On an autumnal Monday afternoon we made our way to Clevedon to meet Katherine and Seamus, the passionate and dedicated couple behind Midgley Green. Arriving at 26 Alexandra Road, we were greeted by Bailey’s friendly bark and warmly welcomed by the lovely Katherine and Seamus. Born as an online space to support and bring together some of the best British makers, Midgley Green opened its physical doors to the world and has since harboured a myriad of experiences and nourished the connection between designer makers and customers that choose products by their stories and thus bringing forth the poetic relationship between raw materials, the crafted objects and the place they take in their new environment.
The couple shared with us the story behind the Midgley Green concept and gave us a tour of the beautiful items that they carefully curate and shared with us some of the stories of their creators. Their artistic background enhances their success in working not just as shopkeepers, but also as curators, establishing meaningful dialogues with contemporary makers.
We went for a walk around Alexandra Road and down to the beach near Clevedon pier, where Katherine and Seamus opened up about what draws them to each other creatively and their dreams and ambitions for the future.
We left their shop with nourished souls, realising that what they created at Midgley Green is not just a successful business, but also a way of life and a creative community.
Who are Katherine and Seamus behind Midgley Green?
Seamus: Katherine is an insanely driven person, she knows exactly what she wants and she is going to keep on pushing until she gets it. I say insanely because as much as we laugh, dream and make plans, there is a lot of crashing, burning and tears that occur to get anywhere in life. The fear of failing keeps the fire to succeed well and truly lit. She is the cut throat vision of Midgley Green, keeping us on track with a roof over our heads. Katherine is a sensible and extremely strong lady, without her our business would crumble.
Katherine: Seamus makes things happen, he’s a doer, and an achiever, he has his head in the clouds so you often need to rein him in but he will get to where he wants to be with his sheer bloody-mindedness. I can safely say Midgley Green wouldn’t be where it is without him, it would have probably remained an idea – but he ran with it. He has a real passion for craft and the people behind it, he is much more the face of our brand and he’s great at talking to people. I can often be less self assured than him and more self conscious… I suppose having your own business is exposing, you are putting yourself out there, Seamus is much better at dealing with that and selling the dream.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Seamus: In recent years I have found myself thinking often of a place we used to camp in Brittany. I loved spending time with my family, waking up to the croissant van in the morning, walking to the beach with my brother, gazing at the stars with my dad. The smell of the sea and the fresh air of the Bretagne countryside are my most vivid memory.
Katherine: Probably playing outside with my brothers, it would be some kind of make believe game, or sitting at the dining room table making paper dolls.
How did you two meet?
We met on our first day at Falmouth University, where we were both studying Fine Art. In fact after meeting we then found out that we were to share a studio space for the whole of the first year. It is quite crazy to think back to how that moment of meeting has changed our lives so much.
What draws you to each other creatively?
Seamus: Katherine is so refined in her creativity, it has always amazed me that she effortlessly cuts out the messy bit where you are honing down an idea. Nope, Katherine nails it in one, she visualises the end result straight off the bat. I love that, as I spend 99.9% of my time bouncing around all over the place creatively in my mind. My motto in life is to listen to Katherine, she’ll always get it right.
Katherine: I think our tastes are just very similar (90% of the time anyway), we like similar clothes, pottery, houses, the list goes on, even looking back at the artwork we used to make, although on the surface very different, we still worked in a similar way, traditional materials were important but we couldn’t help but make work that was quite refined and controlled. So I think our similarities mean that we have a similar aesthetic vision for MG.
How did the idea of Midgley Green come about and what made it worth pursuing?
Having studied Fine Art in Falmouth we couldn’t have been in a better place to follow a journey into making work from a studio in Cornwall. We stayed in Fal where we found a beautiful studio space in an old warehouse almost immediately after graduating, located right on the estuary and with some incredible views, but the only problem was that the birds would get in and poo all over our work. Which ended up being a symbol of how we felt about the art world in general. There have been some opportunities but they weren’t coming our way, especially as we were so young. We look back now and think what if we had stuck it out but honestly at the time we were quickly heading to the end of the road in our minds. It took us to up and leave Cornwall to realise that we needed to find some space to digest the last 4 years of creative output, so we came to Bristol.
