Today we're going to journey with you to New England and spend some time getting to know one passionate and creative family. The simple conviction to buy Fair Trade Chocolate led the Sauder family down a path towards a complete lifestyle change. A lifestyle of global awareness, respect for their fellow man, and the belief that small changes can make a big impact. Meg, Tim, and their three children have a passion for Fair Trade products, recycling and upcycling, and community; this passion culminated in the building of a multipurpose shed in their backyard. The space is modern, simple, warmly welcoming, and made of completely reused or Fair Trade materials. It is a place for the family to come together, express creativity, relax, play, and get away from the busy tedium of daily life. Here they'll share the adventure of construction, the challenges and rewards of finding responsibly sourced products, and the heart behind their blog Crafted Fairly.
TIM AND MEG, COULD YOU PROVIDE A TINY BIT OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT YOURSELVES? SPECIFICALLY, HOW DID YOU ACQUIRE THE SKILLS NEEDED TO COMPLETE THIS AMBITIOUS PROJECTS YOURSELVES?
We were both brought up in families where creating was important. Tim went to school to study printmaking, ended up in an internship with a cabinet maker and then worked with an Amish work crew on a modern home (they actually bought him his first hammer and gave him a bonus which he used to buy his first drill). Meg has been a knitter her whole life, grew up dyeing wool with her mom and siblings and her favorite room growing up was an enormous craft room outfitted with two sewing machines, a loom and basket weaving supplies.
Once we got married the projects just seemed to slowly get bigger. What started as gifts made for friends and family turned into small-business projects: book-topped birdhouses, baby apparel, custom Christmas ornaments, cutting boards, etc… In the midst of all this we were also picking up furniture at flea markets and yard sales and fixing things up. We didn’t have the money to buy the furniture that we wanted so we ended up making a lot of it ourselves or refinishing things that other people no longer wanted.
Eventually we decided that we wanted to buy a house. We found one that was in a great location but in our price range we could only afford something that needed a LOT of work. We gutted the whole thing and worked on it for the next five years to get it to a “finished” state. I think that’s what really helped us to acquire the skills needed to design and build the Shed. The Shed was actually a welcomed side project for us - it was not in our living space, it was small and seemed manageable compared to our house and we were building from scratch so things could actually be straight and true unlike working with our house which was built in 1860.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOUR EYES WERE OPENED INITIALLY AS A FAMILY TO THE NEED TO SEEK OUT FAIR TRADE PRODUCTS?
Meg worked with grassroots development organizations and was confronted with real poverty before we were married. As a mother living in America it is convenient to ignore where and how products are made and although we attempted to live simply our choices were based more on design and price than the ethics surrounding those purchases. About four years ago Meg joined a faith-based women’s group whose mission is to learn about social injustice and do something about it. After Meg watched “The Dark Side of Chocolate” (a documentary about slave/child labor used in the chocolate industry) with the group she showed it to our family and we all decided to buy and consume only fair-trade chocolate. From there we decided to do the same for tea, then bananas, etc… The more we looked into it the more we decided that we wanted to try to support only companies producing things in an ethical way. So for the last 3 years we have attempted to purchase only products that are ethically produced or buy used items.
WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL GOAL WITH THE SHED AND HOW DID THE PROJECT EVOLVE ONCE YOU GOT STARTED? HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO COMPLETE?
Our initial goal was to create a beautiful space that could act as a design studio for Tim, an extra bedroom for visiting family, and a play space for the kids. We had just spent five years remodeling a very old house and we were excited to build something more modern - something that we designed from scratch. We were also interested to see if it was possible to build a beautiful and functional space that looked new but was made using a lot of recycled materials.
WHAT WERE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES AT FIRST?
One of the biggest challenges was the design of the shed which had to change daily based on what materials we were finding. We began working with a great architecture student but realized pretty quickly that we were going to have to make the plans ourselves because the dimensions of windows, doors and lumber needed to change daily. Once Tim sat down and put together a design that we could edit on the fly things got a lot smoother.
There was also a bit of a low point at the beginning of the project when Tim confidently rented a Bobcat to level out the yard before putting in the foundation. He pretty much destroyed the whole back yard and we had to pay someone to come in and level the site for us.
HOW DID YOU SOURCE THE MAJORITY OF THE MATERIALS YOU USED? IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAD A FEW MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES!
