If you’re a desk jockey (like us), the phrase “working from home” probably means something akin to “wearing flannel pants and eating cereal out of the box while you shoot off emails.” But for Somerville’s creative class, working from home can encompass everything from tying on an apron and baking for hours to firing up the laser cutter and power sander. We asked three local makers to take us behind the scenes of their home workshops.
With relatable well-wishes like, “Thanks for watching me ugly cry” and, “Yay, you’re gay!” it’s no surprise that Janine Kwoh’s handmade cards have found a home here in Somerville. She started printing “Kwohtations” cards for her friends in 2011 and opened an Etsy store shortly thereafter. Now, she sells her work at area pop-ups and in shops like Davis Squared.
Her greeting cards are becoming more and more popular, but Kwoh’s workspace has remained more or less the same: two folding tables set up adjacent to her bed. “It really was—or is—a matter of necessity,” she says. While she’d eventually like to have her own studio space—and maybe even her own letterpress—she says she can’t justify incurring that expense right now. “And I actually do really enjoy it,” she adds. “I love being able to roll out of my bed and immediately start working.”
Having the ability to take 15 minutes to create here or there, or to throw in a load of laundry while she works, offers her a flexibility she wouldn’t have in a rental space. Those little moments of time go a long way, especially since Kwoh also has a full-time job. But she notes that constant exposure to your work can be a downside, too. “It’s literally staring at me in the face when I wake up and when I go to bed,” Kwoh jokes. “Sometimes, I have to pause and think, ‘Am I having fun, or am I just stressed out?’ And honestly, sometimes it’s hard to tell.”
Luckily, she lives in a place full of people—many of whom work from home themselves—who understand exactly the situation she’s in.
“There’s a whole community of makers in Somerville, there’s so many artists here,” she says. “It’s really great to have that support network—to have people to connect with and bounce ideas off of and be inspired by.”
At first glance, Michelle Wax’s kitchen looks like that of any area twenty-something. It’s a bit bigger than a galley kitchen, with enough room for a small wooden table and some—but not much—counter space. The white oven and refrigerator are in good shape, but they’re no top-of-the-line, space-age, stainless steel appliances. It’s the intoxicating aroma that really sets this room apart: a peanut buttery, chocolatey amalgam so dense it seems it could settle into the fibers of your clothing.
This modest space is where Wax created Kitchen Millie, the sensational two-bite cookie company she founded in December 2014. “Honestly, I started it with a couple hundred dollars, and I’ve really just been bootstrapping it since then,” Wax says. She started selling her baked goods wholesale last June, and just this August, she left her day job to pursue Kitchen Millie full time. Her cookies are available at an ever-growing number of Greater Boston restaurants and specialty shops, and in late March, she’ll launch a Kickstarter to help spread the sweets even further.
While some people struggle to work from home, Wax is hard-wired for this type of independent success. She has an entrepreneurial spirit and a business brain, and before she set out on her own she worked for a startup downtown.
“I know a lot of my friends … they just couldn’t do it,” Wax says, recalling the way some people hit a wall in their work when last winter’s snowstorms kept them trapped indoors. “I’ve just gotten into a mindset where I’ll make a list of what I need to get done and won’t really stray from that—or try not to, as hard as I can—until it’s done for the day.”
“I think people are surprised when they hear that we have a laser cutter in our house,” laughs Antoinette Hocbo. “It’s certainly a presence in the room.”
Hocbo and partner Jared Steinmark use their bright red, oven-sized 60-watt laser, which they’ve affectionately named Richard, to etch and cut out their intricate wooden jewelry and housewares. It’s not the kind of tool you can just stow away on a shelf somewhere, so they recently converted their bedroom into a studio space, complete with shelving units, a workbench and the computer they use to sketch out their designs. They still need somewhere to sleep, of course—so they’ve moved their bed into the tiny office space off of their living room.
“Our bed touches three walls … it’s quite literally a bed-room,” Hocbo says. “We had to disassemble the frame and assemble it in the room, because we couldn’t fit the bed into the room,” adds Steinmark.
The creative couple doesn’t seem too bummed about not having a super spacious bedroom. Their craft is their priority, and for now, this arrangement lets them freely pursue their passion at any time of day or night, without worrying about renting studio space or being dependent on someone else’s schedule.
“It actually kind of shifted my mentality about what I need a bedroom to be. Really, it’s just a place where we sleep,” Hocbo explains. “It made a lot more sense to give more room to where we’re going to be working.”