Episode 1: McMakin Plans: Falling in Love with the “Simple” Furniture of Roy McMakin

For our very first episode, I interviewed Elaine Smith, a design lover in Oakland, California. Elaine is legitimately obsessed with the furniture of Roy McMakin, who is a well-known artist, architect and designer; she’s collected more than 30 pieces of furniture in the last 20 years or so. McMakin has honed his distinctive style—basic, colorful forms in an exaggerated scale, with idiosyncratic details—since the ‘80s.

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Check out these gorgeous photos of Elaine’s home!

Meet Elaine Smith, Roy McMakin collector extraordinaire!
Elaine’s love of art and design comes in part from her grandfather, the sculptor Frank Vittor, shown at work here. Before coming to America in 1920 and settling in Pittsburgh, Vittor studied with Rodin in Paris.
Roy McMakin chest, featuring various shades of white, natural wood and knobs in various sizes. The colorful vessels on top are by Peter Pincus.
The Roy McMakin chest in Elaine’s bathroom
One of Elaine’s favorite pieces is her Roy McMakin desk. When she first encountered this piece, she could not stand the pink color, but then, mysteriously, she changed her mind.
The living room in Elaine’s Victorian house in Oakland, California. The couch, which is upholstered in velvet, and the coffee table are by Roy McMakin. The “side table” on the left comprises a Roy McMakin drawer and some of Elaine’s favorite art and design tomes.
Roy McMakin coffee table
Close-up of the woodwork patches on the coffee table. The Santos head is from Tail of the Yak in Berkeley, California, one of Elaine’s favorite stores.

From left to right: “Floating candle” floor lamp by Roy McMakin, chair by Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek, “hatbox” table by Roy McMakin, Frances Palmer vase, Peter Pincus bowl, vintage lantern lamp
An Anish Kapoor print hangs behind the Piet Hein Eek chairs and Roy McMakin hatbox table
Elaine took a Roy McMakin drawer and made into a side table. “I have stacks of books all over the house,” she says.
Some of Elaine’s art and design books. Some of her Roy McMakin furniture is featured in the book House, by Diane Keaton.
Two simple chairs in Elaine’s dining room, beside another McMakin chest. “The blue and white vase, by Jeffrey Mitchell, was a gift from Roy, and he also picked out the pink taffeta window treatment,” she says.
Elaine’s parlor, with a McMakin ottoman upholstered in black wool boucle fabric, a McMakin reading chair and two McMakin cabinets.
A closer look at the McMakin cabinets and their floating circle motifs
A watercolor painting by David Moreno that Roy McMakin picked out for Elaine
A McMakin bench in the foyer, with a Charles Catteau vessel and a vintage painting

All photos by Elaine Smith.

[0:39] When she want to that show room she was surprised to find that she loved just about everything and it. She ended up ordering that frame and also a deep green couch, he says so straight forward it reminded her of something out of a children’s park she immediately related to make beacons is that check which on first glance appears to be simple.  [1:11] In fact what is not famous pieces is called the simple chair raining making started his company to mystic furniture in nineteen eighty seven. And his work is deceptive because when you really look at it it’s not at all as simple as it seems. He’s happy pieces which were made in a sustainable manner in his cr workshop harkin back to the arts and crafts movement and shaker style as well as minimalist are. He’s dance appear basic to the scale is often exaggerated. And she sees idiosyncratic details would work in my is that look like patches mismatch knobs of erin sizes on the dresser several shades of one color on a single piece. His work which includes sculptures has been shown in many museums and galleries. Blinking interested in art and design shes just a cat her grandfather was the sculptor friend feet or who created a number of grand public statues in pittsburgh. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [2:19] Before he came to america in nineteen twenty he studied in paris with rhoda. Selling drugs in his studio and her design interest grew after she spent time in holland as an exchange student and then again as an adult. After she discovered ruminations work if the king during passion for her. She collected more than thirty of his pieces total and she continues to collect his work to the stand. Here’s some excerpts from a conversation i know your collecting started with the simple bad and the couch and then how did it snow balled from there. So what happened was that we got the couch in the bed is missing of a two bedroom flat we lived in in san francisco and shortly after that. We moved to the netherlands for your half for my husbands work and when we came back we but. Victorian in oakland a lot and allergic to aryan and so when we moved into this house we had we had bed and we had the couch for roy and we had this kind of ragtag collection of other furniture like. Twenty century modern stuff that i had, in another apartment previous apartment in the city so we move into this victoria and its four bedrooms there tucson rooms to living rooms and in a eleven half foot ceilings. [3:51] So what kind of a large scale house and. Our twentieth century modern furniture looked kinda silly in it because it was so small the scale towards apartment living in san francisco so. [4:07] We started thinking about how we’re gonna furnish the house and i always came back to roy’s furniture because. It was but i like more than any other furniture and. And is turned out the scale of his furniture was absolutely perfect for this house because his furniture tends to be. