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Made by Hand : Studio Visit with Kat Hicks + Zoe Ahlgren

Made by Hand | Taupe & Birch

Meet Kat Hicks and Zoe Ahlgren. Kat and Zoe are currently building a business constructing surfboards on a ranch in  Pacifica, California. I met Kat in college back in Baltimore and we recently crossed paths in the bay area. While their business is just starting off, I thought it would be interesting to document the lifestyle and process of a young business in California.

Zoe was born and bred Pacifica, a city just south of San Francisco. His family has owned and operated Shamrock Ranch since the gold rush. Being raised on a ranch, Zoe was raised with a steadfast work ethic that shows in the quality and quantity of his work. He is a conscientious craftsman who sees every piece as an opportunity to push himself and his craft.

Kat hails from the right coast, originally from Virginia Beach, VA. She has been drawing all her life and has a particular love for illustration and line work. After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD she caught a ride west to San Diego with no plans other than to drop off a painting. While traveling up the coast she was introduced to Kevin Ancell, an amazing artist and painter who is affiliated with the RVCA ANP (artist network program). Relating to her artwork, he invited her to come be his assistant in Newport Beach, CA. She jumped at the chance and after finishing a road trip up the coast she found her way back to Newport where she spent the next 3 months learning from Ancell, helping him prepare for an upcoming show in Santa Monica, and mulling around the RVCA HQ. Kevin knew Zoe from Pacifica, where he was living before Newport, and asked him to come down to make him some large scale canvases. Kevin had taught Zoe a lot about shaping surfboards and Zoe ended up shaping two boards for Kev’s show.

Once Kat and Zoe met they were pretty much inseparable. Kev, realizing he had already lost his assistant, sent her back to Pacifica to continue some of the work from his studio. A year later Kat and Zoe are still together and currently live on the ranch together where they’re developing a unique style of both foam and hollow wooden surfboards.

Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchIMG_1375

What made you interested in making surf boards? Kevin taught Zoe how to shape boards. Zoe was determined to design a hollow wooden board that was comparable to a foam one. Kat is still learning how to shape.. and surf..but she’s been interested in designing them since a young age. She liked the idea of someone not only owning her artwork, but riding it. Kevin showed her how to work with abalone shell and Zoe has taught her a lot about wood inlay. Between the two of them they’re making some insanely unique boards.
 What’s your average schedule like?
Zoe works on the ranch most of the day which can range from general maintenance things like, fixing broken pipes and roofs, to more interesting tasks like chasing down liberated horses. Kat works for Barbara Butler treehouses, building, you guessed it, treehouses. Lately their off hours have been devoted to refurbishing the old dairy processing building into a house for themselves.


Tell me about the property you live on. 
Zoe’s grandfather bought the property, a much more expansive version, during the gold rush at the turn of the century. He started off as a furrier and ran a pawn shop in the city. They had a variety of animals and livestock come through the ranch over the years and have dabbled in farming as well. For a long time they had cows where they processed and bottled local milk. Presently, the ranch is owned by Zoe’s mom, Dana, but managed by him and his sister, Serena. His twin sister, Ari, and brother, John, live on the ranch as well. They operate a dog kennel and daycare and have over 100 horses on the property.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about making surf boards? 
Zoe’s favorite is sanding, the part of the shaping process where you make the board look less like a chunk of foam or pieces of wood, and more like a surfboard. You get to make it beautiful. While Kat loves sanding too, she really finds an almost masochistic enjoyment in tiny, meticulous, wood and shell inlay. They both hate glassing, it’s the worst. It’s really hard and is always presenting new challenges that are either incredibly difficult or impossible to fix. Plus fiberglass is itchy and resin is toxic.’s the worst.
How long does it take to make a board? It varies greatly, depending on wood vs / no art.. is it a shape we’ve worked with before (are we replicating a board) or is this a whole new shape..? Generally for foam about 4-5 days of solid work. A wood board takes a good bit longer just because theres a lot of waiting around for glue to dry. It can be as short as just over a week to a whole month though depending on the board shape and amount of detail.

