A Cut Above

Collage artist and stationery queen Elicia Castaldi.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRACY NGUYEN

“It felt like I was in another world,” says Girl w/ Knife founder and creative director Elicia Castaldi, recalling her first visit to Palm Springs. She was staying with friends, and like many out-of-towners, fell in love with the desert’s gorgeous weather, lush landscape, and laid-back lifestyle. It wasn’t long before she and her husband began dropping by open houses, searching for the perfect property where they could escape the chaotic energy and buzz of L.A., even if only for a few days.

When they toured a 1958 home tucked away behind a private gate on a quiet residential street, “perfect” was hardly the first word that came to mind. “The view was completely obstructed, with palm trees planted almost haphazardly everywhere,” she says. “Everything was hilly and kind of a mess.”

It had potential, though, and if there’s one thing the Rhode Island School of Design alumna has always had, it’s vision. She was already imagining all the walls white, with her original collage artwork hanging inside, and the mountain backdrop, as hidden as it was, took her breath away. They made an offer that same day.

Elicia Castaldi took ownership of her 1958 Palm Springs home in 2018.

The home officially became theirs in December 2018, the same month Castaldi launched Girl w/ Knife, an unapologetically feminine, fierce, and fun line of paper goods inspired by all the things she loves — fashion, travel, humor, her cat, and rosé — and named after the X-Acto knife she always keeps within arm’s reach.

“I decided to create this huge body of work over the course of the year, not knowing what was going to happen at all,” she says. “It started to emerge that it should be a product line, and I decided on greeting cards so I could marry my writing with my art.”

Girl w/ Knife rapidly became a stationery sensation, catching the eyes of retailers with Castaldi’s fashion-forward designs and raw, relatable expressions.

I would walk the world for you in heels.
Dear universe, why tho?
You bought a house! Or roughly 4,000 handbags.

Her best-selling card, titled Friends Through Thick & Thin, features a series of eyebrows from different decades, alluding to the tragic eyebrow phase that almost every woman has experienced at some point in her life. It earned a prestigious Louie Award from the Greeting Card Association.

In December 2018 she launched her design-inspired company, Girl w/Knife.

“Everything about my brand is uniquely me and an honest reflection of my life, and that’s what distinguishes my brand from others in the market,” she explains. While she describes her previous work as a fashion art director and children’s book illustrator as “very fulfilling,” she says it wasn’t until Girl w/ Knife that she found her true passion.

Castaldi describes her design process as “quite simple or maddeningly intricate.”

Castaldi designed her Palm Springs estate to match the Girl w/Knife aesthetic.

As her business quickly blossomed into an award-winning brand carried in hundreds of retail stores across the United States and in over half a dozen countries, Castaldi was also in the throes of a full renovation of her Palm Springs estate, selecting every design element and detail with one goal in mind: to create a “concept home” that blends the Girl w/ Knife aesthetic with the playful, retro character of Palm Springs.

Knife/House, her masterpiece, does exactly that. In the living room, a soaring wall of windows once cloaked in heavy plantation shutters now provides a panoramic view of the mountains, palm trees, and pool. Gold fixtures and blush-colored furnishings pop against the pristine white walls, countertops, cabinets, and floors, while the occasional black chair or throw pillow mirrors the brand’s edginess and sharp wit. Then there’s the Rosé Bar, with over a dozen bottles of pink bubbly on display.

It’s equal parts fierce, sexy, and glam, and it’s the first of what Castaldi hopes will be many concept homes in the future (with the next one slated for Bel Air).
Though her initial plan was to utilize Knife/House Palm Springs for short-term rentals and events and as a backdrop to showcase all of her work, the home unexpectedly became her full-time residence during the COVID-19 pandemic and now serves as a creative live/workspace that she shares with her “amazing staff.”

When it comes to interior design, Castaldi prefers a neutral backdrop, leaving experimentation with color and patterns for furniture, rugs, and art.
“Those are their desks,” she says, pointing to the five workstations set up in the dining room, where they’ve recently begun fulfilling holiday orders for the upcoming season.

The detached casita and all but one of the bedrooms, she adds, have been converted into storage space for product and packaging materials, and meetings typically take place around the coffee table, where they can cozy up on the velvety sofas, enjoy the view, and relax.

Having employees at all is a departure from how she’s used to working as an artist, but the extra hands allow more time for her to create. Her process, a “hybrid of collage and painting,” begins every morning with a speedy inventory of all the ideas in her sketch pile to see if anything in particular speaks to her. After painting for the day, she lets everything dry overnight before scanning the paintings into a digital library, where she stores all her flowers, bugs, fruits, people, and hand-lettered alphabets until the collage assembly stage.

While greeting cards, journals, and gift wrap remain the foundation of Girl w/ Knife designs, Castaldi plans to expand with new home goods and gift items that will be marketed under the Knife/House brand — like a forthcoming line of candles, with scents inspired by the jasmine, grapefruit, pomelo, and rose bushes in her yard.

“Although the pandemic has been challenging, it presented an opportunity for me to find inspiration from what was right in front of me, on my property,” she says. “Inspiration is everywhere. You just have to be open to receiving it.”

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A Cut Above at Palm Springs Life –

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