By Shani Silver

Published on September 25, 2015

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Photography by Michael Wiltbank

This year, your “impossible to buy for” list won’t exist. You’ll knock it all out with one book. 
The Kaufmann Mercantile Guide: How to Split Wood, Shuck an Oyster, and Master Other Simple Pleasures
, is the new release we’re committing to memory as fast as possible, as it’s filled with practical knowledge you never knew you always needed. To learn more, and to bring our new favorite book to life a bit, we visited Alexandra Redgrave at home. Redgrave, Editorial Director
Kaufmann Mercantile
, showed us around her well styled space, and gave us an on-camera demo of one of the book’s most useful (yummy) skills.

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TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR ROLE AT KAUFMANN MERCANTILE.

I’m editorial director, so pretty much every word on the site lands on my desk for review. The most rewarding aspect is collaborating with the team. The company is relatively small and still growing (it was half the size it is now when I started two years ago). You have to take on different roles and now I think more holistically about a writing project: what are the needs of all the different people involved – design, photography, marketing, PR – and how will they play off each other?

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WHAT INSPIRED