adaptive reuse of buildings, sites and neighborhoods that are of historic or architectural importance in Akron and Summit County.”
In July, Starr went on PAGA’s Historic Home Tour and took photos with the homeowners’ permission. “One of the things I can help organizations with is their events,” Starr offers. “I used the tour photos and blogged about them on Hazel Tree’s website. I do a lot of things in the community throughout my day with social media, that way, it can have a big impact for them.”
A talented, accomplished woman like Starr would likely thrive anywhere, so why Akron? “I think there is a history of ingenuity here … firecracker people,” she says. “It must be in our blood, generations of inventions. And you’re only one person away from knowing everyone.”
A UPS driver walks in the showroom, and Starr greets him warmly.
“I don’t ever want to leave Akron,” she adds with a generous laugh. “Really, anything’s possible here.”
There likely may be readers who are waffling about getting involved in their community, perhaps citing time constraints.
Starr offers some insight: “I think it’s important to do things you are passionate about. So whatever that is there’s always something going on or you can create something.”