Once we settled we knew that mentally we weren’t in the right place to be making our own work and being alone in a studio wasn’t very appealing. However we had met some incredible creatives while down in Fal, people who were now establishing themselves as exciting designer makers. We made the decision that if we couldn’t make our own work, we could curate the work of our friends who were making their way as craftspeople. Midgley Green was born as an online space to support and bring together some of the best British makers. We focused on traditionally crafted products in wood, ceramics, metal and glass, all with a contemporary twist. Our ethos has always been to graft as hard as any of the people we work with. We’re not sitting back twiddling our thumbs, we’re out there displaying the best we can find and sticking with the friends we admire.
Your passion for the great outdoors governs your tastes and informs the work that you curate. Is there anything else that draws you to an artisan’s products when you’re choosing what to stock in your store?
It is as simple as being drawn to a natural aesthetic. We hope that none of the work that we show looks forced or unnatural. So often customers will liken a pot to the coastline or see the story of a tree's life in a wooden bowl. We steer clear of the synthetic because we adore the direct relationship between branch and spoon, clay and vase, wool and blanket. Products are chosen by their story; we want to trace the life of a piece right back to its original material.
To what extent does your artistic background enhances your success in working as curators and establishing dialogues with contemporary makers?
Our backgrounds are integral to the success of Midgley Green. Having spent years honing our own practices we know exactly what it takes to create work as a maker. Not just the making of a successful piece but the daily struggle to motivate yourself. We’ve been there, we’ve been through the ups and downs, the self consciousness, the panic, the reward, the momentary feeling of success and then waking up and doing it all over again. That understanding can’t be bought, it has to be lived, which is why we think we find it so easy to relate to makers.
You live and work together, and the store is just a walk away from your home. Are you trying to draw a line between your business and personal life or are they essentially intertwined?
They are definitely intertwined, which is exactly how we like it. It can be hard to switch off sometimes but we were really keen to find a path in life that meant we loved what we do and working was something we couldn’t wait to do each day. The whole process of the day if part of our lifestyle, we don’t differentiate between having breakfast for example and doing jobs around the shop and ‘days off’ are rarely days off completely, we could go and pick up stock from a maker but make a day of it, stopping somewhere for a walk or lunch.
Midgley Green has become a very popular destination for interiors enthusiasts. What do you think accounts for both the popularity of the handmade, small-batch, artisan-quality goods that you sell and for the unique shopping experience that you harbour?
I think that there has been a real resurgence over the past few years about buying quality pieces for your home or even to wear something that will last a lifetime. The cheap throwaway mentality has gone by the wayside a little in favour of cherishing objects with a story behind them. I think we offer a way of shopping that connects you to the maker, every piece has a story behind it and shows that the work is authentic and I think people are really learning to appreciate the provenance.
How would you define the Midgley Green style?
Before Midgley Green you both managed The Ethicurean restaurant. Can you share with us some of the highlights of this experience?
It was a great time for us! Working in such a beautiful setting, surrounded by other young creatives and ambitious souls was really fulfilling. The four young owners were really inspiring to be around, we were part of their growth from fairly early on and it was wonderful to watch the business grow. Being from artistic backgrounds previously, The Ethicurean was great as it taught us that we could be creative in business environment. It was hard work and long hours; for the first two years of Midgley Green we were juggling managing the restaurant with our own fledgling business, goodness knows how we found the time, but it just fuelled us to make Midgley Green work. We had some wonderful times in that beautiful place, the Wassail in particular was an annual highlight of the team coming together to create a wonderful evening for guests.
Running your own business can be stressful at times. What do you do to relax?
We head straight out into the countryside for a walk with the dog.
How does a typical Sunday evening look like for you?
A good roast, a good pint, fire lit (even in Summer if we can get away with it!) and whatever is good on the box.
What about your favourite beer?
TEA – Hogback Brewery. TEA for Traditional English Ale, brewed at my local when I was growing up. Always a laugh to ask for a pint of TEA in the pub. Plus it’s a bloody good tipple too.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
Forwards ever, backwards never.
What's next for Midgley Green?
We’re in an odd place as we’ve spent the last 2 ½ years constantly, and we mean constantly, planning the next steps. A lot of dreaming and hard graft went into getting the shop premises, which means we’re happy to just take it as it comes for a while. We’re not planning too much, so next for Midgley Green is to enjoy our first year in our new shop.
What about your personal dreams and ambitions?
We have a dream that is slowly pulling into focus the older we get. One day we’ll have an MG Cottage which will be full to the brim with crafted goods. A place to get away from the world for us and guests to stay.