All in the (Foundry) Family: Meet Mara
- Posted on
- By Susannah
- Posted in THE FOUNDRY FAMILY, The Foundry World
While adorable dogs, the magical smell of beeswax candles, and oodles of gorgeous glassware are pretty darn nice, the thing that REALLY makes The Foundry feel like home is our family.
The thing about Families is the joy in really getting to know everyone else's amazing secret super-powers and exactly how everyone fits together and compliments each other, stronger together than alone. Maybe you're the one with the dynamite jazz hands, maybe you're the one who always throws the effortless impeccable dinner parties, maybe you've got the green thumb, the solo wanderlust, AND the collection of vintage punchbowls, or maybe you're the one who is an actual unicorn...Maybe, like our dear MARA, you're the brilliant project managing woodworking woodsmaiden who's been nurturing her innate passion for gorgeous wood grains since she was six years old AND who brings that skill + passion to our family table (she's the one and only "Mara Metz" who hand crafts our custom-to-our-specs Foundry cutting boards and signature simple wooden candleholders.)
The Foundry Home Goods: Where are you right now?
Mara: I'm in the basement of the shop which isn't a glamorous place, really, but I like it down here. It reminds me of my woodshop, which is also in a basement-garage.
TFHG: Like a batcave! Where is that?
Mara: I live with my family about 15 minutes outside of Minneapolis. I went to the University of Wisconsin and when I came back to Minneapolis I was like "uh, it's basically going to be impossible to find an apartment that will fit my table saw". I love living with my family, my dad is basically my partner-in-crime when it comes to projects and it's super fun to have that kind of support and shared joy built in to the structure of our days. He'll call me and say "Mara. The neighbors had to cut down that gorgeous giant tree. It's just sitting there. We gotta go get that wood!" and we'll go snag it and talk about what we're going to do with it on my way home.
TFHG: That's amazing. Is that how you got started woodworking, with your dad?
M: My dad's a woodworker and my grandpa's on both sides were, but my dad likes to say I'm the only one with any talent or creativity... He'll say "She got the Metz talent!" (and then my mom will say "No no no, that's from me!"). My father built all kinds of things around the house when I was young. He built our kitchen table growing up and we still all eat around it. Woodworking was definitely "around" but I sort of discovered it for myself at 4H when I was pretty young. At first I built small things, like a little wooden carrying tote or toolbox, and then I got really into re-finishing furniture.
TFHG: What did your parents think about that?
M: They were great. Super supportive but also pretty hands-off. I had a pretty clear vision of how I wanted to do things and what I might need to learn to do them and they gave me a lot of space to figure that out. And if I needed to learn how to use a new tool or something my dad would help me learn the basic skills and then let me go on about my business.
TFHG: Like what?
M: Well, I remember him teaching me how to use the air nail gun and it made this BIG sound. I'd kind of stand back and close my eyes and fire it and he'd say "No, Mara, that's how you lose a finger, do it like this". And then I would.
TFHG: Wait, what!? How old were you?
M: Hmmm... probably 5th grade? But it was great. I learned to respect the tools and the work in a way that felt really natural. I'd be free to go down into the basement shop and find, like, an old dresser or something down there and refinish it.
TFHG: What's your creative process with that?
M: I've always loved old houses and old furniture, you don't really see things made like that anymore. Beautiful joints, really gorgeous old wood. Such care. I don't like to necessarily "refinish", I guess, but rather restore, you know? Get it back to looking how it was meant to look when it was brand new.
TFHG: So you're not just sanding and re-painting.
M: Ha! No. Chalk paint is against my morals.
TFHG: OMG. That is hilarious.
M: I mean, sometimes something might be beyond repair like cracked veneer or something, but usually you see things on Craigslist or even just, like, on the street and all it needs is a little TLC to get back to its former glory. I have 9 siblings and...
TFHG: Wait, 9?
M: Yep! There's a lot of us. Seven girls and two boys. I'm the youngest, though, and I'll always find furniture and be like "THIS would be perfect for your guest room". I'm basically constantly furnishing their houses... IF I can bear to part with my projects.
