Stories from middle America

The object enthusiast studio

You know those people who can remember everyone’s name, are great with numbers, or have impeccable timing? It’s usually a skill that comes so easily to them, they’re oblivious that it’s basically a super power.

Emily Reinhardt’s super power is style, and it’s most evident in the subtly Bohemian collection of ceramics she designs and produces for her company, The Object Enthusiast.

Follow her Instagram feed, and you’re treated to gorgeous photos of her work and other striking compositions. It’s clear she understands all the little ways that you can imbue your personal aesthetic into aspects of your life and business. And it never feels staged because her styling comes from such an authentic place.

Most likely because she’s an authentic person. She’ll sip on a Miller Lite while glazing gold patterns on a delicate ring dish. She’s honest and open about the struggles of running a small business, yet has confidence when she speaks about her artistic talents and goals. And she’s genuinely rooting for her peers to succeed and for Omaha’s creative community to grow and prosper.

Emily recently moved into a new, beautifully organized studio space at Bench. We popped over for a chat about her thoughts on the “maker movement” and to learn more about her creative process. (And maybe drink a Miller Lite or two.)

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COOP: We met via the power of the internet! I was stalking your work on Instagram (thanks to our now-mutual friend Amanda‘s recommendation) and dreaming of a way to get one of your pieces in a project. That’s when I realized you were in Omaha!

How long have you been here and where did you originally call home?

Emily: I love hearing the story of how you found me, Jessica! I’ve lived here for almost two years; I grew up in the KC area and was living in Wichita for about 10 months before I came to Omaha.

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COOP: How did you choose ceramics as your medium? For years it seemed like ceramicists didn’t get the same kind of love as painters or photographers. Lately, I’ve felt a big push to celebrate work like yours. Do you think it’s because your pieces are functional as well as beautiful? And is that why cities are beginning to focus on their “maker” communities?

Emily: I discovered ceramics when I took my first class in 2008, basically just to fulfill a three-dimensional design requirement for my art education major. I received some mild praise from a professor, and when he left the room, my instructor was so excited. She told me that he never says that to anyone and that I should change my major to ceramics. I think I went to the office right after class to make the switch — I might have even left class early to do it.

I think so many people are torn between the “art versus craft” debate, and a lot of people don’t agree on where ceramics belongs. I am happy to be called a maker — I want my goods to be lived with. I never picture them on a pedestal in an all-white gallery. I think people are finally starting to focus on building up a collection of objects that they can live with. Fine art isn’t accessible to everyone, but a lot of times pottery can be.

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COOP: Tell me a little about your creative process?

Emily: I am hit with new ideas at any time. It’s usually just a thing that I usually live with that I picture to be designed differently. Whether it’s a planter or a salt shaker or an incense holder. Some ideas take longer than others to figure out; it rarely happens on the first try. But I’m not a sketcher. I hate to draw because I don’t think I’m very good at it. I usually just dive right in with an idea and try to build one right away. Sometimes it comes out right, other times it needs a few adjustments. Lately I’m trying really hard to push myself away from just white and gold objects. I can’t help but love that combination.

COOP: What does a typical work day look like for you?

Emily: A work day usually starts around 6:45. I walk the dog, make coffee, hopefully breakfast, and I’m usually at the studio around 9. Each day is a little different. Some are devoted to computer work and shipping orders, other days are all about making or glazing or something else. The dirty, clay-filled days are my favorite.

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COOP: What is the biggest business mistake you’ve made?

Emily: I’ve had a handful of “oops” moments, and I learn so much from them. But they’re awful. Last year, I definitely got myself in trouble with saying “yes” too often. I would get caught up with requests for my work and feel totally flattered and excited, and I over-committed myself BAD last year. I overdid it with wholesale orders and shows and “made-to-order” items in my shop around the holidays. Burnout wasn’t something I was expecting to feel so early on in my career. It left me scrambling for new ideas and feeling uninspired. I made some changes and still catch myself getting overwhelmed at times, but I knew I didn’t want to get back to that place of feeling uninspired.

