Magic Powers DIY Interview w/ Aaron and Claire of MFEO
Photography by Describe the Fauna
As we grow older we weather storms. Our beams may creak our colors fade, but the essence of self only strengthens. A young couple saw new potential in a hundred year old barn that was fated to be torn down. Beam by beam it was carefully deconstructed and re-purposed into fresh new forms to be enjoyed by many for years to come. This is the story of MFEO.
WHAT SPARKED MFEO?
A: We both dreamt about starting our own design-based business. We love mid-century modern and have interest in sustainability and a living mindful lifestyle. I started making furniture and designing spaces around the same time my grandfather’s barn in Oregon began falling down- he was going to knock it down or give it away, so I took it down piece-by-piece one summer and decided it would be our material.
DO YOU STILL USE THAT BARN WOOD?
A: Most of our pieces are still made from the barn - it was about 4,000 sq ft, so I have another truckload or two of it up north- it’s old growth Doug Fir.
DID YOUR GRANDPA BUILD THE BARN?
A: No, but it was entirely hand built over a hundred years ago. It was on the dairy farm when he bought it. You can see the axe marks on the beams. I don’t know how those guys did it back then. Taking it down I gained a new appreciation of what they were able to accomplish back then. The barn even survived the Columbus Day Storm in 1962 which pummeled many areas with 100+ mph wind gusts.
A: Claire has a full time job. She puts the bread and butter on the table while we continue to grow MFEO. She handles a lot of the business and is a second opinion on all designs.
C: I can say the one piece I did design were the Troika mirrors.
A: Yeah, that's one of our most popular pieces.
A: Our brainstorm process generally begins at home, then we’ll do a few sketches and go straight into prototyping. With the reclaimed wood, we often let the material influence the design.
EVER HIT WALLS?
A: Yes, we've discontinued a lot of things: the barn wood limits the size and finish you can use, so we mostly create larger pieces with it. Some of our smalls are transitioning into sustainably harvested europly because many prototypes were beginning to look too crafty in the barn wood.
A: The process of taking down the barn and learning about the history of Oregon certainly had its influence on us early on. Mid-century modern design also continues to inspire us. There’s an unexpected juxtaposition when we pair our rustic materials with the clean, modern lines and shapes. We’ve begun to transition out of designs that are overly industrial.
C: It's definitely having a hey-day, but the market is over saturated and everything’s beginning to look the same.
FAVORITE PART OF MAKING
A: Working with the barn wood and its character. Each piece weathered differently depending on which side of the barn it hung, and how it was exposed to storms. Some planks have deep grooves, others still have red paint and look new. Working with my hands adds a personal relationship with each plank. I get to know where the knots are, the wormholes, the slivers.
C: We plan to scale the company, create jobs and contribute to the local economy. Eventually, we’d like to host a brick and mortar where other like-minded designers can be showcased.
A: Our original goal was to source, build and sell locally. We quickly found it difficult to limit sales to local, but we’ve proven the first two objectives are achievable. In the short term we’d like to get a larger workspace with a show room in front. We’ll eventually transition out of the daily manufacturing process and bring others on so we can focus on design, prototyping, and running the business. I will always stay involved, but it doesn’t make sense for me to spend eight hours a day sanding.
MOST REWARDING PART OF PROCESS
A: I’ll have an idea lying in bed at night then begin making the prototype over a couple days. You fail a few times and it evolves, then comes to life and may be even better than your original idea. Being able to hold that idea in your hands and interact with the finished product is such a rewarding experience.
C: The other part is reactions from customers. We know that we like what we make, but when we do a show or market we get to watch people interact with our product.
A: It’s very invigorating. The feedback reinvigorates and keeps us moving ahead. I figure we won’t fail unless we give up. So we keep trying.