From the cover: Fierce by design

ASU alumna creates welding and design company

He sits perched on the top of a gray, modern couch. He’s a plump cat, clearly the boss of the house. He has an air about him; he is his own master and very much answers to no one. He is the king, and this home is his castle. He sleepily opens an eye when a guest enters, not enthused enough by the presence of another to actually move.

The Tabby cat is Don Julio, and he is the namesake behind his owner’s company, don j design. Proprietor Jyll Harthun owns her own welding and design company creating end tables, furniture and home décor — and catering to Don Julio, of course.

“Don Julio is that cat that looks in the mirror and sees a lion,” Harthun says. “He is fierce and I was inspired by that fierceness when I was creating my company, so I named it after him. I know it’s kind of a weird story, but it’s our story, and I love that cat. Like the namesake, don j design is a small business but with a lion heart of confidence in designing and building pieces for the modern world.”

Fierce by design from The State Press on Vimeo.

Harthun, who both taught and served as a career coach at Arizona State University for seven years, left the school in 2015 to turn her passion for business and design into a career. But building and design are not foreign to the 36-year-old.

“Back in the good year of 1998, I started building,” Harthun says. “At that time, it was wood models for architecture classes which eventually grew to bigger models like tables and unique closet doors ... and then the itch to add metal was scratched and welding became part of the family.”

Her entire Tempe home is filled with her eclectic touches and furniture. In the living room, there is a coffee table with a metal base and a wooden top with a skull laser etched on the surface, a piece she sells on her website and on Etsy. There is also a light fixture created out of multiple pieces of wood that form together, making a cube-like shape.

“This was always my hobby of nights and weekends, I would do projects around the house and then family and friends liked my work so I would make them things too,” she says. “For 13 years while I was working at my nine-to-five job I would come home and work more hours just building and designing."

Don j design was started to build products that enhance and rejuvenate tired rooms, Harthun says.

“The company was kind of a pipe dream in the beginning,” she says. “But my husband, Jeff, one day was like ‘hey, why don’t you make this your career’ and I decided to go for it. I can’t imagine doing much else now and I’m just really excited to see what happens in year two of don j design.”

Harthun grew up in Mesa, Arizona, an only child of parents Gary and Linda Thomas. She went to ASU and graduated in 2003 with a degree in marketing, and for seven years was focused on other people’s businesses.

Heather Hudzinski | The State Press

Jyll Harthun outside her workspace in her Tempe home. 

She first worked in sales and recruitment post-graduation and then went on to work at her alma mater. At ASU, she was a career coach, helping students find their passion and work toward that goal.

She married Jeff, who she lovingly calls “Mr. Inspiration,” 11 years ago, about the same time she adopted Don Julio from a local shelter.

Last November, Harthun was out to dinner with Jeff when he brought up the idea of changing her life.

“He was like ‘have you ever thought of just having your own business?’ And I hadn’t, honestly but then that’s all I could think about,” Harthun says. “He started it and from there I went to research and write a business plan, I laugh at that now, it’s really cute. That was my ASU training kicking in when I made that.”

Creating pieces around her home and for family and friends was her hobby up until she thought she could create her own successful business and become an entrepreneur. Most of the items in her home she created over the years, spending nights and weekends designing and building.

This love for building didn’t just pop up, however. Harthun originally enrolled in college in the architecture program, but says that specific kind of design wasn’t for her. That’s when she entered the business and marketing world and wanted to help other businesses. 

Post-graduation, Harthun got a job working in a marketing and communication position with DeWalt, a major tool company, which often sent her home with samples — giving her the tools (literally) she needed to start her hobby and later her business.

Willow Greene Smith | The State Press

Now, people see Harthun as a “badass welder wonder woman,” but that wasn’t always the case, she says.

“I was really afraid and worried about everything,” she says. “So, jumping into the business, it really changed who I am — it made me more confident and gave something to me that I’m incredibly thankful for. It sounds really weird, but it made me more like Don Julio. When I look in the mirror I don’t see just this woman who had an idea, I see someone fierce and that’s what’s amazing to me about this journey.”

The Designs

As she walks around her home in her pink-rimmed glasses and NASA T-shirt, she shows off different pieces she has made over the years, including a hanging shelf in the kitchen, the kitchen table and closet doors made out of re-purposed metal roof material. 

She’s very humble about her work, and when she gets to a new project she says she carefully takes the time to understand exactly what the client wants, and how she can make it happen.

In her design space, she opens the simultaneously rustic and modern closet door and shows off the other thing she loves: Sci-Fi. 

