Rooms Of Their Own: Brewmaster Studios
svetlana | Mar 30, 2016 | 9:00AM |

all photos: Jeff Martin

Washington D.C. (which we, it goes without saying, LOVE) is many things but “a safe haven for creative careers” is probably not at the top of the list. The army of makers and artists that live in it often hold down 9-to-5 jobs in order to be able to afford it, and the struggle for finding a space to work in (that is not your tiny dining nook in your tiny apartment) is a constant one. And, as much as more traditional small businesses turn to coworking spaces, so do the artists and artisans. So, to finish off our Women’s History Month off in style, we are kicking off a brand new series: Rooms Of Their Own, where we visit and explore collaborative work environments inhabited by women. It only felt right to kick off with Brewmaster Studios, for multiple reasons. Christian Heurich came to the United States with $200 in his pocket and at his death, he was recognized as Washington DC’s most successful brewer. In keeping with Heurich’s entrepreneurial spirit, the Heurich House Museum proudly supports those who share his ideals and converting the carriage house on the property into a working community of artists, makers, craftspeople. On April 1st its talented residents (a jewelry designer, a letterpress owner, a fine leather goods maker and painter) are celebrating their 1 year anniversary of working, so it seemed a perfect time to reflect on the ups and downs of shared space, the new friendships and collaborations and future plans.

Read below about Mallory Shelter Jewelry, Sea Heart City Press, Matine & Rikke Kuhn Riegels and then stop by first birthday celebration/open house this Friday, April 1 from 6-9, at 1921 Sunderland Place NW . People can come by and tour the studios and shop our goods. Anyone is welcome to stop by, and drinks/snacks will be provided! 

Tell us a little about yourself and what you make?

Mallory Shelter / MALLORY SHELTER JEWELRY: I’m a jewelry designer and metalsmith based here in DC. I primarily focus on my line of boutique jewelry, which includes layering necklaces, stacking rings, statement earrings and more. I also create custom, high-end orders like engagement rings and wedding bands, working with 14 and 18k gold, platinum, diamonds and precious stones. All of my jewelry is handmade in Brewmaster Studios.

Carolyn Misterek / MATINE : My name is Carolyn Misterek and I design a line of handbags called MATINE. The bags are crafted by hand here in Washington, D.C. and in small batches in our Portland, OR factory.

Meredith Akery / SEA HEART CITY PRESS: I grew up at the beach in NJ. Letter writing was a part of my life from early on. My Mom taught me well – thank you note etiquette! My love of sending mail increased when I studied abroad in Spain in college and then after graduation, I moved to NYC. I always used notes and cards as a way of keeping in touch with friends scattered all over. Seeing handwriting and making a tactile connection is comforting to me. I discovered letterpress when I stared paying more attention to how the cards I loved were made. I took a few classes and got swept up in this beautiful, collectable art form that needs to be preserved. Now I design stationery and my own greeting card line and print them using a vintage tabletop letterpress. My cards a mix of silly and sweet. They’re all heartfelt and I hope they encourage others to send real mail! My name, Sea Heart City Press, comes from the idea of my heart being wedged between the city and the sea.

Rikke Kuhn Riegels: I am a Danish painter who moved to DC about a year ago. I do large scale scale oil paintings working mostly with architectural motifs – construction, perspective, light and reflection are things that really fascinates me. And it interests me how buildings reflect different ways of living, values and purposes in live. Looking at architecture this way makes it an interesting topic to explore for a painter, because it appears to be more than just an aesthetic object.

Did you know each other before you moved in and how?
None of us knew each other too well, but we were all aware of each other and our work. Mallory and Carolyn had done a few markets together, but otherwise there was definitely a feeling similar to the first day of college when you’re meeting your roommate for the first time. We’re lucky that we’ve all become such close friends through sharing a studio space!

Before Brewmasters studios, where did you work / what can you tell us about the experience?

