Friday, September 4, 2015

Philly Made: Port Richmond's Peg and Awl reclaims materials, ideas

"Reclaimed materials are my obsession," says Margaux Kent, one half of the husband and wife duo that makes up the creative nucleus of Port Richmond-based home goods makers Peg & Awl. "I have no idea where it came from, it just has always been. It's amazing how much weight in old stuff we have."

Philly Made: Port Richmond's Peg and Awl reclaims materials, ideas

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Shortly after World War II, firearms manufacturer Heckler & Koch began development on what ultimately would become the G-3 assault rifle, designing along with it the various bolts, straps, and accouterment that typically come with any well-manufactured war machine. Of particular note was the weapon’s sling, owing the honor to its thick, robust leather construction and simple design.

By the looks of it, the sling was designed solely to carry the full nine pounds of the G-3’s form, and that’s what it did up until H&K stopped production on the model in 1997. Still, though, the slings float around, a surplus left over for enthusiasts to sift through thanks to the G-3’s enormous international popularity and H&K’s formidable manufacturing output.

But while the simple sling was once intended to carry devices that forced people out of their lives, it has since been repurposed to carry devices that bring them back in. Namely house keys, shopping club cards, and perhaps the occasional bottle opener in the form of a keychain.  A small gesture, yes, but in reclaiming an object’s material, we also reclaim it’s idea.

“Reclaimed materials are my obsession,” says Margaux Kent, one half of the husband and wife duo that makes up the creative nucleus of Port Richmond-based home good makers Peg and Awl. “I have no idea where it came from, it just has always been. It’s amazing how much weight in old stuff we have.” 

Started in 2010 out of Margaux and husband Walter’s Philadelphia home after the latter returned home from a tour in Iraq, Peg and Awl has since ballooned into a two-floor production housed in the old Atlas Casket Company building in Port Richmond. Like the materials it stores, the space itself has too been reclaimed—its casket conveyor now used to move wood (and sometimes Walter at the end of a long day), the coffin inventory area repurposed into a fully equipped carpentry shop. 

In one area of the building, floor joists from old Philly row homes or boards from water towers wait to be turned into desk caddies or tree swings. In another, a box of old Victorian-style shoes and leather leftovers sit until they meet their fate as leather journal covers. The result to most would look akin to a home goods scrapyard, but for the Kents, it’s closer to a garden of decay waiting to be made beautiful—an aspect that both credit to the inspiration they take from history.

“So much of what we see when we go to make something comes from that historical influence,” says Margaux. “I’m quite fond of the ‘time machine’ aspect, which is easy for us since so much started here in Philly.” Walter, for his part, was homeschooled with a strong focus in history, his family even focusing their vacations on historical places. 

Peg and Awl’s output reflects that in what Walter calls a “timeless quality” thanks to a combination of period styles that highlight simple, elegant design while still being functional and long lasting. And in today’s increasingly impersonal, object-based society, that return to timeless, small batch goods with a story seems to be an ever-increasing movement. For the Kents, that simply makes sense. 

“You don’t have to replace something every year,” Margaux says. “It will evolve with you as it shows wear. It’s like inheriting something.” 

After all, when we buy an antique for a flea market or cherish an object handed down through generations, we are valuing the pockmarks and visual history that has developed over time. Increasingly, especially in cities like Philadelphia, it is those historical specks that we look for after centuries of industrialization, seemingly as a way to reclaim our idea of Americana. And, again, as we reclaim materials, we can reclaim those ideas.

“It definitely stems from the madness that has been happening since the first canned good happened,” Margaux says. “There are a lot of failings in making things in such multiples. With the internet and its ability to bring people together, people are seeing that we can do things in a small way and get the word out.”

Indeed, that is why Peg and Awl includes a tag about the material that makes up the object you’re buying—an idea that came from Margaux’s dad after he saw her having trouble peddling her wares at a craft show. Now, whether it’s a decoupage candleholder or a sturdy canvas bag, you’ll know exactly where you’re thing came from, so to speak.

“Without those stories, Peg and Awl wouldn’t exist,” she says. “People would just wonder how we got our leather to look so old.”

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