IMG_1398IMG_1369IMG_1426Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & Birch

What’s next from here? We don’t have any definite plans. We’d like to launch a website and maybe make some sort of order form but both of us are a little gun shy when it comes to commissions. First and for most we’d love to just sell what we’ve already made out there. So after the gallery show ends this week we’ll look for restaurants and other galleries that might want some boards.
What are your sources of inspiration? Danny Hess is an obvious one, though after learning a lot of his boards now are foam with wood veneer..we can’t lie..he’s a little tainted!  Reynolds Yater is also an awesome shaper who you can’t help but respect and look up to. Alex Pardee is a huge one for Kat, as well as James Jean, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton and Ben Horton.
The Keatings..Dick and Penny Keating are two amazing people who have lived in Pacifica since it was called San Pedro Valley. They own that dock we took you out on. Dick is an amazing shaper and surfer, we call him all the time for help and he’s always super generous with his time and knowledge. They’re definitely the first ones we run to when we finish a board, its gotta past the Keating test. DK is also Kev’s surrogate father..that’s how Kat was introduced to the Keatings, Kev brought her home to meet “the family”. And of course, Kev.

Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & BirchContent and photography by Heather Day


MAI: Clothing Made to Move with You through Your Active Day

MAI, a local clothing company in the Twin Cities, makes unique and original activewear inspired by both the city and nature around us. We sat down with owner Emma Holcomb to get the details on the history of MAI, the process and the latest fall collection that just launched.MAI : Behind the Scenes | Taupe & Birch

How did you get started in fashion design and specifically in designing yoga apparel? 
I graduated from UW-Stout with a degree in Apparel Design and Development. As my yoga practice grew, I started searching for cute yoga pants and I couldn’t find any! I searched everywhere and couldn’t find what I was looking for. Until I walked in to Lululemon and wanted everything, but couldn’t afford anything! I’d rather spend my money on great food and experiences with friends and family than on fancy clothes. There was a huge gap in the market for affordable but cute and trendy workout clothes and I knew I could fill that! My favorite part about building MAI has been that it is all made locally in Minnesota, and always will be.

MAI : Behind the Scenes | Taupe & Birch Can you tell us a little more about what MAI represents as a company?
The name MAI comes from our mantra: I AM enough. MAI is I AM backwards. We believe that who you are, is exactly who you should be. Loving yourself as you are can bring you the most enjoyment in life.

What is the start to finish process of creating a new product like?
It’s a ton of work, but it’s a blast! We take our time to find the inspiration for our next line and then start designing and sourcing fabrics- this can take a while, but when everything comes together, it is the best feeling! Once we have designs and fabric we start making patterns and testing each piece to make sure it fits great while you live your active life. When that is complete we cut out all the of the fabric in our basement! Then it goes to our wonderful seamstress in Saint Louis Park, we get it back, print our logo on it and then it is time for us to put together our photoshoot and update our website. The best part is shipping it to our customers, we couldn’t do it without all of the support we’ve received over the past 2 years.

Where can we find MAI?
We are located at Minnesota Power Yoga on Washington ave in the North Loop and will be expanding to other local studios this fall! Until then, find us online at and follow us on social media @fashionbyMAI to get our latest updates and info on pop-up events.


What advice would you give to young women wanting to start something on their own like you have done with MAI?
Starting your own business or collection is the hardest part, there are a lot of questions and unknowns, but just start. Keep your expectations attainable and allow yourself to fail, you will learn so much as you grow, in ways you could never have foreseen. And just keep going, and smile and enjoy the ride.

MAI turns 2 this November! Come celebrate with us at Minnesota Power Yoga- Facebook has all of the details. We’d love to offer Taupe & Birch readers 20% off all of our online Fall collection (scarves and summer clearance not included). Use code: TB20.

MAI Poster V2

Photographs by Jake Armour, Hair & Makeup by Kate Carroll, Model is Brianna of Ignite Models.

Content curated by Sara Chars.



Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Arugula and Sage Brown Butter

We are thrilled to share yet another recipe from Nabila at Spirit PlateThis is a fancy dish with multiple steps. It requires some patience but the result is SO well worth the wait. It’s deeply rich with layered flavors that bring to mind sitting on a trattoria patio in Italy with a glass of wine and great conversation. The trick is to let each portion of liquid be completely absorbed by the risotto rice before adding the next portion to slowly coax out the starches and get a nice, creamy result.

