Life by Design

These Twin Citians all share a love of fine craftmanship.

Life by Design
Photographs by Jake Armour
Built for 2 Twin Cities collectors John Oliva and Nancy Krant have this Tom Oliphant-designed chair at their beach house in Connecticut.

These Twin Citians all share a love of fine craftmanship, a distinctive personal style, and a gift for finding ways to beautify their lives. Here's how they do it.

Crafting a beautiful existence isn’t as easy as some people make it look. Like anything else worth having, it takes dedication, hard work, a certain amount of time and money, and a clear idea of what you want. How to find your style and zero in on perfect pieces can be an art unto itself. Fortunately, we live in a creative hotbed.

The Twin Cities offers a wealth of goods made by skilled artisans. And hunting is half the fun, especially during spring and summer. The official art-fair season kicks off this month with the American Craft Council show at St. Paul’s RiverCentre (April 20–22), the largest juried art show in the Midwest. Art-A-Whirl, an epic weekend-long party at the Northrup King Building and surrounding galleries in Northeast Minneapolis, follows in May. After that, you can find a juried fair somewhere pretty much every weekend until September. An astonishing range of work in almost every medium can be found at these shows and fairs. Where to start? It depends on what you like.

Finding a Connection Jeremy Mayberg is an architect who specializes in building theaters and museums. He leads the Cultural Design Studio for Minneapolis-based RSP Architects, and he collects an eclectic range of items: African masks, artisan pottery, glass sculpture, and other assorted items. And though the things he collects are very different, his choices are guided by a common aesthetic.

“Whether it’s food, plants, or clothing, I prefer native and natural over cultivated and manufactured,” says Mayberg. “I like things simple, authentic, and understated—with a sense of humor thrown in.”

One of Mayberg’s prized possessions is an African hunter’s jacket that has pouches for various types of medicine attached to it. It hangs on his living room wall. “I like the jacket because when I look at it, it sparks my imagination. I think about the guy who wore that jacket, of the culture and time in which he lived. It’s a jacket, yes, but it’s also a work of art.”

For Mayberg, craft collecting is a very personal activity, one that feeds his curiosity and fuels a variety of interests. “When I go to shows and fairs, I like to talk to the artists and learn about different crafts,” says Mayberg. “I like things that tell a story, that embody some tradition or history that the artist is building on.”

Sally Wheaton Hushcha is an interior designer with a background in studio art, art history, photography, and archaeology. She doesn’t think of herself as a “collector” in the connoisseur sense of the word, but she knows her stuff. Among the items she’s interested in are Joseph Hecht engravings, Scottish Victorian jewelry, Venetian glass, porcelain figurines, and ceramics.

Wherever she travels, Hushcha almost always seeks out the local galleries, antique stores, and consignment shops—sometimes even garage sales and flea markets. “I’ve found pieces at venues high and low,” she says. “I like to find that one thing that speaks to my soul, that makes me want to bring it into my life. But it’s not about acquiring it; it’s about finding that connection—of staying open to the possibility of connecting with an object.”

Seeking Style Marnita Schroedl, founder of the social-interaction-research organization Marnita’s Table, believes that inspiration can come from anywhere and says she never wastes an opportunity to be stylish. “Everything, from walking the dog to going to the opera, is a fashion opportunity,” Schroedl insists. “Don’t worry if it all matches or goes together. If it is beautiful, well-made, and you love it, then it goes together, because it has YOU in common.”

Kelly Gage takes a more analytical approach to her acquisitions. As an assistant professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Gage teaches apparel history, an academic passion that informs her personal decision-making.

“I was taught to buy things that would last, which factors into my style today,” Gage says. “I buy classic pieces with quality construction that won’t go out of style in a year. I particularly like clothes from the 1940s and some styles from the 1960s Mad Men era.”

Gage does not suffer from indecision. “In general I am an analytical person,” she says. “I know instantaneously if I like something or not.”

When Yin Simpson isn’t designing couture dresses, she can often be found at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where she and her husband give public tours of the MIA’s Southeast Asian and Japanese art collections. “Our furniture, tables, porcelain, and paintings usually have an Asian influence,” says Yin, “but whatever it is, I have to love it before I buy it. Even my dishes have to connect to my soul.”

Yes, she likes to shop, but Yin says she also goes to shows and galleries simply for inspiration. “I love being surrounded by so many skilled craftspeople and artisans. It energizes me. I like to imagine the artist’s mind at work, and to envision how much time went into the making of a piece. Even the simplest things can be extremely time-consuming. A lot of people don’t realize that.”


Our craving for handmade goods dates back to the dawn of man.
2400 BC Potter’s wheel — 1790 Sewing machine — 1860 Arts and Crafts movement
1880s Roll film — 1900 Prairie-style architecture —1915 Minneapolis Institute of Arts
1943 American Craft Council —1960s Tie-dye craze —1970s The BeDazzler
1987 Creative Memories—1990 Martha Stewart — 2005 Yarn bombing
2005 Etsy — 2010 Pinterest — 2011 Upcycling