Creative Genius: POST Detroit
Detroiters Clare Fox and Wayne Maki are feeding the local creativite community's needs with a business that's part retail space, part maker space.
If you’re interested in learning how to screenprint your own yo-yo or want to try your hands at woodworking, all while picking up a handmade birthday present for a friend, you've come to the right place. Clare Fox and Wayne Maki, the makers behind Mutual Adoration, a business dedicated to turning reclaimed wood into new home accessories, opened the doors to POST in Detroit not too long ago. And we consider it the one-stop shop for all things handmade.
The renovated U.S. Post Office building is part retail space, part maker space. With a busy workshop calendar and a handful of small businesses making their own marks, POST’s owners are two creative geniuses you should get to know.
Tell us a little bit about POST.
POST is an experiential retail and workshop space, celebrating contemporary craft on Detroit’s far east side. Originally built in the 1940 as a U.S. Post Office, the 10,000-square-foot building sat empty and unused for many years. In early 2017, Mutual Adoration moved their design and production facilities to the building and began to build out POST.
The retail store, curated by Mutual Adoration, opened in October. POST is Detroit's newest destination for handmade gifts, furniture, housewares and accessories. The open-concept retail store features a collection of handcrafted goods from Michigan and across the country. From jewelry to greeting cards, fine art to handmade toys, POST carries a huge variety of limited edition products from independent brands.
POST is the home base for Mutual Adoration as well as three other creative Detroit companies - Leadhead Glass, Scarlet Crane Creations, and TAIT Design Co. On most days, visitors can see woodworking, leaded glass assembly, printmaking and product design all happening in the same space while they shop. POST also functions as an educational workshop space. A robust variety of classes are offered covering all kinds of crafts, including screen printing, jewelry design, book binding, woodworking and so much more.
How did the idea to generate the space develop?
We've been in business as Mutual Adoration for five years, making furniture, picture frames and housewares from reclaimed wood. We had outgrown our old workspace: 3,000 square feet on the second floor of an industrial building in an industrial neighborhood. When we found POST, we knew it was perfect the minute we walked through the doors. It was, however, just a bit too big for us. We needed a larger space, but couldn't quite handle the entire 10,000 square feet on our own. Luckily, Detroit is a very big small town, and we knew many friends that needed workspace as well. We invited three other businesses that fit in with our brand to share the space. This move has allowed all of us to grow together.
The brick and mortar retail component was always a part of our business plan, and our new building is a perfect fit. Because it was built as a post office, it is a single story, has on-street parking, and a great facade (with a flag pole!). Some of the gorgeous features include massive skylights, the original terrazzo lobby floor and about 70 original schoolhouse light fixtures. It's a really striking space. We had a small retail showroom in our previous space and really wanted to expand upon that. We curated the shop with all of our favorite things! Many of the brands we work with are also personal friends and artists we have met at shows, exhibitions and craft events. POST is now a well-stocked, diverse mix of handmade goods from Detroit and across the country. We focus exclusively on well-designed, handcrafted goods, and approximately 70% of our inventory comes from women-owned businesses.
What kind of work went into transforming the building?
Although the building was empty for quite some time, it was in really good shape when we moved in. It was built like a fortress with double thick walls, steel doors and secure windows. Luckily, the original lights, radiators and other fixtures were still in place. We just needed to focus on transforming the building to accommodate the production work that would be happening here. We made some major electrical upgrades to handle our tools and installed a giant dust collection system for all the sawdust that we create. We were in the building about six months before turning our attention to the retail space. We built all of our displays and jewelry cases in house and added lighting to the store. We made the choice to not build any walls or major dividers between the retail shop and the workspaces. It's really important to us that our customers know that we're making and building inside the space, and they love walking in to see the things they're buying being put together. The experience is a lot like being in a bakery and seeing the bread come out of the oven and right onto the shelves.
On any given day at POST, what’s going on inside?
On busy days, there will be anywhere from 10 to 15 people going about their business of making their goods: woodworking, screen printing, glass assembly, laser cutting, designing, prototyping and client meeting. As Mutual Adoration, our days start early so that we can get the loud business of working with power tools finished before POST opens at noon. The space is alive with creative people doing creative things, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Workshops are a key part of POST. How do you go about selecting topics for possible workshops?
