As the Grumman G-21 Goose flew around the mountains, poised to land in the water, the rainy clouds parted to reveal a beautiful sunny day. Jen Rose and Devin Miller, with baby Kai in arm, stared out of the plane’s windows, watching Nimmo Bay appear from the woods. They were in pure awe of the landscape that they’d entered. It was set to be an incredible few days of adventure and craftsmanship.
Meet Miller + Co.
Jen and Devin make up the duo behind Miller + Co. Wood Studio and Pottery. They are husband and wife makers; Jen is the potter and Devin is the wood worker. The business officially launched in 2013 and their current studio is in Duncan, British Columbia. Miller + Co. connected with Nimmo Bay a few years ago. It was a time when they were looking to build a new community after moving back to Vancouver Island during the pandemic.
This was the moment when they needed people the most, but as the world was in lockdown, people just couldn’t come and find new businesses. Jen says it was pure manifestation that brought them to Nimmo Bay. They’d had many Nimmo adjacent touchpoints since 2015, connecting with other makers we work with. We’d say that like finds like, and their incredible craftsmanship speaks volumes above manifestation.
Arriving at Miller + Co. was a trajectory the two of them hadn’t quite anticipated. While Devin has woodworking in his blood (his dad did high-end homebuilding), the road he took diverted into a few different paths. Career #1 was becoming a commercially licensed pilot. Career #2 launched him into being a certified firefighter. However, when an accident sidelined him, Devin turned inward, re-kindling the spark for woodworking.
Jen also took a few roundabouts along the way. She started out at culinary school, dreaming of owning her own café. But one day, a chef pulled her aside and said, “you’re a good cook, but I think there’s something more out there for you. And I think you should explore that”. While those words may seem harsh, in the end, it led her to pottery. As Devin grew Miller + Co. as a woodworking business, it started taking off. He was being hired to build furniture for corporate clients, so Jen decided to leave her position at Lululemon and help run the business. While she thought it was her future to climb the company ladder, her soul called her in a different direction.
And the rest is history.
As both husband and wife and business partners, things can get tricky. Running your own business takes an incredible amount of time and energy. Likewise, building a relationship takes an equal amount of effort. It took many years and some serious struggles to finally feel comfortable in the communication within their relationship. They’ve also had to sort through the strengths and weaknesses they each bring to the business side of things. Though no matter what, in the end, the most important thing is their relationship, they are Jen and Devin first, and Miller + Co. second.
Art in the Wild
Nimmo Bay invests in the local makers who craft so much of what we use and display at the resort. We value not only the passion they put into products, but also building a strong relationship with the makers. Our favourite way to support local makers is to bring them up to the resort to be inspired and create in the wild. It’s our goal to create an atmosphere for artists to thrive. A place where they can experience unbridled creativity in the Great Bear Rainforest. To provide a partnership that authentically captures how the maker and Nimmo Bay co-exist.
Jen and Devin came to Nimmo Bay to do just that, create wares exclusive to the resort and grow this partnership and collaboration in the wild. These pieces would all be unique, infusing the essence of Nimmo Bay directly into the woodgrain of a bowl, or the colour on a piece of pottery. There were two plans in motion at once, Devin would Shou Sugi Ban (literal translation ‘burned cedar’) the exterior of his hand-turned wooden bowls, and Jen would fire pottery in a makeshift oil barrel kiln. They were game for anything and everything! We picked a rocky outcrop a short boat ride away to set up, the scene was set.
Out on the Rock
Fire, Clay, and Wood
It was impressive to watch them both enter the zone when we arrived at the spot. Jen started unpacking the raw pieces of pottery, setting them down on the rocks, a beautiful juxtaposition. We’d spent the days before gathering raw materials from the ocean, forest, and beaches to put into the kiln with the pieces. Crab and prawn shells, seaweeds, mosses, and flowers were all placed inside the kiln to give the pottery colour as they burned.
At the same time, Devin stacked up rocks and a large log to balance his bowls on top of. With flame throwers and torches at the ready, he began to delicately burn the outside of the bowls. Shou Sugi Ban is a traditional Japanese method of preserving and protecting wood. Charing the wood enhances its durability but also creates a beautiful contrast. The light inside grain of the natural wood stands out against the dark black outside. Devin lights up when you delve into the science of this technique.
He chose white oak for these bowls, “it shows well when it chars, the torch basically hits the wood and you’ll see it start to change colour. And then you’ll see that carbon sheen build up and right at that moment when you see the change from a kind of slight tinge to a little bit of a sheen, where the wood is starting to change on a cellular level, you’ve got to stop”.
These techniques are incredibly precise and this isn’t a controlled environment that they’re working in. The pieces are truly wildcrafted, with Jen and Devin synching up with the wind, rain, and the Great Bear Rainforest landscape. They’ve got the confidence and skills that even in the face of unpredictability, they can create beautiful, high-quality pieces.
Unveiling THe Pieces
They worked into the afternoon, as the wind blew all around us. While Devin packed up his pieces to take back that day, Jen’s kiln had to stay out on the rocks overnight to cool. We would just have to wait in anticipation until the morning. The next day, Jen’s nervous and excited energy was palpable, we could all feel it. What would we find inside that kiln? As the boat pulled up to the rocky island the next morning, it was high tide. The oil-barrel kiln had only 1-foot of clearance above the water and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Jen lifted the lid off the kiln and dug her hands into the ashes to reveal to us what was inside. There were sweeps and splashes of earth tones covering each piece of pottery. The flames, organic materials, and wind that whipped through the barrel dictated the colours. These pieces designed by the wild, “it’s unique, it’s authentic to the area, and it can’t be recreated outside of Nimmo Bay. And that’s what I [Jen] wanted, I wanted to create something that there will never be two of the same of”.
