"Lori's maternal family are of Japanese-Hawaiian descent. Rural farm life in Japan and in the South both represent a design from need and a beauty from usefulness; we continually find ourselves drawn to both cultures and they greatly influence our products and life."
East, west, north and...
While each region of the United States generates its own particular brand of love, lore and mystique, the South has always had a particular hold on the collective national consciousness.
Music, food, literature, you name it. There's just something about that part of the country that makes people sit up and listen. And smile. To wit, as author Clyde Edgerton once put it: “Because I was born in the South, I’m a Southerner. If I had been born in the North, the West or the Central Plains, I would be just a human being.”
But for Georgia natives Eric and Lori Wright, there’s a twist that comes with their geography:
Lori’s Japanese-Hawaiian roots.
Eric & Lori Wright
~ North High Shoals, Georgia ~
So while their list of personal inspirations starts with a very Southern sounding...
“Whiskey, blues, and the breeze from the river”, it ends with "Minka". As in the historic thatched-roof Japanese farm houses that inspire much of their work. "Like the South we grew up in and live in, Japanese design, heritage and countryside are persistent inspirations", Eric says. "Rural farm life in Japan and rural farm life in the South both represent a design from need and a beauty from usefulness."
Literally translated as the House of the People, the Minka are a marvel of carpentry -- neither nails nor braces are used to build them. The Wrights are particularly fascinated by the irori -- an open wood burning hearth set into the Minka that served as a means of warmth and food preparation. Over time, the smoke would blacken the interior pillars and beams to create a patina representing the passing of time, life, and sustenance.
Employing the Japanese Shousugiban technique, the Wrights pay homage to this soulful notion by flame burning pieces such as their Cherry Wood Serving Board to a beautiful charcoal finish. And it is exactly this kind of thoughtfulness, combined with the mastery of their wood work, that makes Eric and Lori's pieces so unusual. And beautiful. And heartfelt.
"We talked for years about doing ME Speak Design..."
"... but were a bit afraid of taking the leap of faith", Lori told us. But all that changed when Eric’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. "That really struck us on so many levels", she says quietly. "That realization that we are only here for a short time and we should do what we love and live a life fulfilled could no longer be ignored."
So in a move straight out of a great Southern novel, Eric and Lori decided to shut down their other businesses (which included a construction recycling company and a real estate development firm) to follow their hearts. They put their large city home up for sale, gave away anything they didn’t need or love and moved to a small 1900s farmhouse in the Georgia countryside near Athens. They renovated an old carriage house on their new property into a studio/workshop... and with a quirky hand-carved wood self-portrait that Eric's Mom made in college hanging on the walls as a reminder of one of the many reasons they now do what they do... Me Speak Design was born.
"We just started all over again," Eric says, as he and Lori share a small smile. "This is the core of what we do", she adds. "In business... and in life."