Entrepreneur Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes started up for a rather atypical reason: “to save my sanity.” She began her business selling handmade, eco-friendly home décor, MCK Photography, to give herself a break from the stress of parenting two young children. But “when my first exhibit sold out on opening night, I realized then I might just be able to do this for a living.”

Since she was last featured by The Story Exchange in 2012, Ciarlo-Hayes has gotten her award-winning wares into more than 60 retail locations in and around Philadelphia, where she lives. She also established a strategic partnership with online retailer Zulily, and licensed her artwork to other companies for use in their paper products. She hopes to get her creations into more retail locations. “I adore working with store owners,” she says.

Thanks to her thriving venture, Ciarlo-Hayes was able to build the perfect art studio in her home. She had long dreamed of creating a special space for herself there, rather than renting elsewhere. “I not only have all the benefits of work/home separation, but I have also increased the value of our property for future resale,” she says. “Designing every detail of the studio to my exact specifications and needs was exciting, and I love working there every day.”