Amy Voloshin, founder of Voloshin and PrintFresh, interviews Margaux Kent of Peg and Awl!
I first met Margaux when she dropped by our studio to try on a few dresses. She already had a few of our pieces from one of our mutually favorite Philly boutiques, Vagabond, and wanted to try on some of our new styles. We got to talking all things small business, creativity, and balancing it all with motherhood. She's a fascinating creative with such a distinct viewpoint. Her artwork and commitment to handmade goods is an inspiration to me, and I hope you enjoy learning more about her process. Also, if you are ever in Philadelphia be sure to stay at her gorgeous Airbnb*, which is so beautiful and an amazing escape in the city. - Amy Voloshin
Margaux, can you tell us a little about how you would describe your line Peg and Awl?
Peg and Awl is kind of a dream. The beginning of the story goes like this: “We used to make things for ourselves, and now we make them for everyone.” Peg and Awl came to be without a plan—just the want to make. It is a small business that thrives on discovery and meandering and curiosity. And on usefulness, craftsmanship, research, reflection, sustainability and longevity. It is a reaction to our disposable culture, and a connection to the past and the present. Peg and Awl is story and family. It is freedom and hard work.
What did you study in school?
Photography and Jewelry Design.
When did you start your line and what was your first product?
We started in 2010 with the Tub Caddy. For much of my life I threw splintery 2x4s across my tub and wrote and drew in the bath. When I met Walter—a woodworker—I asked if he could make me a better one. A year or so on, we were working on our Fishtown home with wood collected from 1800s buildings that were being torn down in the neighborhood. At that time people thanked us for hauling away their garbage and one company even parked a dumpster on our block for a week for us to pick until our heart’s content!
One day Walter went down to his basement woodshop, used some of the scrap antique wood and made a tub caddy. He climbed the stairs with his prize (my treasure!) in his hands. It was simple and useful and beautiful! We took photographs straight away and thus began Peg and Awl.
The retail landscape is drastically different these days - I know I’ve seen you at tradeshows, do you currently sell to stores? Or do you do a lot of business through your online shop?
We sell to some stores but have greatly reduced the amount since the days of the tradeshows—very intentionally. We have some really long, strong relationships that we love including the New York Public Library, Museum Shops, and Goop, and we partner with some incredible companies like Rishi Tea. Otherwise we sell mostly through our website!
Where do you get your inspiration for new products? What does that design process look like?
From life! The process is different for each object. For example, the Sendak Artist Roll, our best-selling treasure currently, arose from my trip to Spain for an illustration class. When I returned, I designed the case I wished I'd had whilst traveling. Walter is currently working on a plein air box after a recent painting adventure in Italy! Because we use so many materials, each object emerges in a different way, but everything comes from a need. We put the objects to personal use first and make changes as we see the need until we are finally ready to share them with the world!
Your line conjures up a feeling from the past which reminds me of antiques and life from long ago - has that always been an inspiration to you? What was your style like when you were younger, and how has your style evolved over time?
I’ve always loved flea markets and abandoned houses and spent much time at both with my mom growing up! I love the effect that time has on an object, along with the stories they carry. Walter loves history and appreciates historic objects for their usefulness and quality. When we started Peg and Awl (and my first business, The Black Spot Books), we transformed antique objects and materials into new and useful objects. So the character and effects of time were in everything.
As we began to run out of antique materials (such as antique gunslings for our bag straps) we began searching for new materials with old-fashioned quality that don’t negatively impact our planet. These quests transformed our business, but not the quality of our work. We travelled to England to visit a 500-year-old leather factory and then to Pennsylvania (quite roundabout) to discover the company we currently work with. And we learned a LOT about leather.
We still use wood from old buildings for desk caddies and one of a kinds but have added sustainable domestic hardwood for kitchen items and furniture. We love for the things we make to reflect a timelessness both forward and back, but it is never our goal to merely replicate what was.
What’s it like working with your spouse? How do you divide your responsibilities? Now under quarantine, are you both working at home together?
