Michaele Simmering and her husband Johannes Pauwen of Kalon Studios were always making things for their home - from door pulls to tables. “There has always been a lot of willing effort to invest our time and energy in our home environment,” she says. Part of the reason was that they were quite picky about the pieces they wanted in their home, and another was that they struggled to find items that they could afford. When the couple, who are based in Los Angeles in the USA, were having some items machined, they were advised to sell them. “It happened at the same moment that we didn’t want to be shut out of our family life while having children,” Michaele says. “That was a huge moment for us.” They signed up to do a trade show and after some press - including being named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential green companies in the world - their business began to grow. “About four years ago Kalon started to take on its own life,” Michaele says. “We were running to keep up with it. That was a big moment as well.”
Michaele was born in Manhattan but raised in Rhode Island and Providence, where she went to college at Brown. Johannes is from Germany, where they both lived for some years. Now they are based in LA, where they started Kalon in 2007. All of their products are made in the US and Europe suing non-toxic and sustainable materials.
Which five words best describe you? One of the words I can’t stop thinking about that all of my family use is very persistent.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? Mine has been such a weird non-lineal path. I started as writer. I was doing freelance work and writing. My husband and I met in college in the States and then we went to Europe together. We were in Berlin from 2001 to 2005. And we started Kalon in 2007. Sometime while I was in Berlin I ended up doing work that wasn’t in my field. At that time work was so hard to get by that you would take what you could get.
But there was a creative boom in the city. Everyone was figuring out that Berlin was a city of cultural production. That got me in a certain mind set to think outside of the box. When I moved back to the States my husband decided that we would try to work together from home. We thought we would give it a year and then we wouldn’t need to keep dreaming about it. It’s always worked and we kept it going. In the last the couple of years I’ve realised that it is now my path. This is what I do. But if I think about it - I can connect the dots. I feel somewhat far away from where I started except that it’s a creative process.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? I feel that I learn so many lessons all the time. I’m glad I learned some but they are challenging. What I’ve always loved about the creative process is that you can actualise something and watch it materialise. I think one of the best things about having my own company is being able to make the decision for everything across the board. How much you can do if you just really stick to it. The other thing is by sticking to things the way we wanted them to be - it has really worked. Our guiding principle was to design and structure the company the way we wanted it to be. In some ways we may have been setting ourselves up for failure but it’s been the opposite.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Running the business. I feel the highs and lows and sometimes it feels like “what are we doing”. But I feel proud of how much we have accomplished. When we started anything in green or sustainable design wasn’t very attractive. If you wanted to do anything sustainable you had to sacrifice aesthetics. People said, “You can’t make something out of the States, and you can’t use high-quality materials.” I’m proud that we’ve done it, and we still do it.
What’s been your best decision? Working for myself and doing this. It has allowed me to really flex my creative muscles. And it has allowed me to have a family life and do as much as I can with my kids.
Who inspires you? Johannes really inspires me. We have worked side by side for eight years and I love that I can still be inspired by his process and ideas.
What are you passionate about? You have to be a very passionate person to be an entrepreneur and to do the work we’re doing - it’s really not easy. If you look at Kalon I hope that the passion is clear and clearly stated. I’m totally a workaholic; I live my work. Also, I really love travelling. As a little kid, I really wanted to think about how I could see all the places in the world. Getting out of my own space really inspired me.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I really don’t have anyone that I can think of right now. Several years ago I would have answered that with Cleopatra - but that had more to do with going back to a certain period. But now I’m not really sure.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? I would love to keep making more pieces and see how far we can take our company. I would really love to finish all the rooms in the house - building furniture for each space.
What are you reading? I am reading Half of a yellow sun.
images courtesy of kalon studios