We started the project buying the framing, sheathing and drywall from local building supply sources but as the project moved on we began to get more and more of our materials from dumpsters, craigslist postings and people just getting rid of things. We grabbed our flooring from a condo being demolished behind Cheers in Boston, most of the framing for the deck from a dumpster two towns away (Tim got a call at work that he could take as much as he could grab before sunset), the slider door from a local fireman who was replacing his, our windows from multiple people on Craigslist and the wood siding from three different people who were clearing out wood they had used on previous decks. Meg actually also befriended some demolition crews and they would let us know when/what they were getting rid of anything they thought we would need. We liked that this approach was cost effective as well as being more environmentally sound than purchasing new. Throughout the building of the shed we definitely met a lot of interesting people and were surprised at how generous and helpful so many of them were. It was actually a really positive part of the project.
IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOU HAD A STRONG DESIGN DIRECTION YOU WANTED TO TAKE THE SHED (MODERN). WAS IT A CHALLENGE FINDING MATERIALS THAT FIT YOUR VISION FOR THE END RESULT? IS THE FINISHED PRODUCT WHAT YOU HAD ENVISIONED?
This was one of our favorite parts of the Shed project. We spent a lot of time finding just the right materials to use that would match our vision of the finished product. We were very choosy but we also had to be realistic given our budget. So, we refinished and rebuilt a lot of things to make the shed look the way we wanted. The Murphy bed, for instance, was bought used at a yard sale but Tim completely wrapped the whole unit in wood to make it look more modern and clean. The wood for the floor was free but had to be sanded 7 times to get it down to a clean and even surface. Reusing materials takes a lot more time and planning but it was rewarding to end up with something that didn’t look “recycled” but that had an interesting past.
NOW THAT THE SHED IS COMPLETE, WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FEATURE OR DESIGN ELEMENT?
We love the way the space feels with its high ceilings, sparse decorations and location away from our house and the nearby road. We have also come to really appreciate the Shed's ability to transform from a work space to a living space - we use it in so many different ways and it feels just right for all of them in their turn.
YOU'VE PACKED A LOT INTO A SMALL SPACE AND THERE IS A LOT OF INGENUITY IN THE SPACE SAVING DESIGN OF THE MURPHY BED AND FOLD AWAY DESK. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO LAY OUT THE SPACE, AND WHAT SPACE SAVING ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR READERS LOOKING TO ACHIEVE FUNCTIONALITY IN A SMALL SPACE?
We started out with a very clear list of things we wanted the space to allow us to do and we stuck to that list as a guide for all of our decisions as we designed the building. I think the simplicity of the space and the focus on it achieving just a few things: work space, sleeping space, kids play space allowed us to use space wisely and not cram the shed with things we didn’t need. I think that fewer things in a small space is always more effective.
HOW DO YOU USE THE SHED AS A FAMILY?
We use the shed a lot. Tim uses it as a studio for his freelance design jobs - he is a graphic designer and teaches communication design at Olin College of Engineering; we use it as a sleeping space when family comes to visit - we’re both from big families; our kids use it as a play space for knee hockey games and basketball and we eat a lot of dinners over the firepit with friends and family.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE AMAZING OUTDOOR SHOWER?
The shower was completed a year or two before the shed. What was going to be a basic shower and a two week project turned into a two month experiment. We decided to try to design a round shower that was tall enough that people walking by on the raised sidewalk couldn’t look down into. The whole family worked on it together and it’s become one of our favorite parts of the summer - rinsing off after surf sessions in what the neighbors often refer to as the “Silo”. The antique shower head was another thing grabbed from a friend who was cleaning out their basement.
WHAT ARE SOME FAVOURITE PROJECTS THAT YOU HAVE MADE YOURSELVES? IT SEEMS LIKE THERE'S QUITE A FEW TO CHOOSE FROM. DO YOU STRUGGLE TO FIND THE TIME TO HAVE SO MUCH ON THE GO AMIDST THE BUSY PACE OF FAMILY LIFE?
As already mentioned the outdoor shower is definitely a favorite because we all get to use it so much and it’s something that provides such a beautiful experience. We also just built a new kitchen counter extension from the wooden sides of some old chairs that were being thrown out and we love the way that project has made it easier for us to congregate and spend time together as a family.
