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Studio Tour

Studio Tour: MAD Studio

by Shannon Grant

I often vacillate between the desire to be one of two different types of designers: the specialist, who always focuses on projects within a specific discipline, or the generalist, who has an overarching design philosophy and aesthetic that permeates all projects across various disciplines. I think I prefer generalist, because that’s part of the fun of being a designer — you don’t have to commit to just one creative mode. For Martha McQuade and Dan Clark, the latter approach is a way of life for them, and is the approach they take with MAD, their exciting multi-disciplinary design practice.

Both Martha and Dan are trained architects and have been writing, teaching and collaborating together for the past decade. It was only in 2014 that they established MAD, a studio working within the realms of art direction, styling, graphic design, architecture, textile and product design. They work out of an airy, white-washed studio space in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their studio, a diamond in the rough, is located in a quiet, industrial pocket of the city. Like many good things in life, they originally found it on Craigslist (it was one of those posts where the dark, blurry photos of the space were so bad that it was doubtful anyone was giving the ad a second look). Martha and Dan decided to pay a visit, however, and instantly saw the potential in both its inherent seclusion and spaciousness. It was not yet the airy, minimalist dream studio you see in today’s feature; in addition to painting it white from top to bottom, they had three 21 foot long work tables custom built for the space, enabling them to spread out and assemble vast quantities of work with ease. “We constantly move things around on them, changing relationships between things we are working on,” Dan says. “This helps us make connections between projects, often leading to new ideas and approaches. We think of the studio itself as an ongoing project. We reorganize it often and use it for staging/styling and photo shoots as well as a place to work.”

In terms of process, Martha and Dan are very interested in materiality and the act of making physical objects. They prefer to step away from the computer and work with actual forms and textures, make 3-D models and play with physical prototypes. It was originally a side interest in concrete, and subsequent experimentation, that led to their beautiful concrete slabs. They draw on a wide range of artistic influences; recently it’s been Ellsworth Kelly and Michael Cusack, but more frequently it’s Richard Serra, Agnes Martin and Donald Judd. “We have taken students to see Judd’s work in Marfa, TX and often think about the way he organizes space in his buildings.” It’s apparent that the space they work in informs the work they create. Their studio is a perfect starting point for ongoing experimentation, giving way to innovative ideas in a variety of creative areas that set MAD apart within the design world. Shannon

Photography by Wing Ta and Nicole Feest

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Martha and Dan working in the studio.
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A full view of the MAD studio space.
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The set up, complete with three 21 feet long custom-made tables, is flexible and can move and adapt to fit whatever they need.
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The pine and copper bench as well as the concrete plates on top were designed and made by Martha and Dan. This is the first piece you see when you walk into the MAD space.
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Lots of varied work on MAD's large work tables. Martha is working in the foreground and Alek, one of their designers, in the background.
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A selection of handmade concrete plates.
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Martha and Alek working on a styling project.
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A corner of the studio with what MAD refers to as the “sherpa wall” of hand dyed SCARFSHOP scarves.
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A pile of hand dyed SCARFSHOP scarves.
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Odds and ends found around the studio.
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The bookshelves are filled with material samples, reference books, models and styling props. The shelves act as a room divider. The dye/concrete room is just behind these shelves.
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A handmade model of one of MAD's house renovation projects.
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Off in the distance you can see some of MAD's clothing samples for their collection, which is just one of their many creative endeavors.
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One of dozens of plants that are scattered around the studio. The light filled space is great for greenery.

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