COME ON IN
One of our occasional visits to the homes of Southern artists and artisans
Eric and Lori Wright - North High Shoals, GA
Q& A by Kyle Tibbs Jones | Photos by Rinne Allen
“In one mile take a right on Hog Mountain Road.”
Hog Mountain Road makes me smile. I do as Google Lady instructs. I'm now on a picturesque two-lane, winding through hills and valleys, cows congregating in pastures, houses with miles in between. Soon, I find myself at Eric and Lori Wright’s white clapboard house, picket fence, American flag waving in the wind.
“You have arrived at your destination.” Here I am at the home of the Wrights and the workshop of their business, Me Speak Design. It's 15 minutes outside of Athens, Georgia, in a community called North High Shoals. And yes, Google Lady, I have arrived, in what looks to me like heaven.
Lori and Eric have been married seven years and have three children. Claire, 12, and Julia, 10, are Lori's daughters from a previous marriage, and Max, their son, is 4. Both Eric and Lori grew up in the deep South but were raised living with an Asian aesthetic. Lori's mother is Japanese-Hawaiian, and Eric's mother and father were always drawn to Asian-influenced furniture and art.
Those influences are clear in the simple zen-like feel of Me Speak's products and their woodblock print logo. The same Asian influences are sprinkled throughout their home, but the overall vibe is more eclectic. The house is filled with color, and many pieces of its furniture were made by Eric. There’s a garden, a screen porch wrapped around the back, and their workshop right next door. In the back yard is another structure they plan to transform into an office / guest house.
The whole assemblage feels like a hodgepodge of Southern, Asian and rural influences — filled with the vibe of a sweet, sweet family.
Before moving to North High Shoals, the Wrights lived in a much larger house in an Athens suburb. But, like so many of us in recent years, financial pressures and job changes forced a move on the family. Their idea was to downsize. This house in little North High Shoals was the second home they looked at, and they fell head over heels in love with it. Everyone in the little town knows the house as “Aunt Myrt’s.”
The story goes that one extended family built three white clapboard houses — one in the late 1800s, the second in 1900 and the final one in 1940 — all of which stand today. The middle house, built in 1900, belonged to the family’s Aunt Myrt, who raised seven children there. At some point, a person outside the family bought it and didn't take care of it. But eventually Aunt Myrt's niece bought it, bringing it back into the family. The niece not only rescued the house, but also restored it. The niece is a writer who envisioned the house as a creative haven, a place that would be comfortable for writer's workshops.
Aunt Myrt's niece loved the Wrights and believed they would carry on the creative spirit of the house. They worked out a deal quickly. In fact, Aunt Myrt’s niece loved Eric and Lori so much she left the armoires and a very cool upright piano. Aunt Myrt’s niece now lives on Tybee Island, off the Georgia coast, but the Wrights occasionally see Aunt Myrt's 82-year-old son at church.
The house is big in spirit but small in scale; still, the Wrights were determined to make it their home. To make the move work, they sold or gave away most of their things so they could make a good new life in the smaller spaces of Aunt Myrt’s house.
I sat down with Lori in their charming kitchen to chat.
When someone walks into your home, what's usually playing on the stereo?
“Something is always playing — usually something soulful. Jason Isbell — I cannot stop playing his new record. Avett Brothers. St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Max plays the trumpet with St. Paul. He has never taken one lesson and he can play every note of their songs. He amazes us."
Max is a beautiful, creative and funny young man. He lives with autism — a difficult proposition, surely, but one that also yields great gifts, such as his ability to play the trumpet without having had a single lesson. Max is a very cool little guy.
How much time do you spend in the house and how much in the shop?
“Some days we'll take off, and we'll focus on the business side of things. Photograph the work and return emails. But mostly, we're in the shop. Back and forth between the shop and the house, all ... day ... every ... day.”
In the shop’s fridge, Eric and Lori keep a huge supply of Popsicles for the kids. But to earn a Popsicle, the kids have to help with the work. And they do. Max is shop-vac guy. Claire loves to weld. Julia does a little bit of everything, including shop signage. In the winter, Eric also cooks on the potbelly stove, which they installed to keep the studio warm. Eggs for breakfast in a cast-iron skillet, with coffee.
This feels like a great party house. Do you entertain?
"We do like to entertain. Like at every one's house, we usually all end up in the kitchen. But mostly, our friends come over for what has become known as Porch Drinks."
"We love to sit on our front porch with friends and talk into the wee hours. I'm known for a Porch Drink called ‘The Special.’”
What's The Special?
"It's any drink I make. They're all special! (She laughs.) They're just all very very strong."
Books? What do you like?
"We read cookbooks. All the cookbooks. Which is sort of crazy because I never follow a recipe. We have loads of them, and truly, we both read them front to back. We also have a healthy collection of Japanese design books."
Is there a passed-down piece of furniture that you've worked around or can't part with?
“A small beautiful table. Eric's great-grandfather built it. When we got married Eric's dad gave it to us. In our wedding ceremony, we took communion on that table. It's now my nightstand and the inspiration for two tables that will soon be available on our website. Stay tuned!”
I could spend all day in your kitchen. What's your favorite thing to create in here?
"We make our own hot sauce, and it's damn good. Just brought in two huge buckets of jalapenos from the garden and I’m about to start on a batch. My Uncle Kimo makes hot sauce in Hawaii. It's called Ole Ole's Chili Pepper Water. His method? He takes a shot of it before he eats. After that, everything you eat is spicy! It works because his hot sauce is very thin. It’s called pepper water. I've tried it his technique. It actually works."
In the shop, Eric and Lori keep their lemon tung oil in Ole Ole's bottles.
Is there a Wright family mantra?
"Because of Max, we are very involved in all things around autism. Eric's mother suffers with Alzheimer's, and we do a good bit with those groups as well. When you live with these things, it's real and it's important. We're all about family here. And that's one of the reasons we ended up at Aunt Myrt’s. We felt like we didn’t have time together. This business and our shop right outside the house was our antidote for a modern fractured lifestyle. Living life and living it honestly and as simply as possible — that's our plan going forward."