Victoria Menary’s Christchurch-based lighting design business Minnow is a family affair. A collaboration with her husband Carl, Minnow manages to squeeze itself into their tiny cottage as well as around work and family life with their three small children.
What do you make?
I make pendant light shades by wrapping and weaving super-thin strips of wood.
How did you get into your craft?
When we were renovating our cottage after the earthquakes, we were looking for light shades and couldn’t find anything we liked. My husband Carl is an Industrial Designer, so we decided to design our own. We settled on wood as the material of choice, and started the design process. At the same time, I was keen to start my own business – I’ve been at home with our kids since our oldest was born five years ago. I love going to Playcentre and playing with Duplo and having pretend tea parties but I was ready to have something else in my life as well.
We spent a year experimenting with different materials and tracking down suppliers. We partnered with an Auckland company to make the material – sustainable pine veneer, thin and strong enough to make our designs possible. From there, through a process of experimentation and iteration, Carl and I came up with the four styles we currently offer.
Carl does most of the design work, and I make the shades and handle the business side of things. Most of the work gets done in the evenings once our three kids are asleep, and in the weekends I retreat to the workshop to make light shades while Carl looks after the kids.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No. We spent a lot of time just playing with the material, figuring out how to handle it and how to manipulate it. The craft and skill developed through that process.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I use New Zealand pine veneer, half a millimetre thick. It’s an amazing material, flexible and delicate, and it glows beautifully when lit. I use copper and bamboo for the pins and clips, which are both beautiful, natural materials. We recently bought a mechanical press which I use with a custom made die to cut the ends of the wood strips. It’s a pretty cool tool, and fun to use.
What inspires you?
I like to think that I am setting a good example for my kids. I’m showing them that it is possible to have a job which you love, which is fulfilling and creative and exciting, and at the same time be a full-time, fully involved, hands-on mother. Also I just like using my hands to make beautiful things, and the feedback I get from delighted customers is very inspiring too.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Our original idea was to bring the beauty of nature into the home. We chose a beautiful natural material and designed our shades to showcase it.
Describe your workspace:
I use the kitchen floor to cut out my material – it’s the only area of our little house big enough to accommodate the long strips of wood I use. I make the shades in a dedicated space in the garage. My workbench gets lots of afternoon sun and looks out through dusty, cobwebby windows on the back garden. We don’t have much space to store the finished shades – we have three little kids in our 80sqm cottage, so space is at a premium – so I keep a small stock and the rest are made to order.
Five words that describe your mind: A warm, dusty, sunny attic.
What are you currently listening to?
Belle and Sebastian, a great band from Glasgow. If you’d asked me that question seven years ago, you’d have got the same answer… I’m a creature of habit.
Recommend an album: The Boy with the Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastian.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just started Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron. I have a 4 month old baby, so it takes me forever to read a whole book. I usually get a third of the way through a book before it has to go back to the library. So I probably won’t finish it and will end up looking it up on the internet to find out what happens at the end!
A favourite quote: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” – Oscar Wilde.
Do you have any pets? We have a cat called Cato. She is fairly bad tempered.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
I’d be Hyper-Caffeinated Woman and I would not have to sleep, and thus get everything on my to-do list done.
What was the last handmade item you bought?
We bought a fabulous piece of stencil art by Porta – an image of a toddler stencilled onto half an old skateboard. We bought it at one of the last markets held at the Pallet Pavilion before it came down.
You can see more of Victoria and Carl’s stunning designs their Felt shop, Minnow.