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [4:32] And it is so you can you can you can furnace room with a few pieces of rice furniture. And it looked and and was just it was just right you do need a ton of. Well we ended up sort of at over the years acquiring a ton of it because. Every time i need you to tell me where like will we need a count for this room with thank well what’s get another roy couch and. [5:07] We needed it wouldn’t buy beds for the kids but. We ended up furnishing the dining room dining table and chairs there’s a big chest and they are, we had chest of drawers made for ourselves and a kitchen table and chairs and stools for the kitchen island. And it just became a collaboration. Over several years of working with him to put this house together because i don’t have another child and. We are gonna stay here for a while in a way. It shouldn’t necessarily work except that. There was no way i was gonna go with the victorian theme because i’m very much not into that, theme in fact i don’t even really like tour in houses which was nice to so can you put if you feel victorian house with private making furniture you don’t really have a victorian house so that was that was nice. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [6:13] And. I didn’t didn’t clashing anyway i mean i think you could put roy’s furniture in any in any setting because it. [6:26] Meet it it just is what it is its a simple piece of furniture that. [6:36] It’s always like this the definition of of of furniture is not as its not any particular era. It’s like memory it’s it’s like that the memory of furniture how would you characterize his work to someone who doesn’t know anything about that okay i would say. [7:00] But if you’re looking for a piece of furniture that. [7:07] You will like forever that will be useful that will be comfortable that makes sense. But that has built into it in many cases. Some sense of humor or some intelligence the kind of goes beyond its simplicity and it’s x exceptionally well made furniture in billy don’t know any other furniture that’s as well made as his furniture so, in that regard. [7:41] It’s just there it’s an amazing investment but also like i feel i feel a sort of. [7:51] Is that the furniture has personality but not too much longer perjured be like screaming for attention all the time so. I think it’s simple beautifully made it has a sense of humor and. His paintings furniture is. [8:12] I’m just unbelievable and the the thing is that his painters get on the furniture is a very. Exceptional set of luscious thing so does not glossy and it summat. Right right is somewhere between two and i have seen them paint to furniture so i can tell you that even though it looks like it’s been done by not even the machine but some you know. At celestial being it’s actually done by human beings who are extremely skilled. And it’s layer upon layer of of of this beautiful dutch paint. And we talked about how like a table of his kind of looks like. The platonic ideal of the table all negatively would see on on a flash card when your in kindergarten when you’re learning the word table and that but that there are these. These patches of wood that he uses timing timing of the patches. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [9:20] Okay the patches as i understand it started because well in any any piece of wood they are in professions or not start you don’t want so that would work are started to make. Patches they would in in la pieces of other wood to get rid of the not but. [9:43] Of the years of them all doing that sort of their more than really got into the patches as. As you know intrinsic to the piece of furniture they sort of became like patches on jeans. And they some of the patches are layered one in a they intercept and you never even has one little occasional table that’s called. I just think it’s super patchy but i can have the name wrong but it’s a table that just as a massive patches and it’s it’s really beautiful. It’s it’s his shows three taking his taking a wood working technique and made it into a design on. Yeah yes exactly and also he loves now it will it seems to me he loves now its like you have some yes as a friend should have knots of different sizes. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [10:39] Yeah there’s one round table that we have a little side table that has one drawer and it and it looks sort of like half box on understand and. It has one hundred. I actually got three different knob so i could change on this piece one was like the size of a small and slightly smaller than a baseball another one was like the size of. A black walnut and. [11:15] And one was painted white the other was a joke like the table and so they were. They’re picking up you can use which ever one you wanted at any given time. That’s pretty weird like you could custom i did a can think of another furniture the furniture designer is likely is customize my workout if you three different apps. Well it was actually in that in that instance. It was because we also did this table for the cat in the hat movie i think, was but it was an eye sight and i said my god i love that that great big huge knob and his one of his. What workers make one for me and sent it down and the little set clock and said here. You want it so bad he you can swap it out and did you actually swap out between the different towns yet and. [12:16] And speaking of not slower on knobs. