Martha from Uniform Studio
Along with being a mom and an architect, Martha McQuade makes beautiful collections of clothing for women and children. I have been drooling over her fabrics and modern designs at UNIFORM Studio for some time. When I recently heard Martha was putting that eye for design and appreciation for the lovely details to work in some updates around her home, I asked for a tour. Pretty please, Martha, and she agreed. Martha's spare style, supreme use of natural light, and small purposeful splashes of texture and color create a clean and comfortable atmosphere that highlights her family's most special and wonderful things. You're going to love the home Martha and her husband have made. Come and see.
1. Tell us a little about your family and the location and size of your home.
I live with my husband and two sons in Minneapolis, MN. We live in an 1,100 square foot 1950's home in a neighborhood that consists of 1920's homes near Minnehaha Creek. We are both architects and really like the more modern, open plan houses from the 50's era, but wanted to live in a city neighborhood, which usually have older homes. In some of the south Minneapolis neighborhoods, there used to be a little park on a corner every few blocks or so. During the post-war housing crises, the city sold off these lots, and so you will see more modern homes once in a while, amongst the older ones. We were very fortunate to find one. It's not a mid-century gem, but it has a nice open plan and gets tons of light.
Welcome to Martha's home
There are three bedrooms, although one of them is tiny. When my husband was growing up, he had to share a tiny bedroom (and bed) with his brother who snored terribly. It was such an awful experience for him that he always insisted that our boys not have to share rooms. So even though it would be great to have the tiny room for an office, they each have their own room.
We don't have a playroom or office, but our dining room is HUGE. When the house was built, it was a breezeway that connected the garage to the house. Sometime in the 60's the owner enclosed it, and now we use it as our dining room, office, playroom, and workspace/studio.
The dining room
Four years ago, right before my younger son was born, we changed the wall of low windows in the dining room that was directly adjacent to the sidewalk to a row of long high windows. We live a block from the creek, which has a wonderful network of walking paths, and everyone walks down our sidewalk on their way to the path. People could look in as we ate dinner and played, and they were so close it was like they were in the room with us! Changing the windows to high ones was the best thing we've done to the house. Really life changing.
A high row of windows in the dining area
2. How do you approach decorating in your home? What's the most important thing?
I guess I've never really thought about my approach to decorating. As an architect, I think I'm focused on the overall environment of a space. In my home, it has to feel right. For my husband and I, that means light, airy, open, and no clutter. We both tend to like sparse spaces. Our home is somewhat small, so I don't feel like we can have a lot of things, or it starts to feel claustrophobic. I also think the proportion of a space is important. Since we didn't build our home, we can't do much about the sizes and configurations of rooms without a major renovation. My solution to this is to paint everything a very white white, including the trim, so that the light is reflected and the rooms feel bigger and more open. This also allows artwork, objects, and our activities to be the focus.
Art, light, and space in the living room
Recently, I've been carving out a little space in our unfinished basement to make a studio. I used to always work at the dining room table, but having to move my things every time I was finished was starting to get really inefficient. Sometimes I have 15 minutes of free time to work, and it doesn't make sense to drag everything out for that short amount of time. I also needed a place where I could leave things out. The mess of having my sewing things on every available surface was starting to become stressful.
Martha's new basement studio
Having my workspace out of the dining room has really changed the way I think about the space, and I've started to hang up some pictures and put decorative objects on the dining room table, whereas before, it was just stacks of work.
Decorative objects on the dining room table
3. How do your children and their opinions, tastes, and STUFF influence the look and feel of your home?
We're the boss of them. ;) Actually, up until recently, they haven't really had an opinion about decorating. They are now 8 and 4, and just starting to voice opinions about our home. From the beginning, we've tried to incorporate the things they make into our surroundings. We've also tried to make places for all their things. I think it's important that toys and books have a "place" so that when the kids are done with them, there is an act of "putting away" that happens.
Everything in its place
My older son attended a Montessori school through kindergarten, and my younger son is there now. In Montessori, an ordered space is very important in creating a calm and nurturing environment and very conducive to learning. Having a similar approach at home ensures continuity and also parallels our way of thinking. Of course, it isn't always perfect, and since our house is small and we don't have a playroom, there are often things that don't really have a home. We've had a play kitchen in our living room for the last six years or so. :)
L enjoys the play kitchen
In one corner of the dining room, there is also a special art space with a small table and chairs, storage on the wall for drawing supplies, and a magnetic board for current artwork.
O works at the art table
4. Tell us about one DIY home project you have taken on lately and love?
I recently redid both the boys' rooms, updating them to reflect their ages and emerging interests. They both have space in their rooms for toys and books, which adds personality to their rooms and helps keep the rest of the house less cluttered.
For my older son L, it was a love of yellow, maps, science, and birds.
