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Miggy Mason and Roisin (Row-sheen) Giese, the two forward thinking designers behind the design studio Twelve Chairs, bond over a shared love for historic homes and ethical, responsible design. Over ten years ago, the pair opened the studio, which specializes in restoring “charm, character and craftsmanship” to older homes. During that time, they have kept their original intent, to beautify homes responsibly, with a focus on the health of the environment, charitable giving and ethical business standards. To look at their body of work, it is clear that they lack for nothing in the style department – their work is fresh and classic, a beautiful blend of modern and timeless, allowing the natural beauty of each unique home to shine. Knowing that they achieve these results while also implementing their high standards for sustainability makes their work even more appealing.
Their serendipitous meeting took place at Cornell, where they were both studying interior design. “We were lucky enough to get paired up for a semester long studio project during our junior year. We made a great team and ended up winning a mixed-use design competition for at-risk youth through the Boys and Girls Club of America. Little did we know we would team up again five years later to start our own studio.” Their program not only gave them the opportunity to meet one another, but it also helped foster their interest in sustainability, which would go on to become a major component in their future studio. “In school, sustainable design was a big part of our program and was something we bonded over then and again when coming up with the concept for our business. The first phase of our Twelve Chairs launch began with a shop in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. We developed a list of what we called “People and Planet Principles” (12 of them to be exact) that all the lines we carried in the shop had to meet. The way we incorporate responsible design into our projects has evolved over time, but it’s something we both feel passionate about.”
Indeed, their business is built on a value system that informs how they make all decisions for their business, including “thoughtful sourcing” (the use of vintage and antiques as well as locally sourced, small batch specialty items), “responsible reuse” (donating fixtures and furniture whenever possible), “giving back” (charitable donations of time and funds to combat homelessness) and becoming a “purpose-driven business” (by working toward certification as a B corporation which would legally require them “to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment”). Impressively, all of this is achieved while creating absolutely stunning spaces for their clients. Their work manages to feel luxurious and yet welcoming, a outcome of what the pair describes as “purposeful design.” “Purposeful design is always where we start. We have an in-depth process for getting to the bottom of our clients’ functional and aesthetic wants and needs before jumping into our design process. This informs everything we do to bring the home to life and is the jumping off point for creating rooms that are thoughtfully balanced with old and new, color and pattern, and the right mix of scale.”
A balance of old and new is not only a priority with the goal of sustainability in mind, the mix gives each home a charm all its own. “Vintage and antiques are such an important element in our work. They make a home feel authentic, storied, and collected over time. And when we can source vintage and antiques (or reuse a cherished family heirloom) it means we’re not taking up precious resources for something new.Don’t worry about matching the time period of the furnishings to the home or to each other. When designing for our clients we have a list of pieces and dimensions we’re looking for based on the floor plans we design. Having this on hand makes the sourcing process so much easier whether we’re shopping with an antiques dealer, local boutiques, or on the hunt further a field through online auctions and sellers. When shopping vintage personally, we feel if you find something you truly love you’ll always find a space for it.”
Their love of vintage extends to historic homes as well for many of the same reasons. “We’re drawn to historic homes for their craftsmanship, longevity, quirks, and charm. Many times, we’re adding back in interior architecture that elevates a stripped-down historic home back to the level it would have been when first built. We also preserve and restore as much as we can in terms of materiality or special historic features. When it comes to layout, we design with our clients’ functional needs in mind. That doesn’t mean taking down all the walls for big open spaces in a home that was meant to have particular functions for each room. Too much of that leads to spaces that are not to scale and don’t feel appropriate for the house. We’re always striving to respect the vocabulary of the home in both layout, furnishings, and materials and we love the extra challenge that comes with that with old homes.”
And while they often spend their days working with historic homes for their clients, they enjoy decorating their own historic homes whenever possible. “Miggy’s home was built in the late 19th century and is a brick Queen Anne Victorian with a wrap around porch and an original stain glass window on the stair landing. We’re currently working on a kitchen renovation using beautiful Pennsylvania-made cabinetry and reproduction Victorian floor tile. The house is a work in progress, but I wouldn’t have it any other way and feel we’re stewards of the home bringing it back to life and making it work for our young family.” She enjoys finding the perfect vintage and antique pieces to complement the work being done on the home. “I have many beautiful antiques from my grandmother who was an avid antiquer and frequenter of auctions. Those are the pieces that are most special to me because they remind me of her and her love and appreciation for good design and beautiful craftsmanship. Believe it or not she had the most wonderful collection of chairs. My favorite I think is a bamboo corner chair that tucks so nicely in a hall. Sooner rather than later I’d like to have a little cushion made for it. I also have the trunk that my great grandmother Michelina, who is my namesake, stowed all of her possessions in when immigrating from Italy to America in the early 1900s. I feel so lucky that it’s been passed down to me and plan to do the same with my kids when they grow up.”