We love working together and through the years have come to divide our responsibilities naturally to support our individual strengths. We do a lot of work from home now, and we are also spending more time with our boys—whom we homeschool already. Walter has taken to baking bread (so you may see some kitchen and bread objects come out of Peg and Awl soon!) and we’ve been making a lot of art together. Initially, I thought quarantine meant we’d have a little time to pause and ‘catch up’, but it turned into a busy time for us trying to keep the business alive!
Tintype by Giles Clement
What does a typical day look like for you?
Oh. Well, I am incredibly unorganized, and I have a go button that won’t turn off. No two days are the same. Only the beginnings and ends – when I am alone, and my family is sleeping – are ‘typical’. I rise at 7, make coffee and write and draw in my journal, I end most of my days drawing, and crawl into bed by midnight to read.
The in-betweens are different daily, I do sit at my computer much more than I’d prefer! Some days I take photographs, others – lately – involve video. I spend a lot of time writing, responding to customers, and working on SEO. When businesses open, I cannot wait to go back to flea markets for inspiration and materials. I also design new treasures and work on our packaging and postcards. A lot of this is done with our small marketing team of 3!
I’m fascinated by homeschooling; how did you make the decision to start? Now that so many families are homeschooling right now during quarantine, do you have any advice for starting out? How structured is your curriculum?
We’d been contemplating homeschooling since I was pregnant with Søren. Walter was homeschooled and his family stories always sounded so wonderful (he is one of twelve kiddos!). The things that matter to us – learning through art and exploration and travel – to name a few, cannot really happen in an institution. And these years are the VERY years we get to be so close with our boys! And every day after school, S+S were grumpy. Life was jammed into the space that remained after school, after homework, after work.
So, when Søren was going into 5th grade, and Silas into 2nd, we discovered Open Connections, a homeschooling co-op of sorts. After one visit, we made the quick decision to give it a go – and it has been wonderful. Of course, the pandemic changed this year a lot – we’ve since bought a camper and are going to tuck some good old road-schooling into our education. (Of course, education isn’t just for kids!)
Many of us are struggling right now to work and have children at home - how have you balanced the two? You are remarkably creative, how do you fit it all in? What advice would you share to those of us who are new to balancing work and homeschooling?
I think our boys have a lot to do with our success. They are often as deep into projects as we are. Sometimes side by side, and other times I won’t see them for hours. But mostly I feel that it is really hard for me to keep a thread with so much going on. I love so many things and wish to jam so much in a day between work, boys, and art. So, yeah, I struggle with that too – all of the time! Who doesn’t?!
What does self care look like for you? What do you do to nourish yourself?
Oh dear. Herein lies my grey cloud. I love walking and yoga. I love reading and writing and drawing. And gardening. In a dream world I do all of this every day, and this is why my solitary ends of each day are so important to me! But I don’t get much of any. I squeeze in what I can in very small doses. And so it goes…
What’s your favorite way to exercise?
I really REALLY enjoyed moving fieldstone around the 5 Acre Wood the first 2 weeks of quarantine! We have so much rock here! It felt very Sisyphean, but so do many things. And I sweat and I felt strong. And then I stopped. And now I am melting a little. I love kayaking and swimming and wandering in the woods. I love yoga. Getting lost altogether in a thing is my favourite. Not counting the minutes or the miles, just wandering.
Do you have a favorite article of clothing or accessory?
I have a very small closet (and I love this) so nearly everything is a favourite. Some clothing I’ve had for decades – including a Leonard Cohen T shirt that I got at a concert in 1993! Lately, I’ve been loving a black slip – the under layer of a Voloshin dress. I wear it gardening, hiking, swimming even, and a romper from Black Crane. I love gray – or rather black worn so much it fades to the perfect grey.
What are your favorite spots for shopping and eating in Philly?
My goodness this question feels so unreal!
Where can we purchase your items?
*Note, January 2022: With the sale of our Philadelphia home (previously serving as an Airbnb), we were able to and embark on this new Barn Restoration Project.