Inside the Cincinnati Home of Memor Studio Ceramicist Maxine Midtbo
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to Ohio in the USA, where Maxine Midtbo – the artist behind Memor Studio and our latest collaborator at Bed Threads – lives in a soothing space with a sunny third floor perfect for creating her art.
When Maxine Midtbo went to inspect a new house in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July 2020, the first thing she noticed was the pawpaw tree. The artist and ceramicist behind Memor Studio – who has recently collaborated with Bed Threads on a range of three exquisite vases – was looking for a new home. After years of apartment living, Midtbo and her husband wanted space to stretch out in.
And then she saw it – the pawpaw tree, “one of the biggest I’ve seen in this area,” Midtbo enthuses. That, plus the fact that the house was painted cobalt blue, reminding Midtbo of Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City, instantly attracted her to the place. “Before I set foot inside I was drawn to the property,” Midtbo says. “We were craving something with a tranquil green space.”
A bonus was the sun-drenched and inviting third floor, perfect to transform into an artist’s studio. Midtbo was looking to move on from her current studio and wanted somewhere fresh to make the ceramic objects and vessels that make up Memor Studio’s unique and in-demand offering. Midtbo was sold. They moved in last year and barely touched the old building’s original features, other than giving it a lick of paint. “I like to let the character of the house remain intact as much as possible, working within the aesthetic charm it already brings instead of imposing my vision on everything.”
That character fits in well with Midtbo’s own decorating style, which is natural, earth-toned and relaxed. There’s a mixture of modern and antique furniture, as well as pieces the couple found on the street for free. A cane outdoor lounge set sits on the deck – perfectly matching that cobalt blue exterior that drew Midtbo in upon first inspection – and a big glass dining table with wooden chairs. In the living room, a white leather lounge is overlooked by an original artwork in rich, soothing neutrals. “I don’t think you can ever have too much art,” says Midtbo.
Her favourite furniture item is her bedroom set, which was made from honey-hued wood by designer Milo Baughman for Lane Furniture – a gorgeous match for Bed Threads Olive and Oatmeal linen. The set is beautiful and eye-catching, but it also simply does its job. “Think about function,” Midtbo advises, when it comes to decorating your home. “I like to place things where they make sense. I want to use and touch every piece of furniture in my house.”
Hi Maxine! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I make sculpture! I am the artist and founder of Memor Studio. Primarily over the last two years I have been making vases.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I’m a pretty impulsive person, I can feel if something is right or wrong almost instantly and this has definitely informed the way I make art. I like to react in the moment. I call it the “intuitive making” component of my work which refers to the way I make artistic choices in real time.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I’ve been making things since I was very young. I was an only child for nine years and my parents tell me I spent many hours making sculptures out of paper and tape. Because I was drawn to project-based work I decided to attend art school. I loved ceramics, sculpture, and fibre art.
I like work that blends media and isn't readily transparent to the eye, it asks the viewer to look a bit deeper, to stay a bit longer. Also, my mother is an antique collector and has shared her love of collecting with me from the time I was young which has most certainly informed Memor.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
I don’t like to spend too much time planning. Instead I will allow colour, texture, or overall mood of a piece guide my creative process. My painting teacher used to say, "A painting is never finished, it’s merely abandoned." Part of this remains true in my process, the piece is finished when I surrender control and walk away.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your creative business?
Understanding that each day you can only have a single priority. Tending to that before moving on helps maintain direction and focus.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt since you started your business?
Learning how to take time off. It was very hard in the early days to take full days off (no email, no social media, no “oh I'll just do this one thing”). Protecting myself from burn out is really important to me. And as much as I love that my job is also my creative passion, I have a whole beautiful life outside of work as well and holding space for both is critical.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
I love collaborating with others, this is really the foundation of Memor. Each collaboration has been very special to me but the “best thing” has been having an assistant for the past several months. I would love to grow Memor in a way that not only supports my livelihood but the livelihood of another.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self/ someone looking to start their own business?
Stay offline for inspiration. You already have the catalyst for an original idea in front of you. Ask yourself hard questions about your intentions behind what you want to put out into the world.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
Since July last year... It’s been a whirlwind.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
We found this house at a very serendipitous time. The building my studio was in was making changes that made it uncomfortable for the many artists to stay there. When we walked through this house and I saw it had a beautiful sun drenched third floor, I dreamed of making this my new studio.
I painted everything, ceiling to floor and set up an office for myself connected to my work space. The house is old and has many original features; old windows, 1950’s baby blue bathroom, and typically I’m not one for drastic renovations.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
I’m drawn to a lot of different styles and so I like to combine them. I try to pick pieces for our house based on what I like (again back to the impulsive gut feeling) rather than based on what I think will look good. I want my home to look lived in, not staged. We have antiques, modern furniture, heirlooms, and things we’ve found on the street for free. To me it all speaks a language of authenticity to our unique taste.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
My bedroom set. It's a collection Milo Baughman did for Lane Furniture. We also have two huge umbrella trees that came from estate sales that I love.
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
I’m always looking for original pieces of art. I’m particularly drawn to work by artists who were not classically trained.
Shop Maxine's look with Olive and Oatmeal in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
It changes based on time of day and the light. In the morning I love to be on our porch or in our meditation room. Both spaces get beautiful morning sun. In the afternoon, I like to lock myself in my studio to maintain good work flow. In the evening, wherever my dogs are.
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
Pick what you like, don’t overthink it. If you can, keep the bedroom a sanctuary for sleeping. Not too much furniture or fuss, just things you need as you're waking up or preparing for sleep.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
I am starting to plan some exciting collaborations for next year with some artists and designers I haven’t worked with before. Stay tuned!
Shop Maxine's look with Olive and Oatmeal in our Build Your Own Bundle.
For more from Maxine, follow her at @memor_studio
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