Each piece of pottery removed from that kiln is one of a kind. Jen finished the pieces at her studio on Vancouver Island, and you’re getting a sneak peak of the final pieces right here.
Want to get your hands on one of these special vases ahead of the official launch? Email Confluence who will help you pick out the perfect piece for your home! We’ve got colours, sizes, and styles for all price points.
Diving into Miller + Co.
It was an incredible opportunity to meet Jen, Devin, and their baby, Kai. The dedication, skill, and passion they bring as makers is evident, even from the first few conversations we had. The three of us sat down in Anchor lodge for an interview a few days into the trip. The big cozy couches, plaid blankets, endless hot tea, with a fire going in the corner of the room, made for the perfect afternoon on a chilly and drizzly day. We took this time to dive a bit deeper into their values and who they are as a brand.
We jump into an easy discussion of how they present themselves to their audience. It’s a delicate balance. They’re trying to balance showing the beauty but also the reality of the hard work that goes into making their products. When you visit their studio, open to the public on Saturdays, you’re going to see them as they are, Jen in her clay covered apron, and Devin in his work overalls. They each work 7 days a week, so when you arrive at the studio, they’re creating and crafting product, and you get to witness that process.
For while, they tried to clean up on studio days, as Jen puts it, “I want us to be presenting, like our product, I want to be a pretty mug, you know what I mean? I want to be shiny and new. But that’s just not the reality. You either choose one or the other. You’re either in your nice clothes and you’re shiny and you’re presented or you’re in the process authentically hands dirty”. They’ve chosen to go all in on authentically hands dirty.
Here for the Classics
In terms of their style, Miller + Co. dig the classics, they don’t follow trends. Trends change with time, and they’re looking to make pieces that can span generations of families and friends.
“We don’t do a lot of bright flashy colours. We don’t want something that’s seasonally on trend and next year, you’re going to want to replace it. Our goal is to create classic, timeless, made to last heirlooms that get passed on to your great great grandkid”.Jen Rose
The last thing that they want is for their pieces to sit on your shelf and have you feel worried about using them. They dream that the stunning wood bowl Devin made will get used every Sunday night for family dinners. For the mug Jen made to be a part of your morning ritual. Jen puts it best saying, “don’t wait to use the pretty things, life is too short”.
Working with Mother Nature
One of the most important aspects of Miller + Co. is their drive to be sustainable. Devin always prioritizes sustainable practices when gathering the wood he uses. Today’s consumers want to know where their wood products come from, as concerns for our forest health grows. “There’s a respect for what you take, and you should always have that, you shouldn’t be wasteful. I was brought up that way”.
During his time in Ontario and British Columbia, Devin has been a part of formal wood programs. These programs focus on using local and sustainable wood for your products. He’s also worked to built relationships within the community to access sustainable wood. Devin has a network of supportive neighbours and farmers who let him know about potential pieces of wood. They alert him when there are trees that have come down in windstorms, or if they have danger trees that need to get removed.
There’s also a storytelling aspect to Devin’s pieces that sets them apart. For him, “it’s important that almost every piece [of wood] that I get, I can share the story of where that tree came from”.
Recently, a few oak bowls from Devin’s collection came from danger trees that had rotten on top of Mount Tolmie, a popular spot on Vancouver Island. He was retelling this story to a couple who instantly felt a connection to these pieces. It reminded them of the time they spent together at the University of Victoria, a short distance away. Because of Devin, they were able to take a piece of that history home with them. Not only is this a sustainable initiative for Miller + Co. but it’s also an opportunity to give these trees a second life.
For Jen, she works sustainability into pottery quite naturally. “The cool thing about pottery is that nothing gets wasted, right? When you turn back for a mug or anything, all that scrap gets reclaimed and reused and recycled”. Each scrap gets used to create a new and beautiful piece of pottery.
She’s now looking forward and learning how she can remove the use of plastics in her pottery practice. When you purchase clay, it almost always comes wrapped in a plastic bag or in a pail. Her first step is to try and incorporate the use of paper bags where she’s able to. However, it’s Jen’s ultimate goal to eventually mix her own clay. By internalizing the process, she’d be able to control all of the materials used, create an even more unique product, and produce less plastic waste.
Finding their Voice
Jen and Devin didn’t started Miller + Co. to please others, it came from pure passion and a desire to craft high-quality wood and clay products. They both found something they loved doing and people were receptive to that authenticity. It’s a cool feeling for the both of them.
“I think the thing that never stops being the most rewarding for me as a maker is when somebody picks up one of my pieces and it resonates with them. That’s not even something I can put into words, that’s from my soul to their soul. I never dreamed when I started pottery that I would create stuff that would resonate with other people”.Jen Rose
The love for both family and craft exudes from these two makers. It’s an honour to own a piece crafted by Miller + Co., they’ve poured themselves into each and every one. While life is unpredictable and has pulled Jen and Devin in many different directions, they’ve found something truly special in this business. They have two unique voices that have come together through the bending of raw materials. The clay and wood mediums complement each other perfectly, just as Jen and Devin do themselves.
Photos by Jeremy Koreski