Meg Gleason is never afraid to push the envelope. With her partner, Chad, she runs Moglea (pronounced MOH-GLEE), a design and letterpress studio in Iowa. “Sometimes when I see design slant a certain direction — right now it’s very Matisse, very flat,” she says, “I try to be like, what can we do to be the opposite? I’m always trying to go a different direction.” The result is a colorful, hand-painted aesthetic that is perfectly imperfect and instantly recognizable. New to West Elm this spring, we’re excited to collaborate with Moglea on several items, from hand-painted wall art collections and prints to colorful clocks and notebooks. We chatted with Meg to find out about her style and inspiration and what’s next for Moglea at West Elm.
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How would you describe Moglea’s aesthetic?
I feel like it’s always changing a little bit. We definitely have a painterly, abstract style. I feel that I’m a bit more of an artist at times than a designer, and so I’m always interested in new things and new color palettes. The biggest thing that’s essential to the Moglea line is that we’re really interested in the way we make things… we always try to be innovative with that. Every new collection usually includes a different process, so it will always be the process paired with, hopefully, something that’s a fresh look. We’re trying not to just follow trends. We’re trying to set trends if we can, so we get some weird stuff every once in a while. I’m always like, I’ve gotta make things a little bit weirder! You can’t get too weird – we have an audience and we can’t mess with that – but as weird and creative as possible.
People who come to see us at shows know that we’re always changing. They say, “Wow, everything just looks so different” and “Your line doesn’t look like it did two years ago,” and they love that. If you walk into a Moglea space, it always feels new in a way. We always want things to feel new and exciting, so I think that’s why people keep buying it.
What is the production process like?
For the Birchwood Wall Art collection, I always start by painting the original, and then our team of artists use that as a guide to paint the rest of them. Our team will hand-mix all the paint colors to match — it kind of feels like paint-by-numbers sometimes! We talk a lot in the studio about how, sometimes, the paintings are too flat looking, too perfect looking. And so we’ll go back in and be like, okay, you need to loosen up your painting style. I think our team paints much better if I get them started and then kind of walk away and let them interpret it in their own way, because it has enough change and variety that makes it interesting. We’re always challenging them to add imperfections — and it’s totally fine! If there are drips of paint, that’s great. I think that’s key for us.
Can you tell us a little bit about the clocks?
My sister-in-law was telling me about how she really need a clock in a certain space, but she wanted it to be like artwork. So I tried to marry the two – an art piece that could be functional. And I know there are a lot of artful clocks in that way, but I’m not seeing a lot that are actually a hand-painted product. So we wanted to bring that to the market. They’re such beautiful things. Sometimes I wish they had numbers on them, but I think that would ruin it a little bit!
You have letterpresses in your studio that are over 100 years old! What was the process of buying your first letterpress like?
It’s interesting because you’re never buying a new machine, you’re always buying a used machine with a lot of history and a lot of experiences with it. Every press we’ve bought has been from the Midwest and we’ll personally meet the previous press owner — someone who has often made a career on that machine. We bought our first press from a man who was just retiring, and it felt like he was passing the baton to us. So we’re like, thank you! Thanks for giving us this amazing machine. And we still use it! They’re actually pretty inexpensive because most people are trying to get rid of those antique presses, mainly because they’re in horrible locations and they’re so heavy. They weigh about a ton, like 1,500-2,000 pounds on the smaller ones, and then around 3,000 for the larger ones. People will be like, ‘I have this thing in the basement – if you can get it out for me, you can have it.’ And so with our first presses, we would have to get them up off the ground and move it with a basic wedge and put it on cylinders… It’s intense!
What made you want to work with West Elm?
We’ve always had a lot of respect for West Elm’s eye for design. I’m always loving what designers are selecting for the stores, but then there’s also the wonderful LOCAL Makers brought in too. I was in the Brooklyn store for a meeting, and I realized that one of my college friend’s work was being sold in the store. I was like, oh my goodness! It was such a blessing. I love the fact that West Elm is putting money into putting independent makers in such a beautiful way. Having that exposure is amazing.
What has been inspiring you lately?
I dropped a jar of paint a few weeks ago and was kind of scraping it across the floor. Lately I’ve been doing this scraped, Coldstone-style process, and it’s been so invigorating. I love trying to figure out different color combos, just mixing colors and doing a lot of artwork to get to a point that feels fresh. So that process aspect has been really inspiring me lately. I also take a lot of color inspiration from fashion. I like the color combos and the weirdness that gets put together in fashion collections.
What’s next for Moglea?
We’re excited to dabble in fabric and home goods soon. Our line is pretty saturated and colorful, but our home aesthetic would be very minimal and muted, so it will be a different direction. We’re trying to get a chair or two done this spring, so keep an eye out!
Photos courtesy of Meg Gleason / @moglea
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