A ceramic artist’s intuitive approach to designing her midcentury home

Here’s a word that, like me, you may not have heard of before, but I guarantee it needs a spot in your brain: liminality.

Liminality refers to the space in between two stages—in life, in identity, in your career or relationship. It’s the bridge that connects a beginning and end.

Think of it as that strange time when you’ve moved out of one place and, even though your furniture is all moved into the next spot, it feels like you’re standing in someone else’s room. Or the brief (or not so brief) period after a long-term relationship has ended and you need to stop yourself from texting your ex the sort of mundane passing thought that you can’t imagine anyone else would appreciate. Or, perhaps most painfully, when someone you love—who has been a presence in your life since, well, you’ve experienced life itself—releases themselves from this world, and is waiting for you in the next.

We’ve all, in some way or another, experienced this open space between a beginning and an end. Taken a step without knowing what the ground beneath us looks like. This stage terrifies, liberates and, ultimately, connects us.

Meet Michelle

As I sat down with Michelle Grimm, a Vancouver-based ceramic artist who kindly invited us into her home, I got a crash course in embracing liminality when it comes to designing spaces, too.

As soon as I walked in, I wanted to kick my shoes off and lie down on the couch with a glass of white wine. I wanted to put some headphones on and dig into her impressive record collection. I felt like walking up to one of her big windows and doing a big cat stretch. Michelle’s home felt, well, alive with personality—like it was inviting me in all on its own.

So, how’d she do it?

Well, with time, patience, and a heck of a good eye for vintage pieces. But, most of all, a “sensitivity” to the ways in which her home wanted to be designed.

How does the light fall in the evening? What corners of the room do you keep gravitating to? When do you feel most yourself, and how can you incorporate that into your home? These are the kinds of questions that can’t be answered in one day, but over months, even years. (And Michelle’s home took years to arrive in its current state.)

I hope you enjoy the conversation we had below, and that you look around your own home, your life as it is today, and embrace liminality where you can. Because in its discomfort, you can also find rich possibility.

When you think of the word “home,” what are some words or images that come to mind?  

Sitting with my morning coffee or reading in my favourite sunny corner, meals around the dinner table that go late into the night, lounging on the sofa watching a film or drinking a martini, making art, listening to music.

Our home is a place of comfort, a place to ideate and work, but also a place to laugh with friends and family.

Why do you think taking our time is so important when designing our spaces? Did you ever feel a sense of urgency to get things done? 

It is important to understand how you intend to interact within your space before making big design decisions or purchases. Ideally, I like to sit in a space first and listen before jumping in. (This is easier if you don’t have a lot of stuff and have extra time, but life doesn’t usually work that way!) 

Every space has its own personality before it’s inhabited and I like to be sensitive to that. I love when you can really sense the conversation and response between an environment and its residents.

A home that is thoughtfully put together over time feels like an honest reflection of the people living within it. I like to leave space in life for newness, growth and change, but if you’ve filled up your space all at once, it can be harder to adapt to evolving needs and life changes that come your way. Most of us love comfort and consistency but change is one thing that you can always count on!

Contrasting that, I often feel a sense of urgency to get things done. I like taking my time, while my partner likes to get it done yesterday, which is a dynamic that usually balances out, but in some instances, time is a luxury.

For example, the night we got the keys to our new home we discovered a leak not picked up in the home inspection. All of our flooring, and baseboards needed to be ripped out and replaced ASAP, due to water damage and black mold. Replacing flooring meant we had to jump into making changes we had briefly talked about prior to moving in. We needed to remove multiple sets of sliding doors and some quirky, dated built-in features, respray the ceiling, remove all the lighting–all of these things were connected, like a giant ball of yarn I wasn’t ready for.

We also needed to act quickly due to dwindling availability of materials and supply chain issues during COVID. As a “slow mover” (and planner), I learned that you get to move as fast or slow as the circumstances around you allow for and that having the option to move slowly is a real privilege. 

Did you experience any self-doubt or insecurities with your design choices? Or are you largely grounded in the decisions you make? 

I do sometimes experience self-doubt, especially if something is costly, has an unusual scale or is very specific. There are objects and design choices that I am emotionally and instantly drawn to and can make a firm decision right away. Prior to making decisions or purchases, I try to go in knowing what my needs and wants are to keep me on track. I keep an open mind when shopping vintage but I usually have an idea of where more balance is needed in my space and how I can achieve it.

I have also learned that if I’m hesitating to commit to something, I should probably leave it. There are always great pieces out there waiting to be found so I’m not afraid to walk away. 

Follow-up on that… how do you think your home has helped you feel more at home with who YOU are? 

There is a rhythm to our home that helps me with balance, offering moments that are calm and restful, or inviting interaction and participation. We have areas carved out where I can sketch, or paint, or where guests can comfortably pour themselves a drink, put on a record or settle in with a book if we are doing things in the kitchen before we sit down at the table. Our home makes it easy for us to do the things that make us happy, or to do nothing at all if that’s what feels right. 

How does your work as a ceramic artist inform how you designed your home? 

Much to my partner’s dismay, my art often takes over beyond its designated area. After every firing, I unpack all my new work on the dining room table to make notes, debrief and plan for next time. I need space to photograph and organize and will leave new shapes and glazes I’m exploring out around the house so I can look at it and interact with it outside a studio environment.

I have made a lot of pieces in our home that we use daily. (I often give away the good stuff and keep the pieces with lots of “personality” in our kitchen!) Sometimes I think my art needs better boundaries, but often when you are an artist, there is a lot of intersection between life and work. 

Michelle’s go-to local & online design stores

1. FAVOURITE store in Vancouver—gut reaction—which one is it? 
Itsumo Life- It just feels so beautiful, elegant and effortless. Provide is another spot that just feels so good to visit!

2. What are some of your other go-to spots? Either Instagram shops or in-person or Etsy, wherever. 

I could go on and on about shopping local and shopping vintage!!! These are my go tos at the moment and where we have sourced many of our current pieces:

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