If you're a regular reader of the Charlotte Observer or Charlotte Magazine or if you watch WCNC, you know who Nikki Mueller is. More affectionately known around town as "the button girl," Mueller is the creator of the Not Made In China brand (www.shopnotmadeinchina.com) — and she's been in the public eye a lot this year. Her handmade buttons, mirrors, bottle openers, magnets and T-shirts are funny, with sayings like, "I Got My Pork Pulled in North Carolina" and "Charlotte: Where Bankers Get Laid Off." A recent set of designs highlight the Democratic National Convention coming to the area, including one that states, "Welcome to the Donkey Show."
What you might not know about Mueller, who works as a graphic designer by day, is that she has a set of steer horns hanging in her bedroom.
"I just like mixing genres and eras that you wouldn't maybe expect to see together," she says, laughing. "I like surprising people and I think it's also kind of funny. You're a little creeped out, I can tell!"
Mueller lives in a 1,000-square-foot, 1930s-era condo in Myers Park and has turned what was once a screened-in sun porch, bedroom and then storage room into her office. That's where her Not Made In China magic happens.
"I'm cutting out circles, I'm getting metal pieces and crimping them together, fulfilling orders," she says. "A lot of times, I'll have boxes stacked around and trying to keep count of different orders and things like that. This [space] is mostly for storing and making buttons. When I'm designing, I'm typically on the couch watching re-runs of something, and I'll kind of space out on whatever is happening on TV."
A dress dummy, which readily showcases Mueller's buttons, welcomes visitors inside the space. Large windows bring in plenty of light for her to work at the heavy wooden desk on the left. Random blocks of marquee letters that she got from an antique store — "That is the graphic designer in me's love of letters," Mueller says — and prints of art and photos dot the windowsill. Tall, white cabinets hold her treasures: vintage jadeite glassware, Scandinavian enamelware and swatches of patterned fabric. In addition to those collections, she says she's also obsessed with paint-by-number paintings, rugs and drawers.
"Once I get fascinated with something, it just consumes my spare time." You can't help but smile, as she continues, "At one point, I had like three typewriters. I'm down to two now. I decided that's not a good collection that's easy to store and, really, why do I need three typewriters?, so we're down to two."
Mueller says she loves secondhand items and often checks out places like Sleepy Poet Antique Mall, Gibson Mill and Metrolina Expo. For her, it's like a treasure hunt, and when she comes across a must-have item, she buys it, then decides where to put it. Mueller admits she's fascinated with antiques because each has a story, whether she knows it or not.
She gestures to the Not Made In China merchandise scattered around the room. "I feel all of these things kind of carry my own story with them," she says, "because I've made it happen. I've touched this."