Yaffe Mays is The NWBLK

Reprinted with the kind permission of Handful of Salt
By Anna Hoeschen and Regina Connell.

It’s so terribly modern to talk about globalization, but when it comes down to it, it’s our sense of place, of terroir, that defines us. Place inspires us and informs the way we view the world, and our place in it. We tune into it, connect to it and in many ways, become it.

Laura Mays, master woodworker and furniture designer, grew up in Ireland, maintained a studio on the rugged west coast of Ireland and now calls Northern California home. It seems that throughout her life, she’s maintained an acute sense of place, an appreciation for her home and her roots…and the residual effects of that are breathtaking.

Her roots come to life in the charm and captivating simplicity of her work. You can almost see surly green landscape, cliffs eroded by weather and time, jagged coastline and grey sea. But you can also see the sophistication of her architectural training. Even her material, wood, is relative to the locale she creates in.

Laura is one part of the duo Yaffe Mays. Super smart, charmingly self-assured and wonderfully articulate, she talked shop with us on the details of her designs, and, true to form, kept it pure and simple.

Tell us your story: Laura, “Well, there are many versions of it; I’ll work backwards for now. I’m teaching for the fine woodworking program at College of the Redwoods. I was here as a student in 2001 through 2003. I had read books by James Krenov, who founded the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking School. I came here because of his books; the philosophy went to the heart of it all. I was here as a student and went back to Ireland to teach. I grew up in the suburbs of Dublin, and spent the last eight years on the west coast of Ireland in a distinct region called Connemara. Between Connemara and coming here as a student, I maintained my workshop in Ireland. When I was in California, I met my partner, Rebecca Yaffe. She’s the Yaffe part of Yaffe Mays. We have worked together the past eight years.”

What made you decide to begin working with wood? “Straight out of high school, I studied architecture in Dublin. I was unhappy in the world of architecture, where you are telling people what to do and you yourself never know quite what to do. Telling people, “you should do this” or “you should do that” but you’re never actually getting to interact with the material in any way. I went on a cycling holiday in Galway, and I saw a furniture design school, Letterfrack.  I went in and, two years later, decided to apply. I studied there from 1995-1997. I hadn’t done any woodworking before that.”

What appeals most to you about working with wood? “It’s various and temperamental. It’s never stable. You’re always kind of dealing with it, and totally used by it.  When everything’s going well, it’s nice to interact with.”

Why certain materials? “Sometimes a series of circumstances might mean working with something else. Wood has a certain temperature, and I love the smell.”

(Read more from Handful of Salt)