TFHG: What do you mean?
M: Well, I get really invested in a piece that I've worked on and I envision it in a future home. Like "this antique cedar chest will be the perfect spot to store my woolen blankets for my own house someday". These things are seriously built to last and I love giving them a second chance. That's something that I loved right away about The Foundry. So many of the things we carry are things that are made to be loved and used and maybe fixed in ten years if they need it and used some more. The kinds of things that I grew up using and loving. Sheepskins and woolen blankets and making our own beeswax candles.
TFHG: Your family keeps bees?
M: They used to! And we always had homemade beeswax candles burning. That's actually how I found my way to The Foundry. Anna's good friend Marriah cuts my hair at Cocoon and they always have the Old Mill Beeswax Candles lit in the salon. The smell of beeswax is simply heavenly and I asked Marriah about it one day and she said "Oh, they're from my friend's amazing shop! You'd love it in there. Actually...I think they're hiring?" I came in and saw the beeswax candles and the MacAusland Woolen Blankets and (of course) all of the beautiful wooden things and was like AHHHH.
TFHG: And now you're making more beautiful wooden things to add to our arsenal! How did that come to be?
M: Well, the shop moved from the North Loop location to our current Tangletown spot right before I joined the team and there were all sorts of little random woodworking projects that popped up around the move (Foundry Note: We love this picture of Anna with drill and Mara with shop-vac SO MUCH). For me, it kind of couldn't be more awesome to start a new job and have them say "hey, how do you feel about power tools?" on the first day.
TFHG: Well, we'd say it kind of couldn't be awesomer to have someone who'd answer that question with "POWER TOOLS? I LOVE 'EM!"
M: It's true! Anna has such a clear vision of how she wants things to be and how to execute them and I'm very much the same way with my projects. We were sitting around talking about the cutting boards (Foundry Note: Anna conceived of and designed our custom Foundry cutting boards and simple wood cube candle holders and had our good friend Dennis from August Fischer make them for years until we got word this winter that he was scaling back production) and how we were really hoping to be able to find a local maker to take over since we all love them. And I got a lightning bolt and was like "I'm a local maker! I'll do it!". I started with the classic shapes and we've been all working together on new ideas for prototypes (I have LOADS) and it's just so fun.
TFHG: It is! What's your workflow like?
M: It all starts with the wood. I don't have an Alaskan saw mill where I can mill my own giant timber (yet) but I do have an amazing stockpile of hoarded wood I've been saving. Sometimes when I can't source the *exact right piece* from my collection, I'll buy "new" wood from sustainable local sources. I search for the pieces with the most beautiful grains, and for the cutting boards they need to also run the "right" way to make the most efficient cutting surfaces. I love all variations in grain, but for these pieces any grain elements need to be subtle and smooth. It's like a puzzle.
TFHG: So each batch is different?
M: Oh yeah! I mean, the batches are the same size and shape, but the wood is designed to shine. The boards that I picked for my first batch had this gorgeous, smooth dark vein down the center, ahhhh! Once I find the right pieces, I smooth and plane if necessary, map out my cuts, and make them. Everything gets a good solid sanding and then I place and make the hole. I love that part because I get to use my dad's antique drill press. The last step is a hand-finish with a food-safe oil and beeswax blend I make myself using Old Mill beeswax. It's the simplest most functional way to let the natural beauty of the wood be the star. That also makes it super easy for people to re-apply a similar treatment as needed once they take the pieces home. Given the occasional oil, these guys will last forever.
TFHG: Love that about your dad's antique drill press! Is that your favorite tool?
M: That's kind of an impossible question! I love that tool. I also love my table saw. You can do so many incredible things with a table saw. My boyfriend, Caleb, got me an orbital sander for my birthday. A little 5" deWalt. That might be my favorite right now.
TFHG: That is TRUE romance.
