How do you link good design, smart business practices, and a social conscience? James and Chelsea Minola have been having this discussion since they met as RISD industrial design students on a winter-session class in Guatemala almost 10 years ago. Just out of school, they introduced Ty, a durable and recyclable, PVC-free shower curtain, and their company, Grain, was launched. Not long after that, they followed both of their family’s leads and moved to Bainbridge Island outside Seattle, where they settled in a 1901 craftsman-style farmhouse (and were joined last summer by their baby daughter, Ada). A rental last touched several decades earlier–”think avocado ceilings and cantaloupe walls,” says Chelsea–they spent a month painting every inch of the place, and then put it to work as their living quarters, test lab, and factory.
Photography by Ben Blood, except where noted.
Above: Chelsea and James in their living room, home to Grain’s customer service desk. The house is approximately 2,000 square feet and furnished with inherited pieces, hand-me-downs, and the couple’s own designs–”it’s an ever-changing mix,” says Chelsea, “but we rarely purchase something new.”
Grain makes almost all of its goods in the Pacific Northwest, whether downstairs in the basement workroom or in collaboration with area craftspeople.
Above: The couple painted the living room their go-to white, Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White, and the mantle is in an Ace Paint color called Khaki Shorts. The pillows and rug are examples of Grain’s small textiles collection, which is made by a number of artisan groups in Guatemala, several of whom Chelsea and James were introduced to during that fateful RISD class. The pillows are their Jaspé design, a pattern created “by working with a Guatemalan jaspé master to tie-dye threads that are then handwoven,” they explain in their online shop. The grid-patterned wool rug is a version of their El Prado design. The table is their African-stool-inspired Dish Coffee Table, made in Seattle of FSC-certified American ash, and, like all of their wood pieces, hand-assembled and finished in their home workshop.
Above L: The couple use their basement lathe to hand-turn their beeswax Totem Candles–”we don’t use a pattern, we just do it by eye, so they’re all a bit different,” James told us. They’re shown here in a Grail Dish, part of Grain’s hieroglyphics-patterned terracotta collection made for them by a potter on Bainbridge Island. Above R: The dining room’s Windsor chairs were in the house. (See more Windsor Chairs here.)
Above: The room overlooks a jungly backyard that backs up to a park.
Above L: The period kitchen, with its linoleum floor, Formica counter, and metal cabinets, was largely left untouched. The walls are Benjamin Moore Woodlawn Blue from the Natura line. Photograph by Grain. Above: The table is Grain’s stained-ash Dish Desk on a variation of the Zacapa Rug.
Above: The upstairs consists of two dormered bedrooms, neither with closets, so chests of drawers (this one came with the room) are put to maximum use. The couple’s bed frame is the Malm from Ikea and the rug is a Grain prototype for the Momostenango pattern.
Above: Set in a paneled niche, the bed is flanked by Grain’s Dish Side Tables and Circlet Single Sconces of FSC-certified ash with handblown glass shades made by Seattle artist John Hogan. (The Circlet collection has LED lighting components hidden in each canopy, so there’s no visible bulb.)
Above: The vintage dresser pairs well with the Stitch Nonagan Mirror, a hemp-twine-embellished design backed with apple ply–”excess wood from the apple farming industry,” explains James.
Above: A bedroom window seat with a Danish cord chair prototype. (At ICFF in New York, Grain just introduced the similarly shaped Circlet Chair.)
Above L and R: The upstairs landing showcases more of the couple’s work, including the Hung Mirror, inspired by James’s pre-RISD experience as a boat builder in Maine, and an etched-glass Circlet Triplet Sconce.
Above: The house has dark green shingles and wood-framed windows. (“We have to do some trim repairs and replace the roof this summer, so we’re currently discussing whether to change the exterior color,” says Chelsea.)
It’s within walking distance of town and ferry, a 30-minute ride to Seattle, and on overcast days, they can hear the foghorn blowing.
Above: The couple converted a neglected backyard shed into a custom chicken coop with a slatted facade and walk-in ramp. They sell their work directly as well as through stores across the country and on commission. See more at Grain.