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COOP: As much as I love the idea of “follow your passion, and the money will come,” that’s not always what happens. What’s one concrete piece of business advice you’d give to someone looking to turn their passion into profit?

Emily: I know that I am never done learning. About my business, my craft, my purpose . . . all of that. I think one of the best things we can do is to keep allowing ourselves to learn more. Invest in opportunities that broaden your perspective, that help you grow and develop and pick up a new skill or talent. When I think about the things I don’t know yet, I catch myself looking forward to what will be different in five or 10 years. What will I be really good at then? What new skill will I have picked up? What will I know?

All photos by Heather and Jameson

Never underestimate the power of a clothing exchange. You can purge your closet of unloved clothing and bring it to new life with fresh garments — all in one fell swoop.

That’s why Heather and I decided we needed to host one. We were each tired of standing in front of our closets on a daily basis with glazed-over eyes, empty of all inspiration.

Heather offered up her photography studio as a space for the event, and I offered up the mixing of a cocktail. One Facebook invite later… voilà!

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The system of a successful clothing swap

When our guests arrived, they traded in their clothes for tickets with which to “buy” other clothes. We had three ticket levels:

  • Thrifty ($0-$25)
  • Moderate ($25-$75)
  • Splurge ($75+)

To make the shopping fair and fun, we had an upgrade system! Three Thrifty tickets obviously got you three Thrifty items, or you could use all three to get one Splurge item. Two Thrifty tickets got you one Moderate item. Alternatively, if you had one splurge ticket, you could pick out three Thrifty items or two Moderate pieces. Get the idea?

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Of course, we had jewelry in the mix, as well as shoes. The jewelry was kind of a steal. You could trade one Thrifty ticket for four pieces of jewelry!

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After all of our guests had spent all their tickets and drank at least one mixed cocktail, they left with new ideas and new inspiration. Heather and I gathered up anything that hadn’t found a new home and bagged them up to deliver to Goodwill. Nothing like a full recycle of these no-longer-worn clothes!

The night was such a success that we plan to have the event again. Be sure to watch for the invite so you and your unwanted clothes can attend!

I’ve carried a lot of my parents’ mindset about home decor into my own adulthood.

If I’m not replacing something that’s damaged or badly stained, the guilt is very real. But I already have this, even though I really don’t like it. But it still works, even though it’s kind of shabby looking. But his mom painted that, so I can’t paint over it.

Remember my guest room? A month ago, it still had my comforter set from college, my bedroom furniture I painted in high school, and a rather dreary rug I picked up on clearance at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

Fixing up that room for Air BnB has proven to be tougher and more emotional than I would have ever guessed. I’ve wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Screw this!” on several occasions. But two things have helped me put on my big girl pants and power through:

  1. The room doubles as my office. I’m in there between six and 10 hours a day, so I better damn well like it.
  2. Jessica took out a ton of the guess work for me. Having specifics spelled out for me eased a lot of my anxiety.
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Focus on what’s good

Instead of focusing on stuff that made me anxious (am I being wasteful? Is this frivolous? Why do I need things to be pretty, dammit?), it was encouraging to focus on the room’s good points. When I let myself come up for air, I found a few things that I loved about the room already:

  • Natural light. The guest room/office gets the best light in the house. It feels airy and peaceful all day long.
  • The wall color. A super pale olive that I love, the paint helps the room feel bigger than it is.
  • Neutral bedding.By the time Jessica peeked her head in, I had managed to say goodbye to my college comforter set. The new bedding doesn’t scream “Hello! I’m here!” when I’m in video meetings.
  • Heirloom Samsonite suitcases. They still have my great-uncle’s name and address in the tags, which I think is an awesome touch of the past.
  • A computer chair with personality. I found a pale, wooden computer chair on Craigslist and instantly gave away my huge black office chair.
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The trick was to let these elements shine through without detracting from the room’s dual purpose (guest room + office) and without massively redoing everything (not good for the bank account, not good for my mental well being).

