Last summer, in a former hosiery mill in Star, North Carolina, Erin Connelly watched her first tableware collection, dubbed “Shelter,” come to life. The once-abandoned factory is now occupied by STARworks, a group aiming to revitalize the area’s economy through creative works, and with several of the program’s artists-in-residence blowing glass and molding clay to bring Connelly’s sketches into being, she felt she’d come full-circle.
Connelly is passionate about American-made goods: she’s the driving force behind The Commons, a Broad Street shop she and Oregon-based partner Kerry Clark Speake debuted in 2013. Enchantingly tucked down a little alley, the boutique is stocked with beautiful, utilitarian items for the home. From hand-hammered copper bowls to carved-wood spoons, every bit of inventory is made in the United States—“so we can work directly with the makers,” says Connelly, a former fashion designer (for the likes of Nanette Lepore and Anne Klein).
The biz debuted as a pop-up shop within the former Heirloom Books; when the bookstore closed, Connelly took over the lease. In a time when many design-minded shoppers are in favor of having fewer, higher-quality things, The Commons’ assemblage, including works by local artisans such as ceramicist Miyako Fujiwara and knot-tier Keith Hudson, feels particularly relevant. Now in the mix is Connelly and Clark Speake’s own Shelter Collection: glasses, cups, mugs, tea steins, pitchers, and cutting boards made in partnership with STARworks and Axis and Arbor, an area wood-working firm. Each piece is handmade, so no two are exactly alike—and that suits Connelly just fine. “There’s a soul; these things are made by humans,” she says. “Once you start to tap into that difference, you won’t want to go back.”
Meet the local makers whose wares are sold at The Commons
➼ Miyako Fujiwara: The Harvard Ceramics Program grad produces wheel-thrown vessels (like nesting bowls) for practical use as well as hand-built sculptural pieces.
➼ Chris Pelletier: As founder of The Grist Workroom, the artist produces horn-shaped key chains (or pendants) from brass and hand-carved oak ($100).
➼ Sailor Craft Knots: Keith Hudson uses natural and nylon marine rope to craft dog leashes, monkey’s fist weights, doormats, coasters, and more.
➼ Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.: Cousins Brooks Reitz (Erin Connelly’s fiancé) and Taylor Huber make bitters, tonics, cocktail cherries, grenadine, and other bar goods.