WRITTEN BY SHANNON WIANECKI
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BARRY FRANKEL
“I’m very, very particular about what cup I use to drink my coffee,” laughs Melissa Newirth. She doesn’t take herself seriously, though her immaculate kitchen shelves reflect a devotion to aesthetics. Each cup, vase, and bowl has the authority of a work of art. “I love Japanese pottery,” she says, “because it’s so light and the rims are so thin.” She holds up a porcelain mug by Yumiko Iihosi. Feather-light, it’s the color of midday clouds, with a handle as plain as a wedding band. “The handle has to feel good on my finger and the rim on my lips,” she says. “That’s what I look for.”
Newirth looks for and finds exceptional ceramics, textiles, and housewares from around the world for her online shop, Cloth and Goods. Her taste hews to Japanese, Scandinavian, and mid-century minimalism. In particular, she seeks out artisans who use ancient techniques to create modern, useful objects. “So you have both beauty and quality,” she says. Her selection of bizenware exemplifies this. For nearly 1,000 years potters in Bizen, Japan, have fired reddish-copper clay in kilns, producing unglazed vessels famous for their water resistance and resilience. These rustic artifacts are precious; Newirth sells sets of Bizen cups and pitchers for upwards of $300. Her website offers equally exquisite indigo pillows and throws.
Originally from New York, Newirth migrated west through Santa Cruz and Portland to land on Maui. She and her daughter bought two acres in Hā‘iku and built a cottage (for mom), a house (for daughter), and a barn (for the whole family). The barn serves as headquarters for Cloth and Goods and a gathering place for friends, community events, and pop-up shops. Reminiscent of a Nordic farmhouse, it’s tall and narrow with a dark grey exterior and sliding wood doors. The clean, stark lines make a statement while embracing the surrounding mountains and ocean. “If it wasn’t going to be architecturally interesting, I didn’t want to do it,” says Newirth, who also works as an interior designer.
Her own interior spaces are spare, white, and sensual. Her commitment to simplicity manifests in every corner of the property—from the tufts of bunchgrass along the driveway to the open cabinetry stocked with ceramics. While she loves a cup with a delicate handle, it really depends on her mood. She picks another favorite from the shelf—a small, vaselike tumbler—and cradles it in both hands. “Sometimes,” she says, “I want to hold my coffee like this.”