Atelier

by Marimar McNaughton
October 2013

Atelier: French for a workshop or a studio, especially for an artist or a designer

Working out of a kitchen closet crammed with beads and wire, Miriam Oehrlein developed the line of jewelry that caught the eye of Belks Southern Designer Showcase competition as part of the stores 125th anniversary celebration in 2012.

It took 30 minutes to unpack her supplies and another 30 minutes to pack them up every day the stay-at-home mom chose to work. But beauty was born from this chaos and Miriam Os designs were among the 15 chosen out of 200 for the Belk promo.

With her royalties she invested in a potters bench and a drafting chair that she set up in her dining room, while a two-story backyard garage was refurbished by architect/builder Bryan Humphrey, furniture and fixture designer Susan Covington and artist/painter Michelle Connolly.

Were going to build you a proper bench, she recalls Humphrey saying. Bryan Humphrey is a very fastidious man; hes that guy, Miriam says.

But she was afraid if she had a clean space she might lose her creativity.

Bryan said, Miriam, you can mess it up after I leave, she says.

Screened by distressed church doors from her late fathers Greenville, South Carolina, church, Miriams new jewelry bench is equipped with deep shelves and built-in drawers fabricated by Joe Hammett. After she learned upcycled metalsmithing techniques from John C. Campbell Folk School instructors Tom and Kay Patterson, Hammett mounted Miriams anvil to the bench so that it swivels but does not scratch the surface of the wood.

With white walls to see the true color of what shes working on, Miriams studio is enveloped in old tobacco drying barn wood from Bath, North Carolina. The load was provisioned by Covington, who also found the distressed cabinets installed in her studio showroom foyer. In Covingtons workshop, missing doors were created to match the cracked green patina of the original. Miriam uses the space to display a rotating exhibit of vintage apparel, footwear and chapeaux. She has a mannequin, named after her alter ego, Maryann, that she outfits for occasions.

Shes a perfect size 6, Miriam says. Talking about Maryanns figure and the floorplan of her atelier, she adds, Things will evolve and change, but the bones will not.

Her studio/showroom is appointed with upholstered furniture and illuminated with Louise Gaskell chandeliers. Its a place where her clients come to pick up their custom-made jewelry, try on other necklaces, and play with the hats. Theres even a full-length mirror for brides to be and trunk shows planned.

Its a place where Miriam can burn the midnight oil if she wants, but when its time to call it quits, she can slide the old church doors closed. With a kitchenette, a shower bath, and a Murphy bed, it can also become a plush apartment for overnight guests.

While the Oehrlein children blow bubbles at the ground level, the couple grills dinner and talks. If she wants to rinse off after gardening or paddleboarding, the outdoor shower with its cleverly mounted surfboard door is something she had no idea how much she would enjoy.

Its changed the way we interact with our backyard, she says.

 


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