I wanted to start things off by highlighting one of the most inspirational brands for me as a maker - ME Speak Design. Eric & Lori are the husband & wife duo behind the incredible work at ME Speak Design. In a world filled with so many creatives, designers and makers, ME Speak Design stands out through their level of craftsmanship and aesthetics. They were nice enough to answer a few of my questions recently....check it out below!
Tell me a little bit about you and ME Speak. How did it all come about?
We were always creating things for ourselves and loved doing it. We remember when our kitchen barstools started to fall apart, instead of buying some from a store we made them. When our children grew into big kid beds, we built them. From lighting, to table top, to furniture, we would design and create pieces for our home. We realized we were enjoying it way more than what we did for a living and decided to close our other businesses and focus full time on creating for others. We both agree it was the best business decision we ever made.
I love watching the behind the scenes work and seeing what you do in your studio..can you tell me a little bit about your space and where you all live?
We live in the small town of North High Shoals, GA. About 4 years ago we sold a “way too big” house in Athens, GA and downsized our life to this 1898 farmhouse situated on 3 acres and a stones throw from the Apalachee river. There’s roughly just under 600 folks here, our family of 5 included. Our property has 2 additional outbuildings, one we use to store our work, package and ship out and the other we think was an old carriage house we renovated into our studio/shop. We walk out of the door of our home and in a few steps we’re in our studio. It is a gem of a place and we feel beyond blessed to have stumbled upon it and to call it home. Reading about the two of you, it seems as though you work fluidly as a team and a couple. I myself love collaboration, but can't imagine doing it daily with my husband.
What are some of the challenges and successes of working with your life partner?
We get this question a lot! We purposely chose this path because we wanted to work together. As husband and wife and parents, we naturally support each others strengths and weaknesses. We share the responsibilities of our work and home equally, something we feel makes us good partners in both and sets a good example for our children. It also probably helps that we are crazy about each other!
I found your work on Instagram, just scrolling through one day, and was instantly wowed! I love everything about your work. It has an obvious, beautiful handmade quality to it. Is that intentional?
Thanks Aron, we feel the same about yours! We are just flattered that there is an audience for our work that appreciates our aesthetic and supports it. The handmade aspect of our work is definitely intentional, we personally love the organic feel and markings that are specific in handmade.. Although we have pieces that we make in repetition, no two are ever the same. We always hope that our end result is beautiful and will find its way to a home where it will reside for years to come.
Congratulations on your Made in the South nomination and for making it as Finalist last year! That is a huge compliment to receive. How did that all come about?
Thank You! Trial and error and 4 attempts at entering! We often chuckle at how we live in the deep south but our audience and customers hail mostly from the West and Northeast! Until the Garden and Gun award we were relatively unknown here in the south, even in our local town. The cocktail spoon we entered was inspired by a baby spoon we gifted my sister for our niece Bernadette. Ironically Bernadette was diagnosed in September of 2016 with AML, an aggressive form of childhood cancer. Bernie fought the battle of her life and has been cancer free for 1 year. We donate a portion of each of our spice spoons (a smaller version of her baby spoon and cocktail spoon) to CURE Childhood Cancer.
You seem to have really honed in on the voice of your work! As a metal worker myself, I know how challenging it can be to get that material to work with you and not against you sometimes. Is metal your material of choice, and if not what is?
We both love the metal aspect of our work and we like incorporating a wood element where it lends itself. Eric does a lot more woodworking than you will see on our site, including furniture. Mostly we make for ourselves and on occasion we are commissioned to make a piece. Our proudest work was probably when the University of Georgia hired us to build an altar, pulpit and baptismal font for the campus Presbyterian Center. We created it from a beautiful pecan tree that was felled on their property. It was made in honor of a parishioner who passed away. His wife came out to the shop to see the pieces in process; that was very moving. We hand forged over 100 nails to build the pieces and gifted her one as a keepsake.
This one might be a little bit difficult, but since this "highlights" is based around makers and creatives...how do you define yourself and your work? Is there a specific term or title that you prefer?
Our tag line is “Japanese Inspired Housewares with Southern Roots”. We take inspiration from Lori’s Japanese roots and the south we live in and combine them into our own melting pot of design. Our work and our home both reflect those two elements we both love so much. We would like to think all of us working in the handmade for the home industry are artists and designers. It takes a certain kind of personality to do this sort of work along with a bit of risk which we think pushes us to create more one of a kind pieces these days.
So tell me a little bit about the process behind the work. Do you layout your designs in your head before hand, or do you work organically?
We do both. Sometimes we design something on paper first, especially if we are working with a client. It is always rewarding when the sketch and the final piece look the same. We also have a creative spark that happens at times and something laying around the shop gives us an idea and we make it right there on the spot. Those usually end up being our personal favorite pieces.
Running a creative business can be so overwhelming at times. I always think it's important to protect, or set aside, specific time for the creative process. Do you have a way that you go about that?
Absolutely. When we are doing more production pieces the monotony of the process can kind of lull you out of creativity. We both need a break from that and that’s where the one of a kind pieces that are spontaneous happen. Eric is known to “surprise” me with something he did when I was not in the shop. He will usually walk in the house where I’m doing something totally different and say, “I know you are going to be upset that I am not doing what I should be doing but I made you something”. I have to say I have never been upset when he gets off track and hands me art he created on a whim. Our home is full of treasures made this way and we love the way they weave themselves into our life’s story. Is there any bit of advice you would like to give someone starting out or mid-career, or is there any advice you would like to ask from someone who is well established? We would love your answer to this as well! We have been entrepreneurs our whole adult lives, from residential building to college housing and construction recycling. Our biggest advice would be to not let another day go by where you aren’t doing what you love for a living. Whether that’s working for someone else or your own business. If you are daydreaming at work about another career then we are talking to you! We were not fulfilled until we made this leap of faith. We knew it was a risk and we gave up a lot of material things in order to do this. We have found that was a small sacrifice for us to live an honest life that we are proud of and that we genuinely love.