Meet the Maker

Heide Martin Design Studio

Out of their Rockland workshop in Micoast Maine, Heide Martin Design Studio, a boutique furniture company, creates furniture and housewares with simple, high quality materials: native hardwoods, leather, fiber (including wool felt), and metals.

Their designs reflect a Shaker-esque dedication to honest functionality, and strive for unique yet well-balanced form. We sat down with the team behind Heide Martin to chat about the evolution of their work, our shared love of sustainable materials, and where they look for inspiration when starting new work.

Tell us a little about your partnership and background.

I came to furniture from a career in landscape architecture and urban design, with a background in textile craft. I moved to Midcoast Maine from Seattle together with my now-husband and business partner, Patrick Coughlin, to study furniture making. Patrick has a background in residential design and construction and managed to get a job with a local furniture maker. After completing my program I got a job at the school where I studied, and we decided to stay in the area. I was able to keep working on designs while working at the school, and in 2017 I showed my work at ICFF and shortly thereafter we launched Heide Martin Design Studio. Currently, we overlap quite a bit in our tasks, but I lead marketing and design, while Patrick manages operations. It is a privilege to be self-employed and to work together with my husband, and the biggest challenge for us is managing our work-life balance. We’re getting better!

What feelings do you want your work to illicit?

I love what I do and the materials that I work with, and I do my best to have each piece I design reflect that. I hope that this is what comes through to the people that see my work and to those who live with it: that it was carefully and respectfully made.

Where do you look for inspiration when starting a new project?

More often than not, libraries! I can spend hours in a library flipping through books on topics like architecture, textiles, pottery, gardening, industrial design, travel, etc. I especially find inspiration in vernacular architecture, craft, and tools. I do this whenever I can, even if I don’t have a specific project in mind. You never know what will inspire a new piece. When I get a chance to travel, I love visiting museums for inspiration, particularly museums of craft, fine art, and history.

What inspired the design for the woolen bench specifically?

The woolen bench came about in a really interesting way. I was interested in using felt for a project, and I was interested in learning the technique of steam bending, which is a technique where you bend wood over a form with the use of steam. I spent a while designing a number of products and decided to build a bench with legs shaped as upside-down “U” forms. Once I bent the legs I realized that the design wasn’t practical, so I just started playing around with these beautiful pieces of curved wood. I turned them on their sides and the design just clicked. The curved shape of the seat became the perfect complement to the wool.

I love what I do and the materials that I work with, and I do my best to have each piece I design reflect that. I hope that this is what comes through to the people that see my work and to those who live with it: that it was carefully and respectfully made.

Can you walk us through the evolution of your work?

I consider myself a newbie at this craft, so I feel that my work is still nascent and not quite evolved yet. However, I will say that over the years I have grown more confident in my desire to mix woodworking with materials like felt, leather, and woven surfaces. I have slowly taught myself how to work with these other materials, and they inform and enrich my designs.

I especially find inspiration in vernacular architecture, craft, and tools. I do this whenever I can, even if I don’t have a specific project in mind. You never know what will inspire a new piece.

How do you power through the process when what you are trying simply isn’t working?

This can be tough! If I am able to, I set what I am working on aside for a little while, and return to it with fresh eyes. Even if I can only do this for a day or two, it can help me to refocus and see the work with a new perspective. It can also help to talk about the design with someone else, whether that is my business partner Patrick or another designer/maker. Finally, if I have a physical model of a piece, I take it out of the workshop. It can help to take it home with me and just live next to it for a bit in a domestic setting.

Over the years I have grown more confident in my desire to mix woodworking with materials like felt, leather, and woven surfaces. I have slowly taught myself how to work with these other materials, and they inform and enrich my designs.

What makes felt a good fit for your work?

I make work that is heirloom quality, and my pieces showcase and celebrate very high quality, durable materials. They are designed and built to last, to be handed down through a family. My pieces are also ruggedly built—you should use them, not just look at them. High-quality felt ticks all the boxes for me!

When you approach a new design, where do you start? (i.e. sketching, working directly with the material, digital rendering, etc)

In designing a new piece that is an independent, speculative piece, I often spend a lot of time just mulling it over in my head before I commit anything to paper or form. Sometimes I do this for weeks or even months! From there I move on to sketching and then it is quickly on to a series of what I call a “sketch models”—small, scaled versions of the design.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?

There is no typical day! We recently became new parents so there is even less “usual” than usual these days. But the structure of my days is typically very varied, because I wear so many hats. From marketing, to fabrication, to accounting, to packing and shipping... we do it all in house and we love having it that way.

What are you currently working on/what are you excited about in the coming year? Can you share any sneak peeks of upcoming projects?

We have several pieces in the works! I started working on a couple of chair designs about a year ago that I will be returning to soon—a dining chair with a woven seat and a caned lounger. We also want to add a couple of small products to our online shop, so I am currently brainstorming a few kitchen/tabletop accessories.

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