Leigh Medeiros had always encouraged her partner Mark Baker to put his carpentry and woodworking skills to use making home wares and furnishings, but it was a trip to a hunting and fishing cabin in South County that spurred him to finally take the plunge into crafting regular pieces.
There, the pair admired rustic hooks made of fallen limbs and branches on walls of the cabin. Inspired by the beauty of the woods, Leigh suggested that Mark should try his hand at it, too. To her surprise, her now-husband agreed.
Soon, found branches became prototypes for the first products the couple produced as Rhode Island Rustic, a hand-made, earthy-but-elegant home wares line recently launched from their home and studio in North Kingstown. During the past year since they launched, the duo has added serving trays, blanket ladders, and hand-dyed textiles to the lineup, which are available in their Etsy shop, online, and at various regional vendors.
Whenever possible, Leigh and Mark, who originally met as students at Hartford Art School, use reclaimed and found materials to make their wares — fallen or drift wood, salvaged pallets, and gently used leather belts are upcycled and given a new life.
While Mark — who began his career in biotech but later shifted gears to study woodworking and carpentry at Boston’s esteemed North Bennett School — focuses on the wood pieces, Leigh uses her skills to make hand-dyed linens using the shibori technique – an ancient Japanese craft that uses plant-based indigo dyes – to create beautiful, one of a kind patterns. When she couldn’t find local classes on the technique, Renaissance woman Leigh — who is a visual artist and creative coach, but has also worked in film production — turned to the Internet. “I watched a lot of You Tube videos!” she proclaims cheerfully.
That DIY attitude permeates Rhode Island Rustic’s modus operandi – the couple takes pride in every aspect of their zen-like, labor-intensive process, from stripping bark from branches, ironing fabric, and designing product tags to crafting social media posts. It’s a charming operation further uplifted by the artists’ upbeat outlook.
With every piece made from materials largely collected throughout the Ocean State, each is its own special tribute to local geography, natural elements, and the seasons. That the artists’ hands are apparent in the finished product is part of the appeal, even for the makers. “It’s like Christmas every time I unwrap one of these,” says Leigh of the shibori napkins, pillow cases, and wall hangings. “You never know what you’re going to get.”