The Maker's Studio

How Community and Craft Create an Heirloom

How do you make an heirloom? That’s the deceptively simple question I posed to Ryan Huggett, the owner of The Maker’s Studio in downtown Excelsior. Huggett and his more than fifty partners share the space to show hand-made and custom furniture, ceramics, glassware, and textiles. While Huggett has been woodworking since before high school, he never had a place where he could show his work. “I started woodworking when I was really young, and as years went on, I started to see that there weren’t great options on the market. You’ve got your 'Etsys' and your 'Facebook Marketplaces', and your 'Amazons', and they are all really tough for small artisans. That’s how we came up with the store; we needed a space for people to show their crafts.” The Maker’s Studio was designed to bring artisans to market. After that, the pieces could speak for themselves. “People will be attracted to these sorts of things if they can see them,” says Huggett

And perhaps there lies the answer to my question: how does one craft an heirloom?  Huggett answers simply: “It’s more of a technique thing.” But when pressed, he continues, “especially in furniture-making and woodworking, it really is a technique thing; knowing what to look for, what types of joints are going to fail over time, what types of materials are going to fail over time, and avoiding them.” That level of precision can necessitate customers interacting with the piece. Huggett stresses the importance of being able to touch the furniture; to feel it and hear its story. “That’s the most important thing.” While The Maker’s Studio recently opened an online store, Huggett remains wary. “I don’t ever see that being our bread and butter because the stories and the human interaction are so important to what we do.” In fact, in the world of COVID-19, Huggett believes that The Maker’s Studio is more important than ever: “To be able to bring a piece into your home that has a connection to something real, I feel is important.”

A large percentage of what Huggett works on is custom furniture. When it comes to custom-work Huggett says, “I think most people have an incredible barrier inside their minds about asking for custom things because it is scary; there’s no price tag.” His current project shows that it doesn’t have to be. “On my workbench is a slab of walnut. This tree was taken down in the Minnetonka area,” says Huggett. The landowner simply wanted the tree removed when she approached him. Huggett's response: “I certainly don’t want to haul it away. Are you interested in making something out of it?” To Huggett's delight, she said “Absolutely.” Thus began the process of drawing up plans for a table. The first thing Huggett thinks about when starting custom work is his partners: “Who is going to be the best person to make this person happy. Sometimes it is me. Most of the time it is not.” Among his recent custom projects is a cypress wall hanging, inscribed serving trays, and a redwood coffee table.

“Custom doesn’t have to be scary. Ask questions. We’re your neighbors. We aren’t scary. We can make whatever you want. If you can dream it, we can build it. And if you need help dreaming, we do that too.”

When asked about the ‘Maker’s’ label Huggett responds, “I feel what we are doing is becoming increasingly important […] making sure that as we become more and more of a specialized society, this is real and everyone can do it.” Huggett met one of his now-partners at The Maker’s Studio when they walked into the store asking if Huggett could look at some of the things they had already made. “A handful of different vendors were basically like that,” says Huggett. “They’d show me their stuff and it would be really good. […] we have to sell it.” Huggett laughs when I ask about meeting his collaborators. “That type of experience is so special […] especially a young person to walk in, eyes wide, and go, ‘Wow! You can sell these things’”. He says stories like that help him sleep at night.

“Having grown up in the area, Huggett knew he wanted to open The Maker’s Studio in Excelsior. “It was always Excelsior, and […] I couldn’t be happier with the choice to be here,” Hugget says. He explains that it takes a special community to support artisans, and that community is at the heart of why he created The Maker’s Studio in the first place. “Our vendors pour their heart and soul into everything they do, and to be able to give them an avenue and put their stuff into people’s homes, that’s what it’s all about.” Though, whether or not those are heirlooms, only time will tell.

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