Be cool. Two little words on a fab wooden sign that caught our eye last year… can’t imagine why! :) The sign was made by this lovely lot – Jacks & Stripes – AKA Gordie and Mandi, who create beautiful, bespoke artwork and frames handcrafted out of reclaimed wood, at their home in Taunton.
The guys create custom-made pieces with massive amounts of love, skill and soul… and their wider support team often gets involved too! Say hello to their lovely little boy Camden and the very chilled out Indy the dog…
Way back when we first started chatting to them, Jacks & Stripes were known as 'Tomaytoes Tomahtoes' (Mandi’s from the States and yep, you guessed it, Gordie was the English tomato!) but since then, they've changed their name to reflect the combination of their country flags, created even more awesome pieces (and some flipping crazy ones – more on that in a bit) and we got a date in to meet up, so I could find out as much as possible about them and their gorgeous work...
I was also going to see a ‘Be Cool’ sign of our very own being made for Somerset cool HQ (woo hoo!) - a guaranteed way to get to grips with just how much of that love, skill and soul goes in to creating every single piece (oooh and check out that brilliant Somerset Porsche ;)).
Anyway, before we met up I thought we might hit it off (we all love vintage VW's and cider ;)) but as soon as they opened the door to their home, I knew for sure that the guys were pretty special! They have that twinkle in the eyes that comes from doing something you genuinely love.
Mandi was sitting painting a bespoke customer creation - a commission of a Spurs FC sign, which Gordie definitely approved of as a Spurs fan! Mandi put her Liverpool allegiance aside for that one ;).
When they showed me round their garden workshop, which Gordie built from scratch as an add-on to the garage, their passion for creating these unique pieces shone like sunlight.
Gordie works on the wood – often from pallets, always reclaimed. “Smell this” he said, as he popped a big plank of cedar wood under my nose! :)
He selects and painstakingly prepares every single piece of wood used in their creations... and pallet wood takes a lot of prep to reach the Jacks & Stripes standard, let me tell you! It’s de-nailed and straightened, before being stored for over a year to prevent any shrinkage (a little birdie told me that Gordie and Mandi’s airing cupboard gets pretty full) and if you take our 'Be Cool' sign as just one little example, the wood alone went through 9 different stages including planing, cutting, gluing, fixing, rounding edges, two stages of sanding and staining... phew!
Many of Gordie’s tools were inherited when his dad sadly passed away two years ago and although Gordie clearly has his dad’s woodworking talent, he told me he didn’t discover it fully until then:
“I’d always made things, but since working with dad’s tools I’ve learned so much more. He had some really cool stuff and in my head, when I need some help with a project, I find myself thinking ‘dad, how do you do this’ - and the right tool always seems to present itself. When I was little, dad made me toys on the workbench I’m now using and I’m going to do the same for Camden.”
We’re sure Gordie’s dad would be incredibly proud of that - of the pure passion that's been passed on and of all the great pieces being handcrafted with the very same tools.
After all that preparation, it's only when the wood passes Gordie's quality control that it's ready for the art department... that’s Mandi and the magic of her paintbrush! :)
Mandi honed her natural talent at the San Francisco Academy of Art and pretty much since the minute she got together with Gordie (on Independence Day 2011, when Gordie was round-the-world backpacking and Mandi met him at a house party in Seattle), they've always created things together. In the early days, there were wallets made out of beer mats, photos transferred on to wood…
… and then the idea to make cool wooden photo frames became the focus. What really inspires us about their story though, is just how much they’ve evolved the things they make, since that spark of an idea a few years ago.
Sometimes when you see awesome handcrafted stuff, you imagine that the first piece ever made was completely perfect… but of course reality isn’t like that! You have an idea, try things, change and refine them. It takes hard work, laughs, sweat and tears to arrive at something to be really proud of. That’s what Gordie and Mandi have been through and we absolutely love them for it.
As the guys explain, the first picture frame they tried wasn’t exactly a success:
“We took our prototype along to a shop in Wellington, to see if the owner fancied stocking the frames… and we were met with a very definite no! :) When we look back on it now we laugh because we’d put bits of rope on the frame for some reason – no idea why we decided to do that, but the pretty damning critique we got was totally spot on and it made us all the more determined to step up, constantly improve, make everything bespoke and never compromise on quality. We incorporated perspex in to our design and there's definitely no rope in sight… ever again!”.