Mallory: Before Brewmaster Studios, I was working out of my 1 bedroom apartment in Noma. I actually really enjoyed working there – I had a small workbench set up in my bedroom and I could easily start and stop projects when I pleased. However as my business expanded, it became increasingly hard to continue working from home. My work moved from my workbench to basically all areas/surfaces of our apartment, and I found it hard to totally disconnect when my business and home lines were always blurred.  In addition, I felt that I could benefit from a dedicated workspace where I could meet shoppers who were interested in purchasing a piece, or consultant with clients who wanted something custom.

Carolyn: My first studio was in Old Town Alexandria. It was another shared space in a really beautiful old building. It was a great place and I love Old Town, but the location was just too far from where I live on Capitol Hill. I left there for a temporary space near Union Market by myself. That experience was quite isolating and taught me how much I really value being around other makers and creatives, and just other people in general. When you run a business by yourself it’s easy to get sucked into working head down for hours on end. Sometimes I would get home and realize I hadn’t spoken to another person all day! It’s important to have some interaction in your days, plus a group setting is just more fun.

Meredith: It was a huge change from printing my cards in my apartment to moving into the studio. Even little things, like having a drying rack, were revolutionary for my process. At home, I was laying cards out to dry on every inch of my couch and furniture. Having a real place to work efficiently and store my equipment and stock has been great. The other side of the experience at Brewmaster Studios is that I can host clients and collaborate with my studio mates to have open houses. I love inviting everyone in to see how my letterpress works- it really helps people understand how much care goes into printing each card.

Rikke: I moved to DC right before entering Brewmaster Studios, so when I came here I didn’t know anyone. Before arriving I had been working in a big shared studio space in Copenhagen which is my hometown. Artistic work can be lonely and therefore – especially as a newcomer to the city – I enjoy having such good people around me as I have in Brewmaster Studios. It is inspiring to follow each other’s work and it is ideal for planning events together. I feel extremely privileged to have landed directly into such a dynamic group of dedicated people based in the heart of DC. Having established a workspace like that as a group is definitely something worth celebrating as we now approach our one year anniversary.

How did you stumble upon / settle into Brewmasters studios?

Mallory: I wasn’t feeling totally ready to take the leap and move into a studio space, but I was also very cognizant that good studio space was extremely limited in the area. I had heard that the Heurich House was expanding their carriage house into studio spaces, and had also coincidently reached out to Carolyn to see if she knew of any space available. We both applied to work out of the studios, and once I was accepted I knew it was a now or never type of situation. I’m so glad I made the commitment – I’ve noticed a huge increase in my productivity, and I love having a dedicated space for my work.

Carolyn: I heard about Brewmaster studios first through my network of D.C. creative friends and then Mallory brought it up again at an event. I was really excited about the location before I ever saw the building. Then when I heard about the other artists who would be working here, I was completely sold.

Meredith: I collaborated with Kim Bender, the executive director of the Heurich House Museum (our landlord) to convert the office space in the carriage house to artist studios. Last year, I was struggling to find the space I needed in DC because all the other studios had wait lists, and I asked Kim if she would consider leasing a place in the museum to me- it turned out the carriage house was up for rent and we worked together to get other artists to fill the spaces

Describe what your typical work day looks like?

Mallory: I work a full-time job and run my jewelry business on the side, so time is precious and I have to be extremely diligent with the hours I put into my jewelry. That means early mornings, late nights, and a lot of weekend time. I typically put in at least one early morning in the studio (starting around 5:30/6 a.m.) and a few weekday nights depending on how many orders I need to fulfill or if I have meetings with clients. Then I’m in the studio most of the weekend. As far as the day-to-day, it really varies but it’s mostly made up of making and filling customer and wholesale orders, meeting with clients on custom projects, sourcing materials, and (when I can) finding time to just be creative and make something new. I try to save emails, budgeting, social media, and general computer stuff for when I’m home and can be with my husband (usually on our couch enjoying a glass of wine and watching bad TV). I am also religious about setting aside a few hours each week to learn something new and expand my skillset. I am currently enrolled in the GIA’s Accredited Jewelry Professional and Graduate Diamonds programs through their online campus, and also take classes at JewelryClassDC regularly. The jewelry industry is always changing and there is so much information, so I think the more I can learn the better equipped I’ll be to expand my business and skill level.