Spirit Plate | Taupe & Birch
Spirit Plate | Taupe & Birch

Part I: Make the Butternut Squash Puree

  • 3/4 lb washed, peeled, and cubed butternut squash
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 tbsp butter (regular or vegan)
  • 3/4 cup stock (approx.)
  • sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 475F. Melt butter (I used Earth Balance) over medium heat in a small pot. Add squash with sage leaves, garlic, and vegetable stock. Season liberally with sea salt and simmer until squash is fork tender. Remove sage leaves and blend mixture until completely smooth. Pour back into pot, keeping warm until ready to use.

Part II: Roast the Butternut Squash

  • 1/2 lb washed and peeled butternut squash
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt, to taste

Cut squash into 1/2″ cubes. Toss with olive oil and salt to taste. Place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for approximately 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Once done, remove from the tray and set aside.

Part III: Fry Sage Leaves

  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other high-heat oil)
  • 1/4 cup fresh, clean and dry sage leaves

Heat oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Lower sage leaves with a slotted spoon into the hot oil for 5-10 seconds until they all turn an even brown color. Remove leaves with the slotted spoon and dry on a paper towel.

Part IV: Make the Sage Brown Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter (Earth Balance)
  • 10-15 fresh, clean and dry sage leaves

Melt 1/2 cup of butter in a clean sauce pan over medium heat. Brown the butter to an even rich golden color, stirring frequently. Add 10-15 fresh, clean and dried sage leaves to the butter and remove from heat immediately. Once butter has cooled (but is still liquid) remove sage leaves and strain into a bowl and set aside.

Part V: Make the Risotto

  • 2 1/2 cups stock
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup arborio risotto rice
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
  • 2 cups of butternut squash puree (see above)
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups arugula
  • roasted butternut squash (see above)
  • sage brown butter (see above)
  • fried sage leaves (see above)

Place stock and water into a large pot. Bring to boil and then turn down heat to keep liquid at a light simmer. In a separate large heavy bottom pot heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and pinch of salt and let sweat until translucent, 10-15 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of stock liquid to soften onions. Let the liquid evaporate completely. Turn the heat up to medium high and add all the rice. Toast the rice for a few minutes until the edges of the grains are translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine to deglaze. Stir the rice until the wine evaporates. Add one cup of the hot stock liquid. Stir often to coax the starches out of the rice. Once absorbed, add the warm butternut squash puree and continue to stir. Once the puree thickens and reduces, go back to adding the hot cooking liquid. Add the next cup of liquid only when the last cup has been absorbed by the rice. Stir frequently. During the cooking process, make sure to adjust the heat so the liquid is always gently boiling. Continue to add liquid and cook the risotto until it reaches the al dente stage or cook to your liking (I prefer more tender grains). Once done, stir in the butter and turn off the heat. Fold in the roasted squash cubes and arugula. Cover and let rest 2 minutes. Just before serving, add a bit of hot liquid to loosen the consistency, if necessary. Plate on warmed dishes. Top with fried sage leaves and a drizzle of warm sage brown butter. Serve immediately.

Note: Extra squash puree can be frozen for up to 3 months. Extra sage brown butter can be refrigerated in airtight container for a few weeks. Spirit Plate | Taupe & Birch

Photos and Recipe by Spirit Plate.

Coffee in Mpls : Ashlie O’Day

We’ve had our eye on fashionista Ashlie O’Day who co-owns the very chic Proper & Prim boutique. If you are strolling the streets of Uptown, be sure to stop in and shop some great fall fashions. Proper & Prim will be hosting a party celebrating the 4th birthday of its original Fargo location this Thursday, October 16 from 5-9pm. Enjoy sweets, bubbly & 20% off | 2743 Lyndale Ave. S. in Mpls.2011-05-07 20.16.35

What do you do?
I co-own Proper & Prim with my sister, Teresa. I act as a buyer and manager for our Minneapolis location. I am also a buyer for my mom’s import store, O’Day Cache.

Where are you from?
Born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota, home to people who will clarify that the movie Fargo wasn’t actually filmed there.

Random fact about yourself?

I speak very rudimentary Turkish. I can say phrases like “I speak very little Turkish” along with a mixed bag of vocabulary words like “crowded” and “watermelon”. 

Favorite color?

Does a metallic count? If so, brushed gold. If not, the palest of pale pink.