When it comes to craft education, we are essentially scheduling the classes that we would like to take ourselves! Our vision for POST always included an educational and experiential component. Teaching workshops here strengthens our connection between makers and community. We love teaching and learning, so sharing that experience with others is very special. Exploring a curiosity, learning a new skill and experimenting with new materials are best done in a beautiful space with friendly, creative people. And we have that here! Our instructors and special guests are some of the finest craftspeople, and they are enthusiastic to share their knowledge. Since opening a few months ago, we've offered bookbinding, printmaking, woodworking, terrarium planting, jewelry making, textile dyeing and lots more! As we've become more established, artists have come to us with workshop ideas and have presented things we never would have thought of. Activating our space as a gathering point for people to connect and learn has been really rewarding and is something we will continue to expand upon in the future.
Why do you think DIY workshops continue to be so popular in the Detroit area?
That's an interesting question. We were just talking to someone visiting Detroit from Brooklyn, and she commented that people here seem to be especially interested in making things. Being lifelong Detroiters, we kind of took that interest for granted. Our theory is that everyone from Detroit has DIY in their blood. We’re inventors, innovators and culture creators. No matter what you currently do for a living, you had a relative that worked in the auto industry: manufacturing, designing and working with their hands. We’re not afraid of hard work, and we embrace creative challenges. And let’s face it, with the changes of the industry and the city as a whole, we’ve all been making and taking care of ourselves for a while now. That sense of creating something from nothing runs deep in this city. People have a real respect for craft and for the business of producing things.
Your own business, Mutual Adoration, is housed inside POST. Tell us a little bit about what the brand offers.
We founded Mutual Adoration in 2013 with a deep love for design and appreciation for handmade pieces. We began building furniture and custom installations using mostly reclaimed wood from houses and buildings in Detroit. We quickly expanded our production to include picture frames, housewares and limited editions of small goods. This allows us to utilize every inch of wood, producing with very little waste. We continue to create custom furniture and commercial projects, and our line of handcrafted goods can be found in 40 stores in 20 states.
How do you go about finding the reclaimed materials you turn into Mutual Adoration product offerings?
There is such an abundant amount of wood in the commercial buildings and housing stock in Detroit. We use what many see as garbage, like beat up hardwood flooring, pine paneling, falling down fences and porches. This kind of wood doesn’t have the market value of scrap metal, special architectural salvage or even old barn wood. Urban reclaimed wood is not seen as especially unique, but we love working with it! We connect directly with contractors and homeowners to source our raw materials. Sometimes they are trying to work responsibly and feel good knowing that the wood will be reused and saved from a landfill, but in most cases, we are simply saving them the cost of a dumpster removal. When we started the business five years ago, much of the lumber we received came from homes being demolished. Today, it is usually coming from homes and buildings undergoing renovation and remodeling work. It is so satisfying to see this shift.
Sharing working and business spaces is on the rise across the Detroit area. How do you think a space like POST helps a smaller or up-and-coming business?
Detroit has a reputation for having all kinds of empty buildings, ready for business, but that's not really true. There are plenty of unused buildings here, but it is incredibly hard to find a space that is suitable to work in without massive investment. That sort of investment is simply not possible for independent, small businesses like ours. Reactivating this building with other businesses was the best move for Mutual Adoration.
POST is not a traditional co-working or business incubator space, but working side-by-side with other creative companies has helped to facilitate some really interesting developments. Learning from each other’s studio practices and sharing resources and skills is helping all of our businesses grow. Being here together has sparked some amazing collaborations and shared opportunities.
What’s next for POST this year and beyond?
We are planning many exciting things at POST over the next year. The retail shop will continue to bring in beautiful handcrafted goods for shoppers visiting the space and looking for unique limited-edition pieces. We will continue to provide a fun, welcoming space to learn and create. Our workshop schedule is filling up with a wide range of classes taught by incredibly talented people. POST is also partnering with some local community organizations to develop summer programming for young people in the neighborhood. As the weather becomes nicer, we’ll be activating the outdoor space around the building, and we’re looking forward to welcoming many new visitors!