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What’s On My Desk: Martha McQuade, Architect + Designer

A carefully curated environment is key to her productivity.

What’s On My Desk: Martha McQuade, Architect + Designer
Photo by Martha McQuade

Martha McQuade’s all-white workspace in Northeast Minneapolis is known to more than 14,000 Instagram followers (@mwmmpls) who obsess over her every design detail, like the simple light bulbs that dangle from lofted ceilings on basic black cords, and the leafy greens that seem to flourish year round.

Her many fans know that she hand dyes scarves and creates minimalist women's apparel, which photographs beautifully against her white walls. They know that McQuade herself is camera shy, preferring to show her work and her space while hiding her face behind a sewing machine. 

But before McQuade found social media notoriety, she was an architect. In addition to her scarf collection, sold online at scarf-shop.com, she and co-founder Dan Clark run MAD, which they describe as a design house offering an unusually broad array of services for a boutique firm, including architecture, interior and landscape design, styling, art direction, and furniture production.

As such, McQuade doesn’t really have a desk. 

“We have long rows of huge work tables in the middle of the room where we lay out all our projects so we can work on them all at the same time,” McQuade says. “Around the perimeter of the room we have smaller narrow tables where we collect materials and objects that we find interesting. The objects change and move around a lot and the different juxtapositions are inspiring.”

McQuade shared a table filled with colors and textures she’s currently liking. 

On her desk: 

Folded paper tessellation. My son made it.
Green paper circle cut-out. We used it in developing a GIF logo for a project.
Sketch. This is an early sketch for a house we just completed.
Textile. This is a piece from my dryer lint collection.
Paintings. Some work I made on concrete. 
Book. One of my favorite art books is Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec: Drawing. It’s an amazing compilation of color, shape, volume and line and I always have it sitting out on my desk.


How important is environment to your productivity/creativity? It’s the most important thing. Our space is in an out-of-the-way non-artist building, so we don’t have much noise or people walking by, which is perfect for me. It’s painted completely white and super light filled and airy. We purposefully keep it studio focused—no sofas, rugs, lounge/kitchen spaces (we do have tons of plants though!). It’s a work space filled with our work and this is key to keeping focused and productive. We’ve organized the space with large work tables in rows at the center, with circulation space at the walls. This helps the space feel less cluttered, more open and insures that no one is facing a wall.

Where do you do your best work? In our studio, standing at one of our huge tables.

How much work do you actually do at the tables? I do most of my work at one of the tables, but I’m constantly moving around to different ones. Of course, I do some computer work at home and at coffee shops too.

Are your tables always this picture-perfect? The contents are always changing and shifting. At certain points they get messy but usually they aren’t all chaotic at the same time. One of my favorite things to do is organize and re-organize all our little objects and materials into new juxtapositions.

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