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HAVEN:
ERIN MCGUINESS: THE SPIRITUALITY OF DESIGN + THOUGHTS ON DOING LESS
31 March 2022
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Curiously enough, though our studios are located just a few miles apart, I met sculptor Erin McGuiness through Instagram. I love the simplicity and quiet elegance of her work, and included a trio of her vessels in the living room of one of our projects. When Erin saw the post she reached out, and from the first time we spoke we found kinship in our shared appreciation for the spirituality of design. I’m thrilled to know her, and to be able to share with you her thoughts on art, design, and the spiritual qualities of our work.



Erin started working with clay in high school, and she quickly fell in love with the medium as both a concrete and representational expression of the earth. As a teenager going through a tumultuous period, she found working with clay to be healing, and quickly noticed that she was happiest in the ceramics studio. She followed her passion through college then, like so many artists, in her 20s and 30s she focused on making a career – not an easy task for an artist in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a strong arts culture but is an expensive place to live.

I didn’t start out thinking of myself as an artist. I fell in love with clay.


A few years ago, she paid a visit to the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County, which provided her with an “aha moment,” when she realized that it was ok to focus on her work as art. She later returned to the Zen Center for several months, where she came back to the realization that her work was more than a career, and that the clay was her meditation and her spiritual center.

For Erin, bringing spirituality to the work is a conscious decision, and the body is an important tool in the making of art.

For me, it is about being present, being in the body, being witness to the creativity that flows from my body to the material of the earth.


She sees her work with clay as a sensual way to harmonize with the earth and expand attention, following the directive of the earth as an innate artist, with an innate sense of coherence and harmony.

Her work, then, is a bit like an offering. Each vessel brings a little bit of that harmony and coherence to the inhabitants of the space it occupies. She describes each work as an offering, or a prayer. When we chose to include her vessels in the design of our client’s home, she sensed that I had – consciously or unconsciously – recognized what she hoped to share.

Which leads us to the first of the six questions we’re asking ourselves in 2022 as we seek to slow down, take a beat, and increase our awareness and attention. In a culture that keeps pushing for more, how do we do less and do with less?


What does doing less look like for you?

Doing less is really inherent in what I do. I hand-craft every piece, using a coil-building method rather than a wheel, which is slow work. I purposefully produce less, and each piece means more. I give each piece the time it needs.


How can we resist a culture that pushes for more?

We are a capitalist society, which has a light side and a shadow side. For our version of capitalism to function, it needs to feed insecurities that push us to want to be better or different, primarily through buying things.

To balance that, developing an inner sense of security allows us to need less.


We are less likely to fall prey to the siren call of capitalism. When we feel good, we need less.


How do you do with less?

In a world that can often feel lonely and disconnected, there is a tendency to fill the void with stuff. I’m part of a community of artists, which keep me connected, and are a source of mutual support and guidance. I also look to elders, artists that came before me.


How does our work in interior design fit in?

The world of design also has aspects of light and shadow. The shadow can live in having too much, but the light comes in a deep love and appreciation for the ‘body intelligence’ of materials and the numinous quality in the work of creating something of beauty. People in the design professions tend to understand that quality and appreciate it.

The design community can be an advocate for artistry and the value of old-world craftsmanship. I see designers as translators who can bring this appreciation to their clients.


They create spaces where people can come into relationship with the things we make.


Now, for some questions about the shared community where we both have our studios…what’s your favorite local restaurant?

I love Standard Fare, founded by Kelsie Kerr. It’s a labor of love.


How about a favorite museum?

It’s not local, but I love The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh; it’s all installations. Locally, I love the DeYoung, for its breadth.


A favorite book?

“The Language of the Goddess”, by Marija Gimbutas, an archeologist, professor and writer who believed the world once lived in peace. It was during the Neolithic Era, when the earth was worshiped as a goddess and societies revered women.


A sense of place is so important. Do you have a favorite place to go?

There is this hidden park – I call it The Lion’s Den – it’s like taking a soul bath. I think it must have once been sacred land. It feels like it still is.


What do you like to do to feel your soul?

I have a favorite hike in the Oakland Hills, at the edge of Joaquin Miller Park. It feels enchanted and alive.


Q+A