Today we are visiting the home of Japan-based mother of two: Jacqui, creator of Mee a Bee, a line of handmade children’s bags, messengers, and totes for boys and girls. Her kid’s bag collection is right in line with the clean and simple design you will find in her home. More is less, and quality is of the utmost. Enjoy the tour…
1. You are originally from New Zealand, but you are currently living in Japan. In what kind of home do you live and with whom?
Yes, I'm from Auckland, New Zealand. I came to Japan for a short working holiday about thirteen years ago. I guess I liked it since I am still here. I live with my husband of nine years and our two sons Noah and Tyler. Noah is almost eight and Tyler is just three. We live in a single story house on a 6000 sq. ft yard giving us plenty of space for the kids to run around outside.
2. Your handmade bags for boys and girls are absolutely adorable. One of the fabrics that you work with is Japanese linen, which is made from hemp: a renewable resource. How important is it to you to make those kinds of eco-friendly choices for your shop, Mee a Bee?
Thanks! It's important to me to make eco-friendly choices but more important is the choice of non-toxic materials since my bags are for children. For that reason I favor Japanese-made fabrics. I try to use material from companies that have Oeko-Tex certification. Oeko-Tex is an international certification system to textiles that limits the use of certain dangerous chemicals. The textile industry in Japan is centuries old and I feel proud to be able to support it in the modern day.
3. On average, about how much time per week are you able to put into creating?
Well I have two kids so not nearly as much time as I would like! Fortunately, my little boy still naps during the day so if I am lucky I can get an hour or so in each afternoon. I sew at night or work on the computer - catching up on emails, editing photos, and updating my store. I usually spend Sunday afternoon sewing. I have everything set up so that if I get a spare moment I can grab it. I work on Mee a Bee everyday and probably get far less sleep than I need.
4. How do you balance being a mom and a career woman?
Like most moms in business I would have to say with great difficulty. I think it really helps to have realistic expectations as to how much you can accomplish in a day, month or year. I'm committed to having my son Tyler home with me until he goes to pre-school in another year or so. As much as I would like to spend more time working on Mee a Bee my children are my first priority. My goal when I started the business was to build it up slowly to the point where it becomes a full time 'job' for me once the kids are both in school. I sometimes need to remind myself of this especially when exciting opportunities come up for Mee a Bee!
5. How would you describe your design style?
I'd like to say clean and minimal but I am a bit of a pack rat, so I guess I will say simple and homely. I prefer a modern look but I also like to have my favorite things around. I'd love to be able to decorate our home in one particular style but right now it's not practical for us with the children nor do we have the time or budget to do it.
6. All of the walls in your home are a neutral white, but your home still feels very warm and inviting. What tips do you have for making your home feel cozy without having to paint?
We chose white from a very limited palette of colors presented to us when we were building this house. Our budget dictated choosing from the mass-produced and was a sad collection of old-fashioned florals and pastels. Having a blank canvas allows us to decorate seasonally or as trends come and go. I like to add color with cushions or different bed covers. Or by changing artwork or bringing something in from the garden. Even a bright bowl of fruit on the bench makes me happy. Oh and I love colorful tea towels and kitchen tools.
7. You have collected some great pieces of artwork that are showcased throughout your home, many purchased from Etsy. What do you look for when buying new art for your home?
I've bought the pieces I have in a knee-jerk "I love it and have to have it" kind of way. I read some design blogs, which creates a lot of temptation. I am always interested in the artist's story and you'll notice I have a few pieces of art by New Zealanders (and one Australian, close enough!). Whenever I buy anything on Etsy I read the artist's profile to learn more about them personally.
8. There is a wonderful community garden that each neighbor in your community contributes to, that can be seen from your little boy's room. How have your children become involved in this project?
I wish I could say we were involved but none of us have very green fingers so we usually just talk to the neighbors over the fence and receive the occasional vegetables or cutting. It's fascinating to watch them over there. One gentleman is in his eighties but he works his plot from dusk till dawn everyday year-round. I like the fact that there are always people around chatting or quietly digging so we are not so isolated. It makes us feel safe and there is a great sense of community in our little block.
9. With fresh vegetables at your fingertips and a gorgeous modern kitchen, I would imagine that cooking plays a big part in your day-to-day lives. Who is the cook of your family? And what is your favorite meal to make? That would be me, the cook in the family but also the child-minder, housekeeper, etc. I used to love to cook before I started my business and before my younger son was born. These days I cook simply and in a hurry throwing whatever is on hand into the oven or microwave.I do love to bake and really enjoy trying new cake recipes. I'm a sucker for anything chocolate and am eternally searching for the best chocolate cake recipe.
On Sundays my husband loves to get into the kitchen and his specialty is a cabbage dish called okonomiyaki. It's often described as a cabbage pancake - shredded cabbage is added to a pancake-like batter then it's fried until golden. The special sauce and toppings are what make it. And I think best of all for me is that I get a night off from cooking!
10. I love that you encourage your boys to play in the common areas of the house as opposed to just in their rooms. Where do they spend most of their time at home when not at school?
I wish my kids would play in their rooms! Without fighting! They spend most of their time within earshot or sight of me either in the lounge or in the play area next to the dining room table. Or outside. Our home is open-plan so I can see them from the kitchen even if they are playing in the garden. Tyler very energetic and really needs to be watched otherwise he gets into mischief. They love playing together, which is really great especially since the age-gap between them is almost five years.
11. My favorite room in your house is Noah's room. It just oozes with happiness and the sweet memories of childhood. What is your favorite room of your house and why?
I love Noah's room too. The natural light in his room is very calming and we spend a lot of time in there reading, chatting and playing. On a rainy cold day his room is cozy and warm. On sunny autumn days the view of the sky is amazing.
He's inherited the decorating bug and loves nothing more than changing his room around so we do that fairly often. He's been coveting a lava lamp for a few years.