Ladies We Love: Woodworker Molly Shea Ryan
Here’s to the ladies who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty. LA-based woodworker Molly Shea Ryan uses hers to craft minimalist furniture, lighting and housewares that we’ve been coveting for a while—so we were extra excited to check out her studio and chat. Read on for Molly’s playlist recs, an impressive rundown of the tools she uses, tips on running a creative business and more.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?
Currently I live in Silver Lake with my husband and two dogs. I grew up in Santa Monica but have bounced around different neighborhoods on the east side for the past 12 years.
My studio is in a little industrial zone in Atwater Village that my sister found about four years ago. I share the space with four other women who are all artists in different mediums. I design and build furniture, lighting and housewares, though I’m mostly focusing on lighting right now. I sell on my online store, with Etsy and directly to designers.
Let’s talk go-tos…
Coffee order: With cream and honey
Outfit: Jeans, T-shirt, boots. Every single day.
Neighborhood spot: Casita Del Campo
Album/playlist: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. Also, the Annie Lennox Spotify radio is golden.
Weekend plan: Snowboarding in Mammoth
Has woodworking been a longtime interest of yours? How’d you get into it?
In the ’70s my mom was an antique dealer, artist and general badass. She would take my sister and me out to hunt for gems at thrift stores and teach us how to restore ratty old furniture. When I moved out and had to furnish my own spaces this hobby really came in handy, but there were some things that I just couldn’t find at the thrift store. I decided to take a woodworking class so I could build my dream dining table! I really fell in love with it and started to do small custom pieces on the side, and it kind of just evolved from there.
We love the minimalist style of your designs. Can you tell us about some of the inspirations behind them?
Thanks! I’ve always been drawn to straightforward, utilitarian and purposeful design, both in my interior and personal (clothing) style. I appreciate the materials I work with—mostly wood, metal and glass, sometimes cloth, leather, marble and concrete—and I like the material to speak for itself aesthetically.
Fill us in on your process (and some of the cool machines you get to use). How do you go from an idea to a finished product?
Most of the time my process is really scatterbrained! I typically just build from an idea in my head. This leads to numerous prototypes and sketches to get the dimensions and overall feel right. Occasionally I’ll sit down and force myself to sketch and get my juices flowing—I rarely ever make digital sketches. I’m really bad with the computer side of business.
When I build furniture I use every machine in my shop—table saw, chop saw, jointer, planer, etc. But for the lighting and smaller pieces I’m doing more of these days, I use my bandsaw, router, chop saw and drill presses, and, of course, orbital sander. [Ed. note: Yes, of course! ] About half of my machines are new and half are superold that I’ve found on Craigslist or at thrift stores. I love working with the old machines—they’re so hefty and sturdy, and you can feel how much use they have had through the years.
What do you love the most about working with wood?
Wood is the most beautiful natural material in the world to me. Even within its own species the grain and color and density can vary so much, making every inch of every board so unique.
I love that I can take a flat and two-dimensional slab of wood and with my own two hands (and a lot of tools) turn it into essentially any shape, for any purpose I want. I also love having some tangible evidence of all of my hard work at the end of the day.
Any advice for women out there looking to turn their creative inclinations into a business?
My advice is to go against the grain if that’s what you want to do. It’s not easy for anyone to start their own business, and women will most likely face some extra obstacles. We’re confronted by other people’s expectations and presumptions of us; they can be loud and in your face, or super-subtle and maddening.
Of course, there are moments when I long for a comfy 9-to-5, but at the end of the day my job is fulfilling not in spite of but largely because I get to do what I love and overcome those obstacles.
And finally, tell us about a lady you love.
My sister Kathleen Ryan. She’s an artist and makes large-scale sculptures in New York. She’s incredibly talented and works harder than anyone I know, and her passion for what she does always inspires me when I’m in a rut.
Thanks for hanging with us, Molly. Meet more Ladies We Love, plus shop denim like the jeans Molly’s wearing here.