Miles Spadone on working with his sister, design approach and finding the right material to achieve crisp, clean architectural design
Miles and Molly Spadone are the brother/sister duo of Spadone Home, an evocative handmade collection of Art Deco-influenced terrazzo vessels and Brutalist style concrete planters and bookends. Offspring of artistic parents, Miles shares how he and his sister created Spadone Home, what it’s like working with a sibling, and the never-ending quest to find unique materials and methods to create their distinctive designs.
Miles’ Interview Transcript
Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler, and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings and other industries about what inspires and influences them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they’ve built with their customers and industry.
Today, I’m happy to be speaking with Miles Spadone, part of the brother-sister duo of Spadone Home, in their Kennebunk, Maine studio. Spadone Home is an evocative, handmade collection of Memphis-inspired ceramic tableware, Bauhaus and Art Deco-influenced terrazzo vessels, and Brutalist-style concrete planters and bookends.
Miles, thanks so much for having me in your studio and for joining me on Material Wise.
Miles: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Nancy: My pleasure. I understand your mom is a production potter, and dad a furniture designer and builder. Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be a designer?
Miles: No. Our mom was a production potter in the ’70s. She was kind of a back-to-the-lander hippie that somehow was making a living doing production pottery in the boonies of Maine. My sister and I didn’t really know that until we started doing ceramics at Gould Academy, at which point she decided to tell us that she also was a ceramicist at one point, and got on the wheel and started throwing beautiful pots, and we were kind of shocked.
We’d always known that my dad has been a furniture designer and builder for, oh God, 35 years now, so we grew up kind of messing around in the shop since we were little kids. I don’t think there was really a definite point where we knew that we would be somehow following in either step. There’s part of you that always has some innate attraction to certain things, and we never really could run away from it, so at some point I think I just gave in and said, “You know, I think this is what I want to do.” So here I am.
Nancy: What’s it like working together as siblings, you and Molly?
Miles: It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s rewarding. I mean, it challenges us to be two people at the same time, so brother and sister but business partners. We learn to navigate the limitations of each relationship. I can’t treat Molly as my sister when I need her to be my business partner, and vice versa. We’re growing as people, which is kind of … at the end of the day, that’s certainly what you hope to have happen when you create or start an endeavor like we’re doing. But it’s good.
Miles Spadone: Our dad works downstairs from us, so same laws apply. There’s a lot of challenges, but he’s been such an influence and a guide for us. Whatever distress happens via the family dynamics is certainly outweighed by the value of having someone who’s got 35 years of experience.
Nancy: That’s great. He must be so proud of you too. Do you and your sister complement one another creatively?
Miles: Yeah. We’re very different in the sense that Molly throughout college really studied more. She was much more involved in craft, and craft kind of implies that there’s a rhythm, there’s a very defined process. You don’t deviate too far from what you know and do well and can reproduce really well.
I, on the other hand, got really into design and the exploration of materials. I do a lot of the design. I do a lot of the materials research, the material testing, and Molly then starts to implement it into more rhythmic, manufacturable processes.
Nancy: That’s great. Sounds like you do that and it helps to have different duties.
Miles: Absolutely. Yeah.
Nancy: Tell me a little bit about Spadone Home and who your customers are.
Miles: Right now we have made more of a commitment to being a vessel company. That obviously is a general term that kind of spans into a lot of different forms and functions, but the point being that it started with us using ceramics as our primary material. What we didn’t like about it was that at some point you lose a little bit of control. It’s alchemy. It’s really amazing to take something that’s organic and a couple hours later, it comes out, well, many hours later it comes out of the kiln and it’s completely transformed into a rock-hard, brilliant material.
We now find that there are other materials where we can still express a lot of that form – that hollow, that vessel, which has volume and has function, but using a different material. We envision a lot of this stuff as either some kind of centerpiece, as a vase or a vessel or a bowl. Really creating something unique that people have never seen or appropriated a vessel like that in their daily life. I think we’re doing a pretty good job at it.
Nancy: By the looks of them on the table here, they are certainly unique. I’m sure that they’re taking off. Speaking of materials, you mentioned that you’re using some new materials. Do you feel as though that … Do you have a particular material in mind when you’re creating, or do you have a vessel in mind and then go seek the material?
Miles: The principal way that we work is first we ask ourselves, what do we want to express? What do we want to say? What do we want to make? Then the second question is, what do we want to make it with? That goes through a process of a couple, you need to meet a couple requirements. One is, is it feasible? Is it cost effective? Two, is it going to lend itself to the function that you intend it to? Then do you have the skill to actually produce it? Because we do everything by ourselves, we’re not outsourcing this stuff. We do have our limitations as makers.
