unexpected guests: martha mcquade.
by victoria comment



oh, we’re having a lovely visit on unexpected guests today! were heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota to the beautiful home of designer Martha McQuade of UNIFORM natural. martha and her family live just south of the downtown area in a 1950’s rambler. i love martha’s beautiful and ethically made line of clothing and accessories. i first discovered her photographs on flickr and then martha’s design work, and now her wonderfully mid-century modern home. it’s simple, sleek and oh-so-stylish.


martha’s UNIFORM natural line was just included in the group show, fautlines, here at san francisco’s rare device, and those pieces are now available on their website. for much more about martha’s work, check out UNIFORM natural and her workbook site, as well as her lovely online shop.


What is your idea of a perfect day in Minneapolis?
My perfect day would be a Saturday in late November or early December.  I wake up early and have coffee alone before everyone else gets up.  It’s snowing big, fat, slow flakes. My two sons and husband get up and we walk over to our local bakery/cafe for raisin rolls and cinnamon buns. When we’re finished we take a walk through the little hardware store next door — we all love hardware stores.


After that we head over to the Walker Art Center for First Free Saturday, which is the Walker’s family day. There are kids tours of the galleries, art projects based around the current collections, films and music/dance performances. It’s really fun to be able to engage modern art at their level.



After a quick lunch at home we bundle up and go over to our local sledding hill, a few blocks from our house.  It’s steep and icy and ends at Minnehaha creek which runs horizontally across the city.  If you’re lucky you get up enough speed to skate right across the ice to the far bank.


In the afternoon we visit a favorite bookstore in the uptown neighborhood, Magers & Quinn and then go around the corner and have a snack at Lucia’s to Go, the little sister cafe to Lucia’s, Lucia Watson’s legendary Minneapolis restaurant (the twin cities equivalent to Alice Waters). The rest of the afternoon is spent lounging around reading our new books and watching it snow.


What don’t you leave home without?
lip balm. editor’s note: i’m going into the lip balm business, because there is hardly an unexpected guest who does not leave home without lip balm. ;)


What’s your favorite local shop(s)?
I love AX-MAN surplus. It’s a little store that sells a wide assortment of mostly useless things.  One of the best parts is that they label everything with funny little hand lettered signs.  I could wander there for hours looking at spools of wire in 25 different colors, bins of “tiny little white things” and paper target bulls-eyes.


My favorite food store is Surdyks wine and cheese shop.  They are actually 2 shops, side by side (here in MN you can’t sell food and liquor in the same store).  The cheese shop has a wonderful selection of artisanal cheese from local makers as well as other specialty food and deli items.  The service is spectacular – they love cheese and love to tell you about it.  The wine store has the best wine and beer selection in the city, including all the locally made craft beers.


I have two favorite furniture stores: Roam, which sells modern home furnishings and housewares, including the complete line from local furniture maker Blu Dot, and Danish Teak Classics, which sells vintage and new Danish modern furniture.


What’s on your wish list?
The La Tropézienne bag in brown by Clare Vivier.


What’s your favorite bargain find or product?
Tall rubber wellie type boots from Fleet Farm. They are about $25, but you can often get them on sale for $20. Mine are gray. Fleet Farm is a farm type big warehouse store we have here in Minnesota.  It’s sort of like Home Depot for farmers, hunters and outdoorsmen. I love looking through the selection of galvanized buckets, utilitarian canvas clothing and different types of twine and string.

What is your biggest interior design nightmare?
every wall in a house or apartment painted a different color.



Who is your favorite artist(s)? And why?
Ann HamiltonAnn works as an installation artist, but has a background in textiles and often uses textiles and needlework in her her work.  Her work is large and visually engaging but subtle at the same time.  Personally I am drawn to repetition – field vs object -and the aspect of repetition, whether it be field of 1000’s and 1000’s of pennies, or a huge pile of denim workshirts on a table, is something that is often present in her work. I think what I connect with the most in her work is the way in which each piece has a strong concept or meaning behind it and that meaning has many layers. She uses words extensively in her process, and they are often unusual and lyrical.


Where do you find inspiration?
I think this is a difficult question.  Inspiration is everywhere, all the time.  It’s quite overwhelming for me actually.  But I rarely see something and have a vision of how it will influence my work at that moment.  I think of my job as being 90% observation and collecting.  When I see something interesting or beautiful or quirky, I record, document and save it.  I have a sketchbooks and file folders where I keep images and doodles and notes and I think the inspiration comes from the juxtaposition of these things.  When they are put together in some tangible form I start making connections and then ideas come from that.



Do you collect anything?
I used to collect mid-century dinnerware by the designer Russel Wright, and I have a modest collection, but I’ve stopped.  I’ve realized that I’m more at ease with a minimal amount of stuff around me, and I’ve been purging belongings.  It’s really a continuous project.



What’s your favorite feature in your home?
The natural light.  We are lucky to have tons of natural light at all times of the day.


If you could photograph anyone in the world, who might that be?
The Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima.  Her face has so much character, grace and poise.



Who would you like to sit down to drinks with?
My mother’s father.  He passed away before I was born, so I never got to meet him.  He drove a candy delivery truck stocked with big glass jars full of candy, pretzels and peanuts.  Sort of like a rolling version of the candy store Charlie visits in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.  My mom still has one of the huge glass jars.



