Megan Sommerville and Matt Ensner, the couple behind the furniture and lighting collection called Materia Designs, have known each other since they were 14 years old. “We attended the same high school in North Carolina and met in drafting class,” says Somerville, on the phone from the duo’s studio and showroom in the Accord, New York. “But we were just friends then.”
They got to know one another on the long drives between the Northeast where they both attended college and their hometown of Asheville, and eventually got together in 2001 when they briefly moved back to North Carolina after college. The couple relocated to Brooklyn, where Sommerville spent several years working in the fashion industry while Ensner created custom furniture out of a workspace in Bushwick. While they loved the culture and pace of the city, they eventually wanted more space, and in 2008 decided to make the move north to the Hudson Valley.
They purchased a 1940s Cape Cod-style bungalow in Napanoch, which the couple gut renovated themselves. Sommerville points to the house as one of their first artist collaborations creating products. “Much of our design work stems from our own need for specific items for our own home or other projects we’re working on,” she says.
The couple began collaborating more frequently on interiors and products, and in 2013, Somerville left the fashion industry to work with Ensner full time on Materia. They debuted their first collection to critical acclaim at New York Design Week in 2014.
“A guiding tenant of our company is to use materials in a way that represents what they are as accurately and clearly as possible while also representing a larger aesthetic statement,“ says Sommerville. Some of her favorite pieces include Materia’s L’Arc scones, their first piece in lighting. “They’re a combination of wood, brass and calfskin and are very ‘us’ in that they incorporate a lot of different materials into one piece,” she says.
When it come to their creative process, “we have a similar visual vocabulary, but often approach materials and silhouettes differently,” says Somerville. “Typically in the creation of an object or project, one of us will have a genesis concept, and then the other comes in as an editor to help strengthen and develop the concept or piece. This allows us to refine our ideas and to hopefully distill the seed concept more clearly. We’ve been working this way for several years now and have found it to be a creatively satiating and productive way to work together; our best ideas always come from a synthesis of our two perspectives, influences and backgrounds.”
While they make frequent trips to New York City, living outside an urban area has allowed them the space to spread out, both literally and creatively. “And there’s a huge community of people up here who are making beautiful work,” she says.
The couple sources many of the materials for their designs from local vendors. “Most of our woods come from within 100 miles of us, and our leather and calfskin all come from a family-owned tannery close by,” says Sommerville. The pair has also begun working a good deal with stone. “It has a beautiful, modern and sophisticated quality about it, but it also has a rawness that’s organic and elemental. And that’s what we’re constantly looking for, that tension between a modern, refined aesthetic that also lets the materials be what they are.”
This trend of connecting to the natural world is something Sommerville sees across industries, from farm-to-table food to furniture design. “We’ve gone through this huge technological arc in the past 150 years and I think that a lot of American society is craving something more naturalistic and organic,” she says. “We’re always trying to push the boundaries of using natural materials and things that have been around for millennia in very modern, new and clean ways—it’s an unsurpassed feeling to touch wood that feels and looks real or see the tonality of stone. It’s so resonant with the human experience.”