M: Ha! Well, he knows what I like, for sure. He also just bought a house, so I have lots of opportunities to let my little sander rip! He and my sister actually just both bought houses in the same month. One built in 1926, the other in 1927, and they're ten minutes away from each other. I'm in project heaven. All of his baseboards and trim board were all painted a dingy old white...a little piece of the paint chipped off and I was like THIS NEEDS TO BE STAINED! So I took all of the trim off and took it home and stripped and stained it. Then I was helping my sister swap out a light fixture on her sweet little enclosed porch and where the old fixture was you could see this gorgeous, rich tongue and groove beadboard ceiling just waiting to be uncovered.
TFHG: It's like a treasure hunt!
M: I have a pretty good imagination, but I'm always thinking: how can I improve this? Let's pull up that carpet! Let's see if paneling is hiding behind the wallpaper! Let's swap out that fixture! Let's make something to fit *perfectly* in this space!
M: What's your favorite thing you've ever made?
M: That's HARD. There are two. Ok. Maybe three. They're all tables! My family moved to our current house just before I was born. The government was building a road where our old house was and so it was an eminent domain thing. Graders had cut down this giant old oak tree in front of the house and my mom cried. So, in typical Metz fashion, my parents went back, basically under the cover of darkness, and hauled the big tree away. I have no idea what they intended to do with it but it wasn't going to get bulldozed and chipped, not on our watch! I turned the stump from that giant tree into a table and now my mother has a memory of that old place living at her new place.
The other two are both tables for the new houses, one for my boyfriend's house and one for my sister's.
The table at my boyfriend's house is from a family friend's wood cache, it has a gorgeous live edge.
And my sister's table is GIANT. She really wanted a big communal table and my father and I built it together.
TFHG: How did you do the legs, do you have a lathe?
M: The legs are steel, my father and I welded them. I invented a system with angle irons and bolts so you can take the legs on and off. Flush mounted underneath, channel mitered at all of the corners and welded together in a square.
TFHG: You weld together!? That's amazing!
M: Well, we are supposed to weld together but sometimes he'll get really excited when we have a project and I'll come home from work and he'll say "The legs are done!" and I'm like "DAD! Why didn't you wait!?". So, technically he welded the legs for the table and I welded the legs for the benches.
TFHG: Do you have your own welding masks?
M: Absolutely! When the eclipse came, you should have seen us. The whole family was out in the yard with our welding masks on.
TFHG: Holy Moly. That is THE BEST.
TFHG: What is your Foundry daily? Do you have a surprising thing you can't live without?
M: I'm obsessed with the beeswax, and love using it in my woodworking. Something I'm surprised about is how much I love washing dishes with the special dishbrushes. It's such a pleasure. And the different brushes really do do different things better and last so much longer than a sponge. I really like the soft brush bristle brush for washing glasses. It's kind of shocking how much I like using it, actually.
TFHG: What's your dream Foundry piece?
M: One of the large queen sized wool blankets. I bought one for my sister this Christmas and immediately was like "Why didn't I get that for myself!?". I'm very drawn to all the textiles.
TFHG: What do you always have in your pocket/in your bag/on your person?
M: I always like to have a chocolate bar in my purse. "For morale" as my dad would say. I love the ones we have in the shop, especially the ones with the pieces of dried fig. Morale=high.
TFHG: And finally... are you more of a Ruby or a Turnip?
M: I was waiting for this! It's a hard one. I feel like I start off like a Ruby... I'm a little more reserved when I'm first getting to know people, but once I really know them I turn into a little more of a Turnip...a little more crazy, more openly myself.
THANK YOU MARA! You are AMAZING (and we are so thrilled and honored to have you making beautiful things for our Family).
P.S. Our conversation meandered in so many wonderful directions that we hardly even mentioned Lincoln, Mara's contribution to our Foundry canine squad. He's a babe, so how could we NOT include a photo??
Wonderful blog. Talented young woman.
Absolutely love this story...I feel like I know Mara and can’t wait to read about her next chapter.
A wonderful bio story on Mars. She is so very talented and I look forward to meeting her and talking with her