The first part of that is what do we want to say? A lot of the stuff we do is very architectural. It’s very crisp. It’s very clean. Certain materials do not want to be any of those things. They’ll warp, they’ll crack, they’ll move, clay being a very good example of that. That’s when we started saying, we feel that if we can’t accurately and acutely express some of these forms with clay, what would be a good substitute? That’s when we started experimenting with Corian, which is a well-known countertop material. We’ve always played with plaster and gypsum products, but we’ve actually just recently developed a product that is kind of blowing our minds, and it’s proprietary, so I’m not going to get too detailed, but it’s basically a mix of alpha plaster, which is a very, very dense plaster that’s used commercially for certain statue replications or architectural replications, and then instead of adding water, we add acrylic.
Acrylic replaces the water and it catalyzes and it binds all of it together. It creates an almost concrete-looking, almost plastic-looking, almost clay-looking kind of finished result. It’s incredibly scratch-proof. It has some incredible high-impact strength, and it’s naturally water-resistant, not waterproof, but then we seal it and that waterproofs it.
Nancy: What is this material here? I know that our listeners can’t see, but it looks like marble.
Miles: Yeah. That’s Corian.
Nancy: Corian. Wow.
Miles: The cool thing about Corian, because it’s a pretty typical home industry product, it comes in a variety of colors and thicknesses. We’ve limited ourselves to, I think, four colors at this point. We have four models that we make in it. We C&C the Corian in these flat sheets in certain profiles, and then we laminate them. Once the laminations are together, this thing is completely watertight. It’s UV-stable, and it creates this faux marble, faux stone, faux jade, but for a fraction of the price.
Nancy: It’s beautiful. Is sustainability a factor when you’re designing, choosing materials that you do?
Miles: It’s something Molly and I have talked a lot about. I don’t think it’s the first factor that we consider, although we are absolutely, 100% dedicated to conservation and environmentalism. One of the things that’s good for our process is within casting there’s almost no waste. There’s no byproduct, whereas a lot of industries have a high, whatever they yield also has a high byproduct. We don’t have that, which is good. Everything we buy gets completely used up into the final product, so very little waste.
We do use concrete. Concrete’s been for a long time considered a very sustainable environmental product, but you know what? I don’t know if I can speak to Corian. I know that it’s aluminum trihydrate with acrylic resin mixed in. I don’t know if it’s water based. I would assume it’s probably not. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can speak to the Corian. Maybe you can do a little research and tell me.
Nancy: Maybe I will! Okay. Where do you turn for your latest news on-trend information and design inspiration?
Miles: We follow several companies out of New York. I mean, I think New York right now is the center, probably always has been for design, New York and LA. There’s one company that we love that we sell a lot of our products with. They’re called Sight Unseen. They’re an online retailer, website, blog in New York. They curate … It’s pretty avant-garde. I mean, it’s not everyone’s taste, but they make a very concerted effort to keep up on the absolute latest, latest designs, materials, interiors, architecture. It spans the gamut from glass to plastics to fiber, whatever. They’re not very prejudiced when it comes to any kind of design or style. They just kind of keep up with the trends. I take a lot of influence from what they post.
Nancy: You just returned from the Architectural Digest show in New York City. Can you tell me about the show and how you came to exhibit?
Miles: Yeah. The show happens every March around this time. It’s not a huge show, but it’s a very well-curated show. You do have to get asked to be in, in order to show. It’s an amalgamation of industrial kitchen supplies to very small, handmade furniture and vessel manufacturers like Molly and me. We got asked to do that show after the curator saw my sculptural work, and I did that by myself about three years ago. Then right after that is when Molly and I decided to get a little bit more intentional with what we were producing and making and designing. That’s when we decided to curate a line and put it out there. That was last year we did it, and then this is the second year we just did it. It’s fantastic. It’s huge exposure, huge press. A lot of people come and walk through. It was very fruitful for us.
Nancy: Is it trade or consumer, or both?
Miles: It’s both.
Nancy: It is both.
Miles: Yeah, it’s both, which is nice, because you get a reaction from a lot of different people… It’s not a very insular experience. You get reactions from people who would maybe buy one piece and a reaction from someone who might buy 200 of something. You get to really test the waters, which in Maine is often hard to do, especially with the kind of stuff we’re selling. It’s not really something that seems to fit into the Maine design vernacular, as much as we’d like it to. We do find that New York is an incredibly receptive audience for our work.