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [12:21] And raise love of my knobs she picked out of heating for years at one point that has a bunch of donuts on how did that happen yeah. Um well it’s funny i had i had in this one living room. In the house i had a very very large mirror that was propped up against the wall which. Really hate it was a look that ride really did not like and he happened to be in new york and went and took out gallery and saw this painting which was, about the size of that mirror and he loved the painting and he told me he sent me a picture of, and said he thought it would go really well in place for the new her was which was his subtle way of saying get rid of that mirror and see the gallery send the painting into for me to look at, and i absolutely love that it’s a water color with a in blue background and. Which of us are the head and they’re floating door knobs throughout this in layered over the head and. It’s just it’s it’s a beautiful piece of work so to go back a little. [13:50] Because by that point you had really been working with him on your here the interior of the house is a whole and is different space is right. Yeah i mean we was never hired as an interior designer yet you doesn’t do that but, in broad come down and look at the house so we go up to seattle and visit him in the workshop there and. Just in he even make suggestions or even just with talk about it and then. So that’s how that came about me basically he trusted his judgement up in your mostly me. I’m looking for some lace choose my own things but if if. No i would have said right just to my house and call me in six months and a move package because you know everything that he liked i liked and i would like it immediately and. And i am so excited that somebody had that had shown it to me and it was exactly right so in the was no. I was not resistant to any of his ideas i grew up in pennsylvania and roy he grew up. I can’t remember his wisconsin or or or where but we were actually born on the same day and the same year so we were exactly the same age and. [15:25] That was interesting to find out and so anyways i culturally growing up we haven’t had the same influences. Some of the same influences me that was a time when like in other three television stations in america so if you watch the nightly news. You watch walter cronkite or not live through the sixties and seventies and the eighties together are in this during those cultural times. See you really felt from the beginning like he was like the designer really spoke to your soul and like i understood your point of view. Yes except i would say that i am more understood his point of view because he was the one who was realizing all of that and there was absolutely no. And breaking in period there was no i don’t have to come up to speed with what he was referencing i got it immediately there was. No barrier to speak up like in trying to. Understand what he’s doing i just got it it was referencing i got it immediately there was no barrier to speak like in trying to. Understand what he’s doing i just got it. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [16:49] Of all the bacon pieces in your house do you have a favorite i know you have that can just a really passionate about. [16:58] That’s really really hard but i i’m absolutely. In love with roys simple chairs and i have actually and i bought two of my own after. I was divorced because i just need to have a couple more and i love the colors of those but. The pink. Table and chair one of the reasons why i especially like it is because the first time i saw that was in the gallery and in los angeles. And i walked and i love absolutely everything that of rice that was in there but when i saw the pink table and chair. I thought that is the ugliest color pink i’ve ever seen in my life who would ever want that pink and then. [17:57] Over the months of like thinking about that table and why i didn’t like it so much i actually came to me to a desk or i thought i needed to test. How to write that so i was talking to one of the people who work for roy the time and i mentioned that pink desk. [18:19] And somehow or other i decided to buy it and. [18:25] Must be the strange thing is that now i absolutely cannot get enough of that pink that the front stairs of my house are painted that. Shade of pink not exactly because it’s they’re all custom mix colors and it wasn’t matched perfectly but i love that pink it’s almost like. It’s almost like my color of pink now so that. And it’s a very like pepto bismol pink yeah i mean that’s the that’s the closest thing i can. Set color but it’s really not pepto bismol because that is a god awful pink but this pink. Is it deep it’s it’s deeper it’s not candy colored certain my yeah exactly it’s doesn’t have that sitting candy color to its like its a very sort of salmon sort of coral. I really kinda strange pink but it is so so beautiful i can’t get enough of it. I just did he pick that particular paint color or does it come from mixing shades of the next set color himself. He paid the custom mixes all his colors and what do you love about the simple chairs there so simple um. