Master furniture maker and Guild member Charles Shackleton first met Miranda Thomas in England in 1978. Both were overseas art students: Miranda from Australia; Charlie from Ireland. Little did they know that this fateful meeting was the beginning of a life together pursuing love and craft and family.
When they left art school everyone told them that it would be impossible to make a living making functional handmade objects. They proved them wrong. Miranda went on to work for two of England’s most esteemed potters, Michael Cardew and Alan Caiger-Smith. Charlie left college early to apprentice with Simon Pearce as a glassblower. He moved to the US from Ireland in 1981. In 1983, Miranda came to visit Charlie and the Simon Pearce Mill in Quechee, Vermont. The rest, as they say, is history.
Miranda set up a pottery line for Simon Pearce, and the two couldn’t stop talking to each other about handwork and the importance enjoying life devoted to a craft. That conversation is still going strong today.
In the middle of all this, they got married and had two children, Sophie and Hugh (who now is a talented furniture maker in his own right. Sophie is training to produce in the performing arts).
Charlie and Miranda shared their perspective on life together. Read their answers to our biggest questions below!
Q: When did you decide to go into business together?
At Miranda’s encouragement, in 1986 Charlie decided to give up glassblowing and return to his first love: making furniture. He started “Charles Shackleton Furniture” in their basement while training part-time training with furniture maker Josh Metcalf. In 1987, Charles hired his first employee and started a workshop in Barnard, Vermont. He set forth to make furniture with strong evidence of hand skills.
When Sophie was born, Miranda decided to work from home and grew her own pottery business “Miranda Thomas Pottery,” also in their basement. They then moved both their workshops to Bridgewater, Vermont in separate buildings. After several years it became apparent that not only would it be more efficient to join the two businesses together, but also they were both very well philosophically aligned to create a store and business together. The business “ShackletonThomas” was born.
Q: What are some lessons you have learned from working with each other and beside each other? Do you have advice for other couples who work together?
Charlie: One of the biggest lessons learned, and we can tell you we have worked on it…. is that it is good to know your own talents and which areas you are good or not so good, and being honest and open about that.
Slowly you develop your own areas of the business to look after and enjoy. Being able to have fun during and after work is very important and having other interests outside of work is very important, those you do together and those you do apart. Remember nothing and nobody is perfect and making mistakes is totally OK and happens all the time. It is easy to become obsessed about the business, so it is important to imagine life without it and that would be OK, too. If you are a successful person you will make it work somehow whatever you do, particularly when you are passionate about it.
One of our favorite projects is to design and make tile top coffee tables together. Then, the customer gets to have a bit of both of our work, and the tiles are like paintings and stories and can come in many different colors and glazes.
Letting go and being forgiving when you have an argument (which you will have plenty of) is very important. Just remember that your relationship is more important than many arguable details. I always believe that success relies on having more than one point of view. That is why two eyes are able to accurately tell where the target is.
Miranda: Open communication, flexibility in daily schedules, know your strong and weak areas. Do not hold a grudge, and keep moving forward! True support, to stay aligned to get things done and achieved. Share equally the love of life and all it throws at you good and bad. Constantly giving acknowledgement to one another.
Q: What piece or project by each other do you love the most? Why?
C: I love the raw-fired clay and 23-carat gold leaf pieces. I love the connection between the soil and gold which is almost opposite in feeling.
M: I always think of Charlie’s “Cottage Arm Chair.” I love how welcoming it is and how it evokes so many of our passions for bold clean design, beautiful natural materials, hand skills, and stuff with character. It is grounded in his Irish Quaker roots, and his love for the traditional, so-called “simple,” country life in the West of Ireland.
One also notices there is an elegance, a refinement to it, that harkens back to his Georgian sense of proportion and style with which he grew up in. Although simple and spare in feeling, every surface speaks of the “Maker.“ You can feel every mark of every hand tool used in producing it. Spoke shaves, compass planes, chisels. It has solid natural wood construction, mortise and tenon joinery, and an unstained linseed oil and wax finish. Each arm on the chair is shaped almost like welcoming human arms, with a flat curl for resting your hands, or a mug whilst you sit. The carved curl to is also like a “worry stone” to fiddle with as you sit and have conversations. It evokes so much of what Charlie believes in. to me it just sings of Charlie.
Q: What are you most proud of about each other?
C: Miranda’s talent and creativity. Her ability to adapt to all kinds of mediums, situations, and in particular her love of people. Her incredible cooking skills. Her incredible sense of fun and adventure. Her practicality as well as her ability to understand what makes a good and happy life. That’s just a start.
M: Charlie’s ability to assess any situation and boil it down to practical actionable steps to get it fixed or done. He rarely panics, and is able to think inside his head. He also has a deep love of life, in the very minute pleasures to the grandiose. Neither of us are minimalists — we just stand back in awe!
Q: What is one word or short phrase you would use to describe each other?
C: A beautiful soul.
M: Magical soul
Q: What are some things you have in common?
C: Love to make. Love life. Love people. Love the natural world.
M: Ditto. Perseverance. Sense of adventure around every corner
Q: For what in your life together do you feel most grateful?
C: Friends, a beautiful place to live, and having a passion.
M: Healthy, happy children, having a passion, love of nature, belief in handwork, gardening and the outdoors.