It can be tough to do this on top of a full time job, especially during particularly busy moments, but I enjoy it immensely and it rarely feels like work to me, which helps to get through the stressful times (and mitigates the FOMO I typically feel when my friends are out at weeknight happy hours or weekend brunch).

Carolyn: I commute with my husband and we drop our baby off by 8 am, so I start the work day bright and early. Before my daughter was born last summer each day was flexible, but now that I have to stay within a child care schedule, my work hours are very precious and I have to be extra careful and intentional with my time. I have an intern named Betsy who is helping me immensely right now and allows me to get a little more out of each day. I get into the studio a couple of hours before her and prepare for the day. I put together both of our to-do lists and get going working my way through outstanding orders—that might mean cutting leather, doing any necessary dying, glueing, trimming, sewing, finishing or packing up orders. My days are usually a race against the clock before I leave to pick up my daughter, so when I’m in the studio I try to focus on production and save emails and admin tasks for later on when I’m at home. I usually forget about lunch so at some point I’m scrambling around trying to find food before coming back and cramming as much more work in as possible. My days are a little on the chaotic side!

Meredith: I work a regular 9-5 job, so my letterpress works happens early mornings, nights, and weekends. On a typical weekday, I wake up at 7 and work on an Instagram post, check emails, and put together any orders that need to get in the mail that day. I go to my other job. In the evening, I will spend time brainstorming on a jog around town or drawing, or if I am going to print that night, I cut my paper, mix my ink, and try to get a good print run in. On weekends when I have more time, I work on reprints to fill orders or prepare for an upcoming show, meet with clients, and work on custom projects.

Rikke: It’s hard to describe a typical work day, since they are never really the same, but overall there are days in front of the canvas and there are days of research. I like going to galleries or museums to keep my work in an open dialog with past and presence, but since I am so preoccupied with architecture I also find my inspiration around the city. The American cityscape is very different from the European and this change of environment has brought whole new structures into my paintings. Especially the apparently anonymous office buildings with their strict use of geometry and almost rhythmic repetitions have lately caught my attention.

In contrast to this outward looking search for inspiration, the days in front of the canvas are extremely focused. I spend long hours in the studio building up the paintings one layer at the time, staying in a very intime dialog with the paint, the colors, the details and the overall composition. Those are the days with most at risk, but also the most rewarding as the painting materializes under the brush.

Creative space is at a premium in DC and we see sharing of the same more and more – what do you think are some of the benefits and disadvantages of working together?

Mallory: The biggest advantage for me has been working alongside other creative-minded people. Running a business can be extremely isolating at times, especially when you don’t have a staff or many people to help out. There’s something really comforting about knowing that there are other people working next to you, even if we’re all doing our own thing. In addition, we’ve been able to share information and lessons learned about the ins and outs of business – since we all work in completely different mediums, a lot of competitive feelings have been removed, and there is a level of trust that has been formed through working side-by-side.

I can’t think of very many downsides to sharing the space, other than I’m probably the noisiest studio member, which I’m sure is annoying at times. I try to be mindful of when I’m doing a lot of hammering or using tools that are loud so that I can minimize the disruptions.

Carolyn: The energy and engagement in a group setting is a definite advantage. We have a good time putting together events and doing collaborations now and then. Plus everyone in the building is such a great resource. These are other small business owners who share some of the same questions and challenges, so it is incredibly helpful to bounce ideas off each other and solicit advice. Since we all work in very different mediums it’s also an interesting environment to see what others are working on and how they do their craft.