Do you have a guilty pleasure?
candy, especially the fun colored and packaged candy from japan.



What’s souvenir did you bring back from your last trip?
I didn’t actually bring anything physical back, but I was fortunate to meet a really wonderful person whose personality and outlook on life had a profound impact on me.  I’ll always remember our time together.



What is your idea of living hell?
public speaking.


What are some of your favorites websites and blogs to visit?
2 or 3 things I know, site inspire,  and but does it float.



33 responses to “unexpected guests: martha mcquade.”

  1. i have always loved seeing peeks of martha’s home on flickr – but to see so many peeks together like this – it’s almost like being there. thank you for this wonderful tour and interview!

  2. Martha’s inkblot pillows are fabulous! Haven’t seen anything like them. I don’t think my own home who I am very well. I feel inspired to take a walk through and consider what is there. Great interview and lovely home!

  3. For me, this was such an exciting post to read, since I also live in Minneapolis. It’s not often that that happens. I loved the mention of Fleet Farm and The Walker. And of course Minnehaha Creek! I walk there often in the summer. =) Very very cool.

  4. thanks, martha, for allowing me to share your gorgeous home! i’m glad you all liked it, too!

    i’m so inspired to live more simply and more beautifully, like martha!

  5. i’ve been following martha for quite some time. she has learned to focus in a way that i find to be nearly impossible, ‘specially when i know she also has the daily tug of family – plus a classroom.

    The Rorschach pillows – genius.

  6. thanks for all the nice comments everyone! and thanks for the invitation Victoria -this was so fun to do.
    I can’t wait to see your new place!

  7. Beautiful work, and a beautiful home! As a former Minneapolitan, I was following along on your Saturday adventure step by step… I miss all those places!

  8. I was wondering if you could tell me where she purchased the beds for her room and her sons. Im looking for something just like that! Thanks :)

  9. Really lovely. I wonder if you could comment on the eternal ‘cleaning up’ issue involved with constant creating and kids. The tour is lovely and there are remnants that these are ‘work’ rooms but as i look at more tours i wonder what happens after the action occurs and where it occurs and whether part of the tour could include that. Long/short….how do you create with/without kids in tow…

  10. Liz,
    That is such a good question and a struggle for me and all parents I know.
    Of course there are constant messes associated with kids and creating. Each of us has our own tolerance level with clutter and mess for sure.
    For me, part of the process of creating is in the choosing of project, the choosing of materials, bringing these materials out to a specific place to work, working and creating a mess, and then the cleaning up and putting away.

    I actually enjoy the putting away part. It’s a time to reflect on what we just did and it’s satisfying to have a place for everything and to put it there, knowing it will be there for the next project. My kids went to montessori school for years, and cleaning up is a big part of their philosophy. Having an organized work area is important to foster creativity -if the space is cluttered, your mind will be cluttered too.
    Personally I can’t function in a cluttered environment, so I spend a good deal of my interior design energy on figuring out storage. I’m constantly trying out new ways and places to store things. It’s not perfect, but a work in progress:)

    As for “where” it occurs -since we have a small house, family projects are almost always on the dining room table, which is large and seems to be the place for many activities in our house.
    I use my downstairs workroom, with a central large table, for most of my own work.
    Hope this helps.

  11. What a wonderful post! I hail from Minneapolis and I’m a huge fan of UN. I’m doing an update on the Twin Cities design guide @ Design*Sponge this week and while I do include the shops that carry UN clothing, I’m looking to include a list of MN based online shops so everyone can have a taste of a little MN loveliness.

    Thanks so much for the beautiful contribution and Martha, if you have any hidden gems you’d like to include in the design guide shoot me an email!

  12. I got quite homesick reading this and hearing about my homeland…Minnesota is truly such a lovely place (and Axman…boy oh boy is it ever wonderful!)

  13. Martha,
    Thanks so much for responding. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I guess i meant in a general way that i see a lot of ‘staged’ house tours and most are homes of very creative people. It’s very encouraging that you are also constantly grappling with the cleaning and storing issue. I live in a very small 1909 house in SF (800 sq ft) with two kids who (unlike your own two) like making messes but not cleaning them up, it seems i spend an inordinate amount of time putting away and finding time/space for my own projects. Thanks again for the insight.

  14. I love Martha’s style and the beautiful details of her home. If anyone is still reading I am interested in where she found some of the beautiful blankets around her home and the bedding in the kids rooms and also the yellow chair in the kids room next to the bed with the black and white bedding. It looks sort of like a panton chair but not quite. anyone know who makes it? thanks! Beautiful inspiration Victoria!

  15. Hi Kyna,
    Thanks for your kind words.
    The grey knit blanket is one I knit myself. The bedspread on the bed in our room (shown w/ the LOVE pillow) is from CB2.
    The bedspreads in the kids rooms are both from IKEA.
    The little yellow chair is from the 60’s and we purchased it from a vintage shop. It is not a panton chair -I don’t know who made it.

  16. Wow – luv the home design – beautiful! I also luv these scarves – I ordered a couple for Christmas gifts. I think they’ll be versatile and take people through the seasons. Where can I see your clothing line?

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