Favorite clothing item?

My favorite non-Proper & Prim item is the ultimate fitted black blazer that I bought in Beijing years ago. I wore it down to the thread and was depressed I would have to toss it. Yet, in a serendipitous moment while back in Beijing on a buying trip this past spring, I revisited the store and a saleswoman remembered me and led me to the same exact blazer, which they brought back for another season. I promptly purchased it after a moment of squealing and clapping.

Proper or Prim?

Neither! We put a twist on the classic “prim and proper” phrase for that very reason. I am very much a girl in many ways, but I’ll never fit into the “little white gloves” mindset.

Morning or night?

Night. I am more productive once the sun goes down.

Favorite place in Minneapolis?

Lake of the Isles and Lowry Hill. One day I’ll own one of those gorgeous mansions, but if that doesn’t shake out, I’ll settle for a walk around the neighborhood.


Photograph and interview by Sara Chars for Taupe & Birch.

Climbing Weekend in Sandstone, MN

photo 2Throw back to last weekend. It looks like Heather had a relaxing weekend in Sonoma and we had absolutely beautiful fall weather here in Minnesota (80 degrees!) which made for a great and much anticipated camping and climbing weekend at the Saved Sandstone Festival in Sandstone, MN.


The festival is a celebration of the community effort to obtain the land for climbers to use which was previously forbidden and illegal as the land was privately owned. After years of hard work to not only accumulate the land through with the help of the MN Parks & Recreation Board, but also to build roads and paths for accessibility, Sandstone is now one of the best places to outdoor climb in Minnesota. It’s also a top destination for ice climbing in the winter.

We camped, rock climbed, conversed around a bonfire, ate homemade stone fire pizzas from WildEarth WoodFired Mobile Pizza Bakery, star gazed at the millions of stars you aren’t able to see in the city, waded our feet in the water and attended a morning yoga session as the sun came up along the river. It’s times like these I am happiest — when I am resetting — reviving, rejuvenating and reclaiming the freeness of simply being.


Content + climbing photos by Sara Chars. Yoga photo by Steve Mercer.

Coffee in San Fran: Mallory Lucille

Mallory Lucille is an illustrator living and working in San Francisco. Her work immediately stood out to me for it’s exciting, sarcastic yet empathetic undertone. Be sure to check out her spectacular website and better yet, follow this gem on Instagram. 
Coffee in San Fran : Mallory | Taupe & Birch

What do you do?
1. Studio Art Director & Curator
2. Drafting, illustration, and mixed media creator (I don’t often call
myself an artist, haha)

Where are you from?
Boulder Creek, CA

Random Fact about yourself?
I can efficiently write upside down and backwards; most of my work
features this fun fact.

Favorite color?
Willow grey (the color of most sidewalks)

Cat or Dog?
I’m partial to my cat that acts like a dog, but someday when I grow
up– I want a dog, too.

Who do you look up to? 
My father, he absorbs and exudes so much information, appreciation,
and compassion. He really brightens up my life.

What’s you favorite place in the city?
I’m tempted to pick something as broad as the mission; my favorite
part of the city is the convenience of being in my studio and two
minutes later running into beautiful girls at coffee shops. (Side note: I ran into Mallory at Four Barrel Coffee where I asked her a few questions!)

Photo and content by Heather Day


Sunday Fun Day in Sonoma, California

The Fremont Diner | Taupe & BirchSan Francisco is amazing, but I always enjoy escaping the city for other bay area adventures. This weekend I drove to Sonoma with a few friends. We started the day with brunch at The Fremont Diner. The diner is conveniently located in wine country and they pride themselves in sourcing all ingredients locally. I love the fact that you leave your name with the host and then make your way to the yard where you’ll order a mimosa or milkshake from an old streamline.  I’ve never waited more than 15-20 mins for a table and their menu is very reasonably priced. The Fremont Diner | Taupe & Birch