“If somehow I could combine Sci-Fi and design I would be the happiest person,” she says with a laugh. “Is a 'space designer' a thing? I’m in if it is.”

Her office includes a table on wheels she made with the idea that she could move it around the house and the room if she felt like it.

She has knick-knacks around the room, including a shelf with motivational posters and photos of her friends, husband and family. She has a bookshelf filled with science fiction and Star Trek memorabilia tucked in one corner of the room.

Outside, she has her welding space in a room she converted from a storage space to a workshop. She leaves the keys in a bowl next to the backdoor on the kitchen counter.

The space looks small on the outside, but when the doors open, so does the small room.

Two of the walls are covered with power tools. In one corner is a pile of plywood and in the other is Harthun’s “love” — her welding machine.

Sitting on one of three tables that line the walls in a T-Rex figurine, the company mascot, she says.

“There’s Don Julio, there’s me, there’s my dad and there’s this T-Rex, I love dinosaurs, I’m a nerd,” she says.

A Family Affair

Harthun points to a corner in her workspace where the welding machine sits and says that she’s the only one who can touch it. Her dad, who works with her, isn’t savvy with the tools.

“It’s nice learning from her,” Gary Thomas says with a hearty chuckle. “But I’m really just there for support and for heavy lifting. Her mom is the one who helps her with her creations. I advise.”

When Thomas retired a little more than a year ago, Harthun was just starting her business and she asked him to work with her and help her out with the custom projects. 

“She hasn’t disowned me yet so I think I am doing OK,” he says.

Harthun says she really values her dad’s input and says he’s actually a very talented builder himself.

“I say he’s a sorta-retired builder slash motivator slash great three-point shooter,” she jokes.

Thomas says about eight months ago Harthun was making a C-table (a small side table with a top, a side and a bottom creating a ‘C’ shape) and when she burned the wood to start designing, the wood naturally showed a light heart right in the center of the piece.

“It was incredible,” Thomas says. “It was kind of like a sign for her, I think about the company, I mean it’s for sure one of a kind and a beautiful piece.”

For Christmas, Harthun gave the heart C-table to her parents, and Thomas says it now resides in their living room — and they proudly tell guests that their daughter created it. 

from their daughter and have it in their living room where they proudly tout their daughter’s talent and business.

Willow Greene Smith | The State Press
Spreading the Word

Entering year two of don j design, Harthun says she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the word of mouth and her Etsy shop. She is currently juggling three different custom projects, including an up-and-coming restaurant.

Friend and fan of don j design, Jennifer Boonlorn says Harthun is “hip and cool” and that her designs are amazing.

“She is just a radiant light,” Boonlorn says. 

Boonlorn, the founder and creator of Soul Carrier, a local company that creates leather handbags, often supports small business owners.

“Jyll designed me a visual merchandising display case to show off the Soul Carrier bags,” Boonlorn says. “For the display case, Jyll lasered into the wood of the display case all my favorite quotes, song lyrics and lines from my blog and manifesto. I have also commissioned Jyll to design me a coffee table. It is like a creative-explosion of ideas when we brainstorm the type of coffee table she should design for me.”

Boonlorn and Harthun met while studying at the W.P. Carey School of Business, they shared friends and have continued their friendship supporting each other’s respective entrepreneurial spirits.

“I call Jyll my ‘kindred spirit’ she is one of the coolest women I know,” Boonlorn says, adding that Harthun is “just a badass.”

Boonlorn and Harthun have a mutual admiration for each other. Harthun has a Soul Carrier clutch perched on her dresser (a repurposed Ikea dresser that she made new drawers for).

“God bless Jenn Boonlorn,” Harthun says laughing. “She’s helped spread the word about my business so much and has been so eager to help, that woman has the best contacts and is so into paying it forward. I want to do what she has done for me for someone else.”

Boonlorn says she is incredibly proud of Harthun and excited to share her brand and showcase it in her Arcadia condo, out of which she runs Soul Carrier.

“I love don j design,” Boonlorn says. “Jyll’s creations are creative, artistic, and very cutting edge. I am so proud of her for following her dreams and going out on her own and building a design business. It takes a lot of courage to make that plunge and Jyll did it with dignity and grace. “

Harthun, Don Julio and Thomas are about to enter their second year in business and hope that this year brings them to more projects and into more homes.

“I’m really excited to be spreading the word more,” Harthun says. “This year was about setting the foundation of don j design and now we have something really solid to build on.”


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