We do struggle with finding a good balance in our lives of work, family, projects, etc…It does really help that we are both in education therefore we all have the summers to be together. The time that we get to spend together as a family is a choice that we made once we had our first child and we are so grateful for the ability to co- parent and really spend time all together. It does make it easier that many of the projects we take on are done together so that they don’t feel like something that’s taking away from our time together but balance is something we talk about often. One thing that really helps is that we don’t really watch TV which saves a lot of time for projects and family time but I definitely wouldn’t say we’ve got it all figured out.
WHAT GUIDELINES DO YOU USE TO PURCHASE PRODUCTS NEW?
When purchasing new products we work hard to make sure that the companies we’re supporting are creating their products ethically. If we can’t be sure about their ethical practices we try to look elsewhere or at least buy things made in the USA because their working environments are easier to track.
As for specific brands that are featured in the Shed… you can look at our blog Crafted Fairly for more info on these companies but here is a little taste so you can go out and support these incredible artisians:
The outdoor chairs are made by our good friend Tim Miller. We love his ability to create simple beauty and his chairs around the fire pit seem more like sculptures than outdoor lounge chairs.These are the chairs that we all fight over or try to smush two people into.
The art work in the shed is made by an incredible artist and another good friend Bradford Johnson. His paintings and drawings are based on historical photographic essays and have wonderful narratives behind the interesting imagery he portrays. His artwork is affordable (currently, although we don’t think that will last long as more people find out about him) and technically beautiful (he uses some really intricate methods to replicate the look of old photographs).
We love coyuchi bedding. The high quality organic materials and the subtle colors are a perfect combination. All of their products are ethically produced. The sheets on the Murphy bed are soft yet have a linen feel. The cascade blanket is a perfect weight for the summer! Meg is obsessed with bedding and coyuchi is her all time favorite!
The patchwork yellow blanket on the bottom of the bed is a blanket made by Sari Bari. From their site: “Sari Bari makes and sells beautiful, handmade, upcycled sari products. The heart of Sari Bari is its women, survivors of Kolkata's red light areas who have taken brave steps into new life, freedom and hope.Each Sari Bari product is marked with the name of the woman who made it and with your purchase you become a part of her freedom story”.
The beautiful bath towel/blanket is made by creative women. We love their woven pieces in the shed and we have the stripes bath sheet and the hand towel in our house. From their site: “Creative Women works with women-owned and led studios around the world to create a positive impact in communities through long-term, reliable employment that ripples out into better health, education and opportunities for families.”
The beach tote and the linen hamper in the shed is created by the company Dharma Door. The aim of this company is to bring the highest quality designer Fair Trade homewares to an audience that values contemporary design (something we are always on the lookout for). We love their mission and their products!
IF SOMEONE WERE JUST STARTING TO MAKE THE SAME LIFESTYLE CHANGES YOU HAVE MADE (PURCHASING FAIR TRADE, ETC.), WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST ARE THE KEY AREAS OR PRODUCTS THEY SHOULD FOCUS ON? ANY ADVICE OR ENCOURAGEMENT WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH?
Take the time to educate yourself. If you do not have the time to do that just do something - start small and stay committed (we started with just Fair Trade chocolate)! Olive (11) thinks that if all your friends are eating these delicious chocolate brownies remember that if you are eating it you are part of the problem of slavery...there are kids that are stuck away from their family and homes and it is not worth it. Remember that behind every product is a person and a story. We believe that our role is to value every human being and our beautiful planet. Living with less makes the prospect of buying ethically attainable. I would say that it has been a challenge for our family but entirely worth it. Raising children with a global awareness is our goal. And to realize that little changes make a big difference. We want to be changemakers in our every-day life which is not that glamorous but hopefully reminds us of the dignity of every person - wherever they live or work. We love the organization Internation Justice Mission they do incredible work and are a great resource.
LEARN MORE: Crafted Fairly
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTORS
MARK SPOONER, Photography: Mark is a Boston-based photographer specialising in wedding and lifestyle photography. "Weddings, like love, tend to show off all of their colors in moments. I know the story is there, all the beauty and drama, all the characters and details. I've learned to trust the day, to see the story, and tell it beautifully." View more of his work: markspoonerphoto.com.