Fremont Diner| Taupe & Birch

Next stop, Scribe Winery! If you haven’t been before, this place is not to be missed. Somewhere between the gorgeous vineyards, rustic design, and delicious wine – I always find myself feeling like I’m finally resetting from a busy week in the city. One thing that resonates with me is the fact that Scribe embraces the history of the land. The old architecture and artifacts creates a beautiful anthology of stories. The people that work at Scribe have got to be the friendliest, down-to-earth and not to mention trendiest servers! Before bringing out the wine, they will gladly introduce themselves as if you’ve just met an old friend for a drink and eventually bring out the wine while sharing some interesting details about the vineyard. Scribe | Taupe & BirchScribe | Taupe & Birch
IMG_1585Scribe | Taupe & BirchIMG_1627Scribe | Taupe & BirchIf you’d like to make a trip to Scribe, be sure to call ahead. They can be quite busy, making it difficult to make a last minute reservation. If you join their membership club, it’s quite easy to reserve a spot on the hill with a blanket overlooking the vineyard.

Content and Photography by Heather Day. 


Weekly Dose : Lately

Weekly Dose | Taupe & Birch

About 6 months ago, we launched Taupe & Birch with the idea that the blog would be an outlet to share our interests : arts, design and a bit of what we have going on in our lives. Since then we’ve taken a step back and re-evaluated our plans for T & B. I’ve learned that this project has been the perfect excuse to reach out to complete strangers. I’m living my life a little differently now, and I think Sara would agree with me too. I’m more aware of my community and I appreciate the small businesses that manage to keep their doors open when real estate prices are sky rocketing (well, at least in San Francisco).

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week:
1.) Started reading The Authentic life: Zen Wisdom for Living Free from Complacency and Fear.
2.) I’m learning more about my new camera (cannon rebel T3 with a 50mm lens) . I love following photographers on the VSCO Grid for inspiration! ‘
3.) Have you heard of One Password? I just downloaded the app, which is free right now! Hopefully it will help prevent me from having to click “forgot password” on most websites.
4.) I discovered Samovar Tea which was also featured on Apartment 34 last week. Such a gorgeous space!
5.) I attend yoga at Yoga to the People 4-5 days a week. It’s actually in a few major cities. They are donation based and their San Francisco location is stunning.
6.) I’ve been biking a lot more. There’s no better way to get to know your city than biking. This past weekend, I biked over to Bernal Heights. 

Content and Photo by Heather Day.

Coffee in San Fran : Aleksandra Zee

Coffee in San Fran: Aleksandra Zee | Taupe & BirchI found Aleksandra Zee on Instagram after we both completed commissions for Intermix‘s new location in Palo Alto. After months of following each other, we decided to grab a coffee! Naturally, I blogged about our date. 

Location: Four Barrel Coffee, San Francisco. 

What do you do? I’m a full time woodworker/artist. 

What’s your favorite part about city living? The fact that everything is so close – the beautiful community of artists that share your work rather than compete against it.

Where do you go to escape the city?   To the beach, big sur, the redwoods, the desert –pretty much anywhere my jeep can take me.

How did you find your dog? He is a rescue from the streets of New Mexico, best decision I could have ever made.

Favorite Color? Gray

Early bird or night owl? Early bird!

Content and photo by Heather Day

Weekly Dose: Green Essential

A few weeks ago I was looking for house plants on Craigslist which let’s be honest, can be like a needle in a haystack. I knew I needed some green in my apartment, especially on the desk in my bedroom where I have my workspace set up. I knew having plants would create an entirely new environment and feeling to the space. Just that pop of green, a little nature brought inside and the fact that they are living, breathing things always brightens my mood. So there I was, browsing Craigslist on the random chance that I would not only find someone selling their plants but selling their plants nearby. And then it happened. I found 3 beautiful, healthy plants for a steal!

Plants are game changers in my opinion. They’re just essential. Here are a few examples. Happy plant searching!


This is what I mean by pop of green. Against white, it’s a bold punch that’s awesome. Imagine this photo without the plant. It just wouldn’t be the same. Found on Domaine Home.


For me, plants in the bedroom are so important because I spend a lot of time in my room. It really warms up the space and gives off good vibes. I especially love long vine-y plants. It looks nice to put these inside shelving and let them drape down like shown here by Smile and Wave.


Want plants in the kitchen but don’t want to lose any counter space? Hang them from a rod over your sink. Love this idea found on Morganours.

342ae5b089b4ec0e22db7bbaad5ac7ebYou can even get a bunch of plants and line them up on a bench to create as the “Easiest Way to Embrace the Jungalow Trend.”

Content curated by Sara Chars.