Nancy: Yeah. That’s great, Miles. As an entrepreneur, what challenges keep you up at night?
Miles: Which one doesn’t? I think the business side of stuff. Design and making and producing and material exploration, that’s all, I mean, we love that. We could do that all day, and we do. We probably do it too much. We should probably be taking about half the time that we spend designing and experimenting with colors and patterns and sit in there dialing in a spreadsheet of some kind, which we do. But I think that’s our biggest challenge, is when you go to art school and you go to craft school, you don’t walk out with a comprehensive understanding of what it means to run a small business.
Molly and I have been learning it the hard way, just doing things wrong and then trying to do them right. The beautiful thing is we try to approach everything without too much insecurity and fear, because that can be paralyzing. Once you’re paralyzed, you never learn. We just go into it head first and learn from the mistakes, and hopefully it pays off. Yeah, the business side of stuff is hard.
Nancy: Yeah, for artists, and sometimes you have to outsource that, perhaps.
Nancy: I don’t know. In times of self-doubt, who do you turn to for support?
Miles: My wife. Probably under other circumstances, if my dad wasn’t right downstairs and witnessing the self-doubt all the time, he would be probably someone I’d call, but he’s already too inundated with it. I talk to my sister a lot, and we try to reassure each other. While one is weak, the other certainly tries to feel strong. But then completely removed from all of it is certainly someone like my wife, who’s just an incredible sounding board and good listener. She’s a social worker, so she’s pretty damn good at listening, and I have a lot to say.
Nancy: What are you most proud of, Miles?
Miles: Well, it’s funny. Molly and I were coming back from the show last night. It was a fantastic show and we felt good about our products and our line, and we felt good about how we had really been disciplined about creating a cohesive brand around it and getting the spiel down, which is all kind of ancillary stuff to the design and the making, but certainly important. I think the most important part of, and the best feeling that we had was that we walked away knowing that we had accomplished all this with the incredible support and generosity and kindness from family, friends, community.
The same could be said of all the people we met at the show, all the designers. There’s this support and kindness that I don’t know if you get in a lot of industries. It didn’t feel competitive or jealous. It felt more like – “I really like what you’re doing and good luck”. Molly and I, I think, walked away with this feeling of gratitude, and just feeling thankful that we’ve got a lot of people in our lives that support us and love us and vice versa. Without getting too profound, I think that’s really at the end of the day what Molly and I value more than anything and what we feel proud to be a part of.
Nancy: That’s great. What’s next for Spadone Home?
Miles: Well, I think the next phase of this is developing our business model a little bit more, and that’s going to entail that we start marketing the way that we produce stuff, and then how we also want to sell it. Because we’re just two people, we are starting to move into more of a batch manufacturing process, where basically we take two months and we just produce, produce, produce, produce, produce. We don’t make any sales. We don’t do shows. Once we do about two months of producing, we then start to market and advertise heavily, and say, “This is the inventory that we’ve got.”
We’ll reach out to our wholesalers, say, “You’ve got first go at the inventory, and then we’re going to start putting it publicly up for sale, and what’s there is there. Take it.” Once it’s gone, we’ll produce for another two months. I think that’ll give us some rhythm. It’ll give us a little bit more strategy, and we can kind of compartmentalize our approach instead of trying to do a little bit all at once. We want to focus heavily in phases, and then start to really put time and energy into one phase and then move to the next. I think that’s where we’re at. We feel good about our designs. We feel comfortable with the materials that we’re making them with. Our margins look good. Now it’s just a matter of getting it out there and getting it into people’s hands. Then we’ll start seeing what other things we want to make.
Nancy: It’s always evolving.
Miles: Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s the fun part.
Nancy: Where can folks find you or find out more about your products?
Miles: Well, the most obvious place would be our website. It’s spadonehome.com. We have everything for sale on our website. Like I said, sometimes there’ll be inventory, sometimes there won’t. When there is inventory, if you sign up for the mailing list, we will let you know when there is inventory. Then we’re in one retailer in Maine called Judith in Portland. Then we are in several throughout New York. We’re in the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Museum. We’re in a retail shop called Nest in Manhattan. Another one called Coming Soon in Manhattan. Then we’re in a couple in LA, then one in Philadelphia. If you happen to live in any of those cities, you might have a shot at getting something.
Nancy: Miles, thanks so much for spending so much time with me. I look forward to learning more about the vessels. I’m going to take a few pictures, and we’ll put them on the Material Wise website as well.
Miles: Good. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Nancy: Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d also like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes, and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit materialwise.co. Please subscribe, rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, and until next time, take care.