For Margaret Ahearn of M+A NYC, good design creates products with intention and community that enhance beauty, function, and utility in our homes.
Designing life changes
This philosophy has evolved from decades of experience as a designer. Educated at Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology, Ahearn started her career as a clothing designer for Cynthia Rowley then founded her own handbag design company with clients such as Barney’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. She went on to design handbags for Banana Republic, tripling their sales, and had a full-on career meeting seasonal design deadlines and traveling the world seeking trends and inspiration. That experience, while fulfilling and fun, left her feeling depleted and needing a change.
A career pivot brought her to study horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and create her own urban garden design business. An accident left her unable to meet the physical demands of that business, and another pivot ensued.
Teaming up with a former colleague, they asked themselves what they wanted to design and how to produce it. The answer was M+A NYC. While her partner exited soon after, Ahearn built her design practice guided by specific principles.
Slow on design, big on intention
Ahearn says, “I wanted to avoid the mass market and embrace slow design. In my corporate career, I saw so much overproduction and waste.” For her, slow design eschews mass production, constant change to create demand, and a disposable mentality. Instead, it embraces small batches, timeless designs, and enduring pieces. “I wanted to be thoughtful about what I was creating to give people pleasure, to be valued and used, and to be passed on,” she explains.
Ahearn’s intentionality extends to the way her design vision is actualized. She works with artisan collectives in India that value their workers, pay living wages, and provide safe work environments. “I’m always looking for artisan clusters that share my values, whether across the globe or in the US.” That synchronicity of designer, design, and artisanal maker is critical for her and illustrates the intention that runs through M + A’s products.
One such artisan group works out of Kerala, India, crafting M+A’s light textiles. Ahearn proudly describes, “A mother and daughter team runs the fair-trade certified business and works closely with a master weaver. The artisans, under his tutelage, make our high-quality textiles on wooden hand looms. The weavers earn a living wage and work in an open, airy environment.”
Ahearn’s design process is a collaboration from start to finish between her, the artisans she employs, and the customer who will use the object. “When I sit down to design, I think about what would add value and magic to my life. What would move me? I take inspiration from what I’m responding to out in the world, which could be colors or textures. I absorb what’s around me. Then I hope that what I create will move others and create magic in their lives,” she explains.
It takes a village
Transplanting from Brooklyn during COVID, Ahearn’s home base is Ghent, NY, where she has found community in life and design. With no brick-and-mortar location, she relies on her website sales and space in retail shops, such as the hōm market in Hastings on Hudson and The Millbrook Home in Millbrook.
However, she finds the community sustenance she craves in local design markets like Field + Supply in Hutton Brickyards and The Fuller Market, both in Kingston, NY. “Participating in these markets is so satisfying. I love the conversation and being part of a community of makers and people who appreciate makers,” she remarks. “I’m not out here by myself. I’m part of a thriving community of small business owners and entrepreneurs. We cheer each other on and push each other forward.”
Designed to be used but made to last
M+A’s aesthetic is modern, artisanal, and timeless and includes bowls and vessels; candle holders; jewelry; woven textiles such as napkins; and versatile linens that serve as table cloths, chair coverings, and light blankets. Ahearn pares her designs down to their essential qualities–high on clean lines and low on ornamentation. Ahearn is not looking for styles to change every season. She wants pieces to stay relevant and tasteful – full stop. Her definition of artisanal means she’s working to keep handmade craft traditions alive across generations, emphasizing intention and high value.
For Ahearn, sadness is when she thinks about people using her products only on special occasions. There’s no Waterford and bone china philosophy of using her salad servers or table linens once a year for holidays and special events. Her happy daydream is about people making their daily lives more intentional, using her creations every day and in every way to make each moment feel special. “I make items that I believe are aesthetically pleasing and durable. For example, my napkins are beautiful and hold up well being washed and dried regularly.”
Ahearn’s dedication to the global community also finds its way into her own backyard. For her order fulfillment, packing, and shipping, she utilizes the services of Mid-Hudson Works of Poughkeepsie, NY. Its mission is to provide workforce development and training opportunities to underserved veterans and individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities, helping them find gainful employment.
“While outsourcing this function adds cost to my product, I think it’s worth it. We are helping each other, investing in the community, and both are better for it.” She also donates proceeds from sales at markets and events to her local PBS station WMHT, Feeding America, God’s Love We Deliver, and Girl Rising.
M+A NYC emphasizes the plus – plus community, plus intention, plus making magic. Ahearn is creating her vision of what she wants to make and how she wants to make it. For her, this means attention to detail and seeking partnerships that align with her vision. For us, it means a more beautiful, slow-designed home. •
To learn more and to purchase Margaret Ahearn’s designs, visit mplusanyc.com. You can follow her on Instagram @mplusanyc. Field + Supply Fall MRKT 2023 runs from October 6–8, 10am – 6pm at the Hutton Brickyards in Kingston, NY. For more information, visit fieldandsupply.com. For more information about Mid-Hudson Works’ mission and services, visit midhudsonworks.org.