“Roisin’s house is a center hall Colonial built in 1926. We took on a large renovation before we moved in and I just love the feeling it gives me. I named her Florence because the original owner’s name was Florence and now my kids refer to her as that as well. We’re going to have a birthday party for her when she turns 100 in a few years! Our next project will be building a guest house where the current garage stands. Our priority is making it feel like it was always there and belongs with the house.” She too has a particular love for the antiques that make her home unique. “I have a little white telephone table I’ve had since I was a teenager that I bought at an estate sale with my mom. She had me handle the purchase myself and gave me some tips on bargaining so when the gentleman responded that it was $10 I asked if he would take $8 and he did! It was such a thrill and from then on I was hooked. I’ve dragged that little table with me everywhere — from Boston to Philly, Cornell, and back — and it’s proudly displayed in our house now.”
Though their homes are totally unique to them as individuals, they share a unified vision when working together as team. “Our shared aesthetic can be summed up as updated traditional that is warm and inviting with a mix of sophistication and playfulness. We use a thoughtful balance of color, pattern, and texture in all of our designs which are hard-working, but never too serious. We both love rooms that are layered with a curated mix of antiques and bespoke pieces with personality.”
Another thing the two have in common, is motherhood. Miggy and Roisin are each have a two young sons, an element of their lives that has had an impact on the way they design. “Incorporating vintage furnishings with patina and time-worn finishes adds charm to a room and though we believe these pieces elevate a home they also make it feel lived in and less precious. We also like to use natural fabrics as much as possible and have some beautiful fabrics we gravitate toward for their durability and clean-ability. We also think the right frame of mind can be hugely helpful. In our owns homes, we find ourselves saying “it adds character!” when the occasional bump or spill happens.”
In addition to the practical ways that being a parent might change the way they design, the way they run their business is also something they can feel good about in terms of setting an example for future generations. “Having a beautiful, well-designed home is such a privilege. And we are so privileged to get to do the work that we do. We feel there is power for good in thoughtful, purposeful design from sourcing and reuse, to volunteering and donating funds for those who are struggling with homelessness or the transition out of homelessness. Responsible design can be realized in many different ways and we can impact change around homelessness and the environment in our everyday work and larger initiatives that we’re continually working to improve.”
5 Questions with the Designers of Twelve Chairs: Miggy Mason and Roisin (Row-sheen) Giese
TLV: Do you have a go to color combination? Or most beloved pattern?
TC: We love muted saturated color – one of our shared favorites is deep blue green. It’s more about the mix of patterns than a one specific pattern. A mix of updated florals with a geometric whether that be a stripe, check, or plaid, is a go-to classic combination.
TLV: Favorite era for design?
TC: Though it’s such an overused term nowadays, Eclectic Style or Eclecticism is the one we most identify with and how we’d categorize our work. When architects started to incorporate various past styles into their own unique designs in the late 19th and early 20th century it was such a turning point and one that eventually moved into the world of interiors as well. That was well over 100 years ago and we don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon. It has authenticity and real staying power.
TLV: Currently reading or watching?
MM: I’m watching Catastrophe with my husband which is downright hysterical and as a bonus has some beautiful interior design as part of the set. She’s reading The Mirror in the Light by Hilary Mantel which as a historical fiction tome is right up my alley.
RG: I just finished Working Moms which is hilarious and so relatable and is looking forward to watching Yellowstone with her husband when it starts up again. Her favorite book she read this summer is The Last Thing You Told Me by Laura Dave. Reese Witherspoon’s book club never disappoints.
TLV: Dream travel destination?
MM: I am missing New England after my move to PA, so a family trip to Maine and Vermont are at the top of my list. Portugal will be further out, but planning is half the fun.
RG: I have SO many. Argentina (my 7 year old wants to ski in the summer), Scandinavia specifically Sweden and Denmark, and Australia has been on my list for ages.
TLV: Is there anything coming up for you that you would like to share with our readers?
TC: We recently relocated our Boston office to Cohasset on the South Shore of Massachusetts and opened a second studio in a charming carriage house in West Chester, PA. Both places offer up so much in the way of historic architecture and we’re so excited about this next chapter of our business.
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Photos by Joyelle West / Text by Liana Hayles Newton