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [19:50] Oh my god i. [19:53] I don’t know what it is about them i just can’t get enough of the proportion. I like sitting on them even though the really hard i like sitting on. I like the weight of them there really happy like if you bump into his private makings furniture you are going to get brews but there’s a sterling is. And just perfection of the proportions i guess is what it is. And to dry specifically commission for myself are painted once painted and a grey and the other is sort of an army t green. Or somewhere between olive and then re tee green and i love those colors they’re very very drab. But the deep and we talked a little about his colors generally being kind of playful. [21:00] And kind of classic but those don’t strike me as people. [21:08] No come to think of it no don’t like colors like it in the woods and when i was little kid i lived in west virginia for a while with my family and i spent a lot of time out in the woods and. And these are in a sort of natural during nature colors. [21:29] The call me also does a lot of white of white painted furniture and in different shades of why he kind of taught me about how many different. Weights they’re our world because we have around the our time kitchen table there are three branches that. Intersecting in an unusual way because they fit into a bay window. And there are three different shades of white and then they’re too simple chairs in that same table and benches and chairs configuration are also two different shades of white. And they they look absolutely beautiful together. Like just having one shape white nothings we are to be so he suggested that you have different shades of white in your kitchen on these benches yes why. In http://collectingculturepodcast.com [22:28] Will that that’s his thing i mean he does chest of drawers that have might have to smoke a just doors a green one that he did that has different shades of green on the drawers and. And it’s just interesting and it gives it more. Death or. [22:59] It has greater intellect or something i don’t know there’s something about it that really works. You and your family made several trips up to seattle to visit ray at his studio and see the furniture being made what person the process you find particularly interesting. I’m well has a poster was absolutely incredible incredible he his work. Was it is the most meticulous upholstery work i’ve ever seen he did not alot of hand stitching right next to, patch together or use different pieces of material on to from parts of the same pieces of furniture and. So that was really really really incredible of the design world remake and is quite famous. He’s designer furniture and homes for celebrity. So i talked to elaine and about what it’s like to have furniture by famous designer where she shops and hell living in holland years ago shaker passion for design. I want to take a bit to the time you spent in holland when you’re in your early thirties it seems like that must’ve been a really formative time for you in terms of learning about design. [24:31] Anyone that when i went back later in a mess in my thirty’s and we lived in the head then. That was a waste of frozen fountain in amsterdam where you could see. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [24:44] P nine x work and other dash designers that i have since. Become like also a rabid fan of dutch designers message here because of you to ask. Yeah but that that’s not supposed to be there it was there for a while because i just kinda like putting a different chair there i have two of those and they are now in one of the living rooms and the pink chairs that but it’s. Table. And also while you were in holland you started collecting art deco ceramic pieces by charles cato who got the french industrial designer, http://collectingculturepodcast.com [25:25] and those pieces are quite or me compare to your running mate and he says how did you contact us cato pieces. So i would go into the center of the headache and looking antique shops in. Probably around during the day with my kid in the stroller and i never lot of really really amazing ceramics in these places. And as it turns out they were. Art deco and art nouveau and at first it looked them and i liked them but i did they didn’t really. [26:01] I didn’t feel like i had to have them or anything but but once i bought one that was belgian actually wasn’t charles cato but it was another one and had great graphic painting on it. And that that kinda started it all and then i went into a store in harlem in the netherlands. And the dealer was really well known woman who you know what kind of museum quality ceramics and. Retelling all kinds of other things and then i started getting more into it there. And gradually one of the pieces was done by charles kanto and then i got a book about him and i just started to get more and more intrigued by his work. I don’t really care for our deco furniture for example. But there are always exceptions within any you know kind of genre of. Furniture decorative arts and. Set so i was always open i’m open to it and also open to being converted because i kinda find that exciting to not like something at first and then to. Learn a lot about door or just keep looking until something clicks any kind of. Get words all coming from or like in particular lines of service stylized are taiko. [27:35] It’s glaze is or whatever starts to he’s just like it. Or maybe you don’t i feel like sometimes you don’t like our taco as a whole would you like this one person’s really this one person working particular. And you know and that can start a domino effect if you start liking his the start like looking. Send me your your of your noticing article influences in things interest there’s a lot of article and are involved in holland and belgium so. I was just going into interiors that were. Full blown art nouveau and they were cool and everything but the with