Well, we’re all for the ‘no rope’ policy! :) These frames are absolutely beautiful – rustic, modern and tactile all in one go!
When they took their improved design to Bath Artisan Market it was a big hit, but as Mandi told me:
“We knew then that we needed to be creating more than just frames and from there, our ideas just grew and grew! We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from friends who’ve asked us to make things for special moments in their lives, and from the awesome people we’ve met since we started Jacks & Stripes – people who are looking for something unique”.
Well, this handcrafted sign celebrating a wedding anniversary was one of those very special, personal commissions …
... and this was the first ever book cover design they made, which kicked off a whole Jacks & Stripes book art collection! One of their friends loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ wanted their love of that book to be reflected on their wall at home and hey presto! This beautiful piece was born:
And what do you reckon to this? A unique creation for a customer who definitely doesn’t want her son leaving any dirty washing around the house! There's no way we're messing with mum! ;)
It's new ideas and customer requests like these that really make Mandi and Gordie's eyes light up and we absolutely love the fact that whatever they make, they make it totally personal. Anything you can imagine, they can create… and we mean anything! This huge, freestanding pallet wall was crafted as a backdrop for a top table at a recent wedding. Gordie worked on it for weeks and at 6x2.4 metres, it was crazy challenging - and a far cry from the 4x6 inch photo frames they started out creating!
“No-one else would make the wall, so we thought 'let’s give it a go'!"
Gordie told me, with a wry smile - and although there was one sleepless night, when Gordie had a "maths breakdown" trying to work out a particular angle to get the wall to stand properly, he'd cracked it by the following morning.
The creation was so big though that when they were practicing assembling it, they pretty much closed down their whole street! Luckily, they've got understanding neighbours who also let them store some of the pieces in their garage because the final finished wall was so huge. That gives new meaning to the phrase 'everybody needs good neighbours' ;).
Anyway, Mandi and Gordie’s ‘take on anything' spirit makes us want to shout ‘HELL YEAH!” at the tops of our voices! Whether it’s a piece of carnival wall art, a beautiful weather proof sign for Virginia's Vintage Hire (Mandi's personal favourite), or our little 'Be Cool' sign that went through all those stages before being ready to take up pride of place in our home... there's no limit to what these two creatives can make!
That leads us perfectly on to the future. What do you make to top a 6ft flipping pallet wall? ;) Well, you won't be surprised to hear there's some new, exciting things planned. As well as continuing to create beautiful photo frames and awesome artwork, Jacks & Stripes are going to make... drum roll please... furniture! This was the first piece of pallet wood furniture the guys made for their own home...
...and at either side of the TV wall, they designed and built shelves from copper and scaffold wood - a really cool combo. So, there'll be more copper and wood creations for you to have in your home too. More wedding creations are also in the pipeline, plus handcrafted pieces based on people's hobbies and passions. We can't wait to see where that will take Team J&S!
Finally, it wouldn't be a Somerset cool blog unless we got a secret out of them both! ;) Mandi tells me she's got the world's steadiest hand, which comes from having a baby gripping on to the wood of most things she paints...
As for Gordie, his secret is a real woodworker's confession!
"Most Woodworkers don't like sanding, but I secretly enjoy it. Especially on pallet wood. The transformation is awesome to watch".
He's also got another secret side to him... and it comes out on social media!
"I'm our social media monkey! I've made it more obvious recently on Instagram but before I did, I think everyone thought Mandi was posting and messaging'.
Got to admit, he had us fooled! :)
Anyway, all in all, after spending some genuinely lovely time with these guys, I can honestly say that the Jacks & Stripes approach to making their awesome artwork personal means you can be anything you want to be... and for us, that's very VERY Somerset cool.
And, if you fancy a bespoke commission, or something from Jacks & Stripes handcrafted collections, check out their Etsy shop right here, or visit The Emporium in Somerset where there's a small and perfectly formed collection of their work.
The only thing we've got left to say now, after hearing about their journey so far, is that it's a very...