Florida is an outdoor-living magnet: Many people spend life relaxing, playing, and entertaining outdoors. While the state is a patio retailer’s dream, it is also notoriously competitive, with specialty and big-box
stores saturating the market.
Best friends Karen Kirk and Karen Brams, owners of Island Living & Patio (West Palm Beach, Florida), have managed to build a dynamic retail business with a niche that resonates with the local crowd. This dynamic duo (nicknamed Blonde and Brunette by customers) not only focuses on catering to high-end clientele, but never misses an opportunity to support people andorganizations in the community.
Blonde and Brunette launched their business in 2007, in the conference room of Champion Pools & Spas, the pool business of Brams’ husband, David. Kirk is an interior designer and Brams has a flair for business, which makes them the perfect team. Over the past 12 years, the business has come into its own (taking over half of the building) and has become one of Palm Beach County’s most chic places to shop for outdoor-living products. “It’s a one-stop shop because people can visit the gorgeous pool showroom on one side of the building and the furniture showroom on the other side,” Brams explains.
Island Living & Patio’s signature is its airy, 2,500–square-foot boutique showroom, merchandised with carefully selected products that address the market’s wide taste range. “People like the smallness and custom feel of our shop. We offer an experience that is what our clients are looking for: nothing like a big retailer’s store,” Brams says. “We don’t pay attention to what other area retailers are doing. We know what works for us.”
Tommy Bahama Outdoor Living, Brown Jordan, and Gloster are among the manufacturers—all U.S. companies—represented on the shop’s showroom floor. “We’ve always made the effort to support domestic manufacturers, when other retailers were ordering containers directly from China. I believe this is one thing that has kept us strong,” Brams says, adding that she selects manufacturers based on their commitment to customer service and the quality of their furniture.
“They are an extension of our business, so it’s important that they share our store’s philosophy, when it comes to taking care of customers. This means having good warranties and quickly addressing any issues we might experience with their products,” Brams says. Island Living & Patio personally handles warranties to ensure that customers are always treated the Island Living & Patio way.
The store is all about fun, from the moment one walks through its front doors—which is inevitable, because it’s owned by longtime friends who love to laugh. Kirk explains, “The best thing about working with your best friend is that it’s not work.” Clients range from designers and snowbirds to local homeowners, sports figures, and celebrities looking for special attention and expertise to create their dream backyards. The store gladly ships purchases to clients’ second and third homes across the country.
“We love our customers, and our job gives us an opportunity to meet wonderful people. We have so much fun that I think we naturally attract people who like to have fun while they shop,” Kirk notes. Island Living & Patio is a destination retailer, which Brams calls a big reason for its success. It is located just off West Palm Beach’s main shopping district, which is filled with tourists and looky-loos. “We are the hidden find—off the beaten path— that our customers like to brag about,” Kirk says.
Kirk and Brams not only are savvy business owners, but also are known for their extreme generosity and their dedication to their community. Brams says, “We strongly believe that every person who owns a company and is fortunate enough to enjoy making a living from it has a moral obligation to give back to the community.” At every turn, they are looking for ways to make an impact in their community, no matter how big or small. If their clients ask for a charitable donation, they’re more than happy to contribute money or merchandise (provided the funds stay local).
Kirk and Brams are proud founding members of Impact 100 of the Palm Beaches (IPB). Impact 100 is an international organization with 52 chapters in the United States and Australia. Run by local women with a passion for giving back, its mission is to bestow $100,000 high-impact grants on area nonprofits that want to create change in their communities. To date, the organization has awarded more than $55 million in grants. Brams serves on the advisory board and is actively involved in growing the women’s giving movement.
The first IPB grant was given, in 2015, to Live Fresh Palm Beach County, a mobile hygiene unit that’s equipped with six residential-style private bathrooms (with showers, sinks, toilets, and changing areas). It provides homeless people not only with showers, but with such essentials as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, and sunscreen. Since receiving the IPB grant, the group has expanded, and it now operates five mobile units. “It’s amazing how empowered a person can feel, just by getting a hot shower and feeling
fresh again,” Brams says.
Another $100,000 IPB grant went to Project LIFT, a group that teaches troubled young people marketable
trade skills. Brams adds, “It helps get them off the streets and into a learning environment that gives them a path forward in life, with mentoring support.”
The duo also has a heart for reaching out to the young in the community through mentoring. Brams explains, “It’s an intimidating world out there. There are some kids who are blossoming, but there are others who are getting lost. In our own little way, we are trying to do everything we can to make sure no one gets left behind who wants help. We are trying to plant seeds that will grow within people, so they can succeed in life and become positive influences themselves.”
Kirk and Brams recently took a young entrepreneur under their wing when he needed guidance in getting his business started. They mentored him on the essentials of setting up his company, trademarking his logo, and creating a website. He went on to write several books about empowering young people that Kirk and Brams are going to help him publish. He is now a motivational speaker at area public schools, teaching students how to make positive choices to get started in life. Brams says, “He is a wonderful
young man who just needed some help—so he could help others.”
Years ago, they helped two young girls get back on their feet after they experienced some hard knocks. As part of their assistance, they arranged for scholarships at a local private school (and paid the fees that weren’t covered by the scholarships). Both of the girls went on to attend a local college and made something of themselves. “Today, we continue to mentor both of them and have sponsored one girl’s daughter to go to the same private school that her mom attended. It’s wonderful to watch these girls grow and bloom,” Brams says.
Even the little things matter. The store donates its leftover fabric from custom cushions and pillows to a local church that makes quilts for veterans. It also donates fabric and other creative items to schools for their afterschool craft programs. Kirk says, “These programs don’t get much money to purchase supplies, so they appreciate everything we give them. Recently, a school made the sweetest card out of fabric to thank us.”
She adds that all their work has a spiderweb effect that spreads throughout the community. “All we ask is that those we touch pay it forward with love and kindness. It’s amazing to witness (and be a part of) how one small act can change many lives,” Kirk says.
Brams adds that she and Kirk don’t engage in philanthropy just to gain exposure for their business. She says, “We are pay-it-forward girls: That’s how we roll. We do it because we hope to inspire and empower others to contribute in their communities. We do charity work because we believe in what the charity is doing. The reward has already come back to us, tenfold, professionally and personally.”
BY SHARON SANDERS | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID BRINKO