the living in a big house in the hay that. We have like four floors and. [28:27] Man who was renting is our flat also lived in the building and he was he’s he’s an absolutely. Rabid collector of antiques and he went to the auction houses in amsterdam every week he was he had so many different things, in his apartment and he he really love to like show me things and take me into the auction houses with him and he. No i really have no interest in empire that is what he has had. What was great and i’m in his enthusiasm for it you know made me not to smith’s that as well so to go back to repeat again when you first discovered him was he as well known as he is now. I feel like people who were sort of in the know were well aware of right by the time i found out about him and. I don’t think he ever set out to be famous i don’t think. I never ever was trying to his work because i thought i can brag that i have a house full right making furniture me most of my friends do not know who he is and. They my my my furniture and then i admire the way my house looks but no one is. [29:56] Thinking my hat. Famous furniture even though i do have a few pieces that i’ve traveled to his museum shows the actual your your pieces that have actually ge travel tins inches. I mean there’s a chest of drawers that was in a show at. http://collectingculturepodcast.com [30:13] The shopper museum and shopping for my aunt by pink desk and chair was in the. A mocha at in los angeles and also it show in seattle but answered like i feel that they are my. What’s the secret between me and my chest of drawers. And its in my bathroom i mean it’s not like in in the gallery and i use it every single day and my pink tape desk or table and chair is in my bedroom and i love that every single day as well. He’s got some exhibits of his work recently in gallery is in such and we talked about his furniture is like kind of like you didn’t set out to make furniture. But, almost as if he is really setting out to make art but it just happens to be functional and it happens to be furniture what do you think of that idea. [31:17] And do you think furniture should be like our. I think furniture should be what ever you want your furniture to be but i don’t think there’s a there’s a difference between a kind of the furniture the right does. For his art exhibits that is. I need at their shows that he’s had with furniture isn’t really intended necessarily to be used. [31:46] But things that he’s done for holmes. To me it’s art is art it has a proportionate has a. [32:00] What the saint has intention and integrity and a point of view. [32:09] And if that speaks to you you’re going to like it and. [32:17] And i’m in some ways i do feel like and i think his work is art but i don’t think of it as. Precious like we weep not that furniture around just like anybody does living with furniture sometimes i’ve been like. Super sad see a dent in the perfectly painted surface of a chest of drawers but i i tend to like. Talk myself into getting over it immediately because what’s the point of feeling bad about about that so i’ve. [32:56] I live i live that of. I don’t until the day to buy it is furniture is there to serve me is there for me to love it and. And it still have wear and tear and show the history when you like to shop i actually don’t really. No have a house full of things i don’t really shop that often anymore and i’m finding it more and more difficult to find stores that are. Cuz i like stores that are really unique to the person who has them there’s to store in san francisco bell okie i’ll that i think is in. Incredible store and in new york. My favorite place is btw and his new store which is called ex. [33:55] And crawling company and i follow tyler hayes use the owner and designer on instagram and follow him over the years since then since his first and business to and. His furniture and ceramics rugs everything are spectacular. So someone shoe is really passionate about design is also a creative person how has it influenced you to have all this rain make me in stuff around you like how’s that change your life. Welp i guess. The main way it is my life was a performance for my house and it was furniture that i that i really loved it was really gratifying i have. I’ve never grown tired of it. Yes it’s my friend on every piece i have of his feels like a friend to me there’s there’s nothing frustrating about, any single piece of furniture that we have a pot to roy is all still there is hanging in there with me. And it looks great it’s peaceful and i don’t know that’s the thing you can say about furniture but. It doesn’t ask a lot of me i know exactly how to take care of it and. [35:27] Hi my environment really is like ignoring are mostly important to me i have to feel like. [35:36] Like if i look over at around and i see something that’s jarring are ugly. [35:45] I don’t want an interruption. So i tend to surround myself with only things that i really like him very careful about what i buy or bring in to my house and. [36:03] It feels really good it just feels good to like have to know myself well enough. Did i make these decisions about his furniture or the art i have on my walls or the kinda sheets i buy or. The lighting which is hugely important he’s actually done a number of lamps for us also so that it all when it’s all put together. It’s just a quiet cool fun to look at. Inviting but very very comfortable place like people really love my house and become more of a slob over the years which everybody seems to like and. It’s a casual house that people really feel comfortable here.