In my view the only disadvantages that come up are related to noise and use of space. We all have our own specific noisy activities, but it’s hard not to feel a tiny bit guilty when you’re making a total racket and you know others are trying to get work done. But I guess that’s what music is for. There’s also an extra level of conscientiousness required when people are having meetings or doing a photo shoot or something, you want to be careful not to interrupt or get in someone’s way. In a private space you it’s nice to be able to do whatever you want whenever you want, but overall I’d say there are far more positives than negatives.

Meredith: It is hard to see a downside when you are surrounded by these amazing, driven women. We’re all different and approach our businesses in different ways. Our diversity brings opportunities, from expanding our networks, to learning about interesting shows and markets, and learning more about different creative corners in DC. A big advantage for me is having camaradery even though I am working on my own. I design and print my cards all by myself (with packaging help from my husband and some very good friends along the way), so I spend a lot of time alone with my podcasts. Having other women working hard nearby is really fun and motivating.

Have there been any collaborations?

Yes! Matine x Sea Heart City Press have a gift set collaboration that includes a beautiful leather pencil case with mini-tassel and 6-card letterpress card set. 4 of those cards are exclusive to the collaboration. In addition, Mallory and Carolyn collaborated on a jewelry pouch and jewelry gift set, which is sold online and in Salt & Sundry.

Sea Heart City Press had a little passion project for Valentine’s Day this year where Meredith made mini-Valentine’s for each of us in the studio. Mallory ended up getting some to use for her orders around the holiday, but it was mostly just for fun!

As the one year anniversary approaches – are there any shared co-creative lessons you learned, anything you’d like to celebrate?

Mallory: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention and celebrate the friendship we’ve all formed through working at Brewmaster Studios. We’re all going through the small business journey together, and it’s nice to have people to lean on who understand the ups and downs that come with running a business.

In terms of lessons learned, we made sure to set boundaries and expectations very early on to avoid any issues down the road. We each contribute toward a fund pool to cover communal costs  like toilet paper, light bulbs, etc and all chip in when we have special events that require food or drinks. We also set up a listserv which includes the other tenants in the building and the Heurich House staff so we can notify everyone when we’re hosting a big event, or settle any issues or problems that might come up. The biggest takeaway is definitely maintaining clear and regular communication.

Carolyn: It’s been a very big year for each of us in our own ways, so I think we have a lot to celebrate. Personally I have made huge strides this year in terms of business growth. Expanding manufacturing and bringing on employees to help support that growth has been a big deal. I’m proud of the work that each of us are doing and I think we’ve made Brewmaster Studios a really dynamic, rich environment this year.

Meredith: I want to celebrate the accomplishment of creating something- the studios- from the ground up. We all went into it as an experiment and have been able to create our own identity as Brewmaster Studios, while at the same time each of us has expanded our own brands and businesses.

What is next for each of you?

Mallory: Right now, I’m putting a lot of focus into expanding my custom work, which primarily consists of engagement rings, wedding bands, and heirloom redesigns. I’m also working on creating a made-to-order wedding band collection that can be purchased directly from my site. Finally, I’m putting a lot of thought and work into my Fall/Winter ’16 collection, trying to expand my offerings and incorporate new designs and materials.

Carolyn: I’m continuing to expand manufacturing and planning to bring on additional employees this year. I have some major goals for MATINE over the next couple of years, so I’m focused on putting the pieces in place to support continued growth.

Meredith:  In April, I will be in the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and also at the Bust Craftacular in Brooklyn, NY. Overall, I hope to increase my presence in card retailers and small boutiques. I hope to continue to collaborate with other local artists and people who love to send and receive cards.

Rikke: For the moment I am preparing for my solo show in Hillyer Art Space opening May 6th. It will be my first solo exhibit in the US, and I am really excited about it and can’t wait to see the paintings installed in the gallery all together. Also, I will give a lecture at the CUA School of Architecture next month on intersections between art and architecture which I am looking very much forward to. Besides that I hope to continuously get more involved with and get to know better the DC arts community.