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Article: Meet the Maker: Miller + Co.

Meet the Maker: Miller + Co.

Meet the Maker: Miller + Co.

Learn about our exclusive collaboration with Jen Rose and Devin Miller of Miller + Co. Their journey to creating this homeware brand was winding, but they were made to innovate and create. They prioritize the classics, sustainability, and authenticity in their craft.

Can you provide a short introduction to Miller + Co. and your products?

Jen and Devin make up the duo behind Miller + Co. Wood Studio and Pottery. They are husband and wife makers; Jen is the potter and Devin is the wood worker. The business officially launched in 2013 and their current studio is in Duncan, British Columbia.

How did the journey to starting Miller + Co. unfold?

Arriving at Miller + Co. was a trajectory the two of them hadn’t quite anticipated. While Devin has woodworking in his blood (his dad did high-end homebuilding), the road he took diverted into a few different paths. Career #1 was becoming a commercially licensed pilot. Career #2 launched him into being a certified firefighter. However, when an accident sidelined him, Devin turned inward, re-kindling the spark for woodworking.

Jen also took a few roundabouts along the way. She started out at culinary school, dreaming of owning her own café. But one day, a chef pulled her aside and said, “you’re a good cook, but I think there’s something more out there for you. And I think you should explore that”. While those words may seem harsh, in the end, it led her to pottery. As Devin grew Miller + Co. as a woodworking business, it started taking off. He was being hired to build furniture for corporate clients, so Jen decided to leave her position at Lululemon and help run the business. While she thought it was her future to climb the company ladder, her soul called her in a different direction.

Jen and Devin didn’t started Miller + Co. to please others, it came from pure passion and a desire to craft high-quality wood and clay products. They both found something they loved doing and people were receptive to that authenticity. It’s a cool feeling for the both of them.

What’s it like working together as partners in business and life?

As both husband and wife and business partners, things can get tricky. Running your own business takes an incredible amount of time and energy. Likewise, building a relationship takes an equal amount of effort. It took many years and some serious struggles to finally feel comfortable in the communication within their relationship. They’ve also had to sort through the strengths and weaknesses they each bring to the business side of things. Though no matter what, in the end, the most important thing is their relationship, they are Jen and Devin first, and Miller + Co. second.

What is the life that you dream for your products? Where would they live, what would they do, would they get used every day or on special occasions?

Jen and Devin both agree that the last thing that they want is for their pieces to sit on your shelf while you worry about using them. They dream that the stunning wood bowl Devin made will get used every Sunday night for family dinners. For the mug Jen made to be a part of your morning ritual. Jen puts it best saying, “don’t wait to use the pretty things, life is too short”.

What is the leading intention and inspiration behind the products you create?

In terms of their style, Miller + Co. dig the classics, they don’t follow trends. Trends change with time, and they’re looking to make pieces that can span generations of families and friends. While they don’t play with style trends, they’re always pushing the envelope on the techniques they use to create the final product. It’s important for them to stay on the cutting edge of their crafts.

“We don’t do a lot of bright flashy colours. We don’t want something that’s seasonally on trend and next year, you’re going to want to replace it. Our goal is to create classic, timeless, made to last heirlooms that get passed on to your great great grandkid”. - Jen Rose

Tell us how you embody the principles of sustainability? 

One of the most important aspects of Miller + Co. is their drive to be sustainable. Devin always prioritizes sustainable practices when gathering the wood he uses. Today’s consumers want to know where their wood products come from, as concerns for our forest health grows. “There’s a respect for what you take, and you should always have that, you shouldn’t be wasteful. I was brought up that way”.

From his time in Ontario to now living in British Columbia, Devin has been a part of formal wood programs. These programs focus on using local and sustainable wood for your products. He’s also worked to build relationships within the community to access sustainable wood. Devin has a network of supportive neighbours and farmers who let him know about potential pieces of available wood. They alert him when there are trees that have come down in windstorms, or if they have danger trees that need to be removed. Each piece of wood is carefully selected and given a new life in one of Devin’s pieces.

For Jen, she works sustainability into pottery quite naturally. “The cool thing about pottery is that nothing gets wasted, right? When you turn back for a mug or anything, all that scrap gets reclaimed and reused and recycled”. Each scrap gets used to create a new and beautiful piece of pottery.

She’s now looking forward and learning how to remove the use of plastics in her pottery practice. When you purchase clay, it almost always comes wrapped in a plastic bag or in a pail. Her first step is to try and incorporate the use of paper bags where she’s able to. However, it’s Jen’s ultimate goal to eventually mix her own clay. By internalizing the process, she’d be able to control all of the materials used, create an even more unique product, and produce less plastic waste.

How does Miller + Co. inspire the wild within and connect people to place?

There’s frequently a storytelling aspect to Devin’s pieces that sets them apart. For him, “it’s important that almost every piece [of wood] that I get, I can share the story of where that tree came from”.

Recently, a few oak bowls from Devin’s collection came from a danger tree that had rotten on top of Mount Tolmie, a popular spot on Vancouver Island. He was retelling this story to a couple who instantly felt a connection to these pieces. It reminded them of the time they spent together at the University of Victoria, a short distance away. Because of Devin, they were able to take a piece of that history home with them. Not only is this a sustainable initiative for Miller + Co. but it’s also an opportunity to give these trees a second life.

What did you make and create on this trip to Nimmo Bay?

Jen and Devin came to Nimmo Bay to create an exclusive collection for the resort. The pieces they created are all unique, infusing the essence of Nimmo Bay directly into the woodgrain of a bowl, or the colour on a piece of pottery. There were two plans in motion at once, Devin Shou Sugi Ban (literal translation ‘burned cedar’) the exterior of his hand-turned wooden bowls, and Jen fired pottery in a makeshift oil barrel kiln.

It was impressive to watch them both enter the zone when we arrived at the spot. Jen started unpacking the raw pieces of pottery, setting them down on the rocks, a beautiful juxtaposition. We’d spent the days before gathering raw materials from the ocean, forest, and beaches to put into the kiln with the pieces. Crab and prawn shells, seaweeds, mosses, and flowers were all placed inside the kiln to give the pottery colour as they burned.

At the same time, Devin stacked up rocks and a large log to balance his bowls on top of. With flame throwers and torches at the ready, he began to delicately burn the outside of the bowls. Shou Sugi Ban is a traditional Japanese method of preserving and protecting wood. Charing the wood enhances its durability but also creates a beautiful contrast. The light inside grain of the natural wood stands out against the dark black outside.

While life is unpredictable and has pulled Jen and Devin in many different directions, they’ve found something truly special in this business. They have two unique voices that have come together through the bending of raw materials. The clay and wood mediums complement each other perfectly, just as Jen and Devin do themselves.

Purchase your very own Nimmo Bay x Miller + Co. collection exclusive.

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