Get rid of what’s holding you back

The trouble with holding onto things out of guilt is that it’s tough to view them objectively. It’s hard to curate a room when you’re seeing “she’d get mad” or “bad purchase” instead of simply “ugly rug” or “tiny lamp.” It helps to get feedback from someone who doesn’t see the extra baggage.

Jessica helped me pinpoint some specific things that were holding the room back from the peaceful, airy feeling I wanted:

  • The rug. The dark color sucked the life out of the room, and it was too large. It also didn’t vacuum well and had a contemporary, geometric pattern that didn’t mesh with the 1930s cottage thing.
  • The wall art. A couple pieces were too small for the wall space, and another piece had a dark, outdated matting and frame.
  • The pillows. Old and flat, they didn’t look welcoming at all.
  • The bedside lamp.Too small for the corner and kind of the same color as the wall, it got lost quickly.

Realize the power of tiny fixes

It’s all well and good to point out things that have to go in your life. I still needed some pointers to make sure I didn’t just fill the room back up with “this was on clearance” or “I have this thing in the attic.” After some gentle prodding from Jessica, here’s what I introduced back into the room:

  • A mirror. Larger than the previous wall art, the mirror is still simple and not so contemporary that it feels at odds in an 80-year-old house.
  • A new rug. This handwoven silk rug was definitely a splurge piece. It adds an awesome feeling of “This is my power office,” rather than “Here’s the random corner where I’m online all day.”
  • A larger lamp. I was afraid that a taller lamp would overpower the twin bed, but Jessica insisted I wouldn’t regret it. The large white shade pops nicely against the neutral green wall.
  • New pillows. A couple new shams and a large decorative throw pillow are making me side-eye my master bedroom now.
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There’s still more I could do, of course. Some 95-inch curtains wouldn’t go amiss, and I’d like to redo the matting and frame on that one art piece. The hub and router for the internet are still an unsightly mess of wires that I haven’t figured out yet.

But I already feel more relaxed walking in here every morning. I’d be proud to offer it to any guest. Guilt-free.

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I cannot tell you how much social media makes me long to be a fancy photographer. I refuse to follow people who post poorly lit images or blurred lunch shots. I feel a sense of false superiority when I reach the coveted “11 likes” level on Instagram. Because of this many of these platforms are not so much a reminder that everyone is living a better life than me — it’s that most people are better photographers than I am.

And here’s my ultimate problem: I’m competitive in the most unfortunate way. If I’m not going to be awesome at something, I don’t want to do it at all.

At first, I thought this was just laziness. I have a collection of half-assed hobbies I’ve hoped to master based on natural talent: partially filled journals of incomplete stories; a guitar, resting neatly next to a borrowed piano; a dusty collection of fancy cameras set to Auto mode.

There are so many moments in our lives when we need to realize that we don’t have all the answers or skills. Humans sitting right next to us offer expertise beyond our experiences.

I get really embarrassed when I put myself out there with a creative talent. Writing for COOP on a regular basis was Amanda Actually Trying Step 1. Being a part of a team of different discipline forced me to put aside my insecurities and finally just write. Just writing has been the biggest reward.

Step 2 was taking a photography class from Hooton Images. It went awesomely — and horribly — all at the same time. I forgot to charge my battery. The first picture we took, my shutter speed was waaaaaaaaay wrong, and five seconds later it finally closed. The whole class looked at me.

But I learned and put myself out there in a way I had only done behind filters and staged iPhone shots before. Now I have a mentor that I trust and who will push me to keep trying and finally step away from my security blanket: my iPhone. It was a thrill to learn from someone whose skills I deeply admire — and to then befriend.

Step 2.1 was having my best friend get me to start dragging my camera around with me again. And take glamour shots of her.

I’m embracing the learning process, instead of focusing on the end goals. Celebrating my friends who have deep talents that I can learn from is one of the best things in my life right now.

I can’t wait to take another class.

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Black-and-white photos by Hooton Images. All other photos by Amanda Rucker