L working at his desk
L's collection of things
My younger son O loves art and animals. He is very creative, and I wanted to have that reflected in his room in a big way. I thought having him make a large painting that would dominate a wall in his room would be a way of doing that. I just provided him with the materials, and he did the rest, so technically it wasn't a DIY project, but I love the result.
O's original artwork and bedroom
O's collection of things
O (and mama) in his bedroom
The other thing I've been doing a lot lately is shopping in my basement. I wanted a little side table to put next to our couch and found a little wood stool from Target that we weren't using. I painted the top black and now it looks like a more expensive Alvar Alto stool and goes with the rest of the decor. I also rewired a lamp we had sitting in the basement because it wasn't working. I painted this as well, and now I love it.
Wooden stool from Target turned cute side table
5. You produce a beautiful clothing line. What household chore do you tend to back burner most so you can tend to your creative life?
Folding laundry. Somehow we manage to get it washed, but both my husband and I dislike folding so much that we often have mounds of clean clothes sitting around in baskets. It drives me crazy—I'm always hunting for one lone sock.
6. What is your most important everyday ritual at home?
Other than making coffee, I think our most important ritual is straightening up. Every morning before we leave the house, or before my husband and the boys leave if I'm working at home, we make the beds, clean up the kitchen and generally make sure that everything is in its place. As I mentioned before, neither of us likes clutter, and I find it hard to work when the house is messy. And it's never fun to come home to a mess. At the end of the day everyone is tired and a bit frazzled, and it's so nice and calming to come home to a neat environment.
7. Do you have a favorite piece of furniture or decorative item in your home? Tell us about this item.
Most of our furniture and objects are things from the mid-century that we've acquired over the last 15 years or so. I grew up in a modern, well-designed house that was built in the 60's and my parents had some Danish Modern furniture and objects that I loved.
When my husband and I moved to the Twin Cities, we tried to find antique stores that carried mid-century things. The Twin Cities area has a large number of antique stores, but up until recently, most of them specialized in turn-of-the-century items. There is a small town close by, Stillwater, which is famous for it's great number of antique stores. We went there one day and were overall pretty disappointed with the selection. But toward the end of the day, we went into the largest store, which I believe used to be an old mill. On one of the upper floors, tucked into a corner, we found a booth that specialized in classic Danish Modern things. We felt like we had hit the jackpot.
On that day we found this ceramic lamp that we both fell in love with. I like the shape of the base, but I absolutely love that it has a three-dimensional texture. I am always drawn to things that are textural in nature. It didn't have a shade, and to this day, I've been searching for the perfect one. We also found out that the people running the booth had a little shop in Minneapolis called Danish Teak Classics, which is like Mecca for Danish Modern design.
A favorite ceramic lamp
8. In your home, what is one indulgence you give into?
Relaxing. We do a lot of laying around and reading books on the weekends and evenings. We are all pretty quiet (except for the four-year old!), and we don't believe in overscheduling the boys, so we're not constantly running off to sports practices or similar scheduled activities. We like to see how the weekend unfolds spontaneously.
Relaxing in the living room
More living room and the fireplace
9. What are your favorite stores to shop for home?
We used to live in San Francisco and would often browse the many mid-century shops there. That's where we acquired a lot of our furniture. Our families both live near Madison, Wisconsin, and there is a little modern antique store there that we always try to go to when we're in the area. It's one of those places that is just stuffed to the brim with furniture and objects, some of it well known, most of it just good anonymous design.
We found our Florence Knoll dining room table there many years ago after deciding that that was the table we really wanted. I spotted the top leaning up on its edge against a wall amongst a bunch of other tops and when we asked the owner about the base, he said he thought he had it in his storage space across town. He said he would give us a deal if we'd go pick it up.
We don't have many interesting independent shops here in Minneapolis, so I end up browsing online quite a bit. My favorite online store is Rare Device. Rena and Lisa are wonderful curators and have put together a small, interesting collection of objects and art from all over. I really wish I was able to visit their store in person regularly, but it's probably good that I can't!
10. What are your favorite Home & Garden blogs or websites?
The blog I consistently read is Remodelista. I like the architecture, objects, and topics they post about, and their posts are usually short and not too overwhelming. Some of the home and garden blogs post so often and have so much content I feel like I can't keep up. I really like Apartment Therapy and their companion blog ohdeedoh (for kid-related spaces) as well—although this is one of the ones that has a ton of content. I find their focus on small, modern spaces relevant to my own home, and I like that they often post about DIY projects that their readers have tackled. I also constantly check in on The Selby. I love the vignette style format, and the fact that they show real people in their surroundings. And the spaces are interesting and eclectic but not overdesigned.
Thanks so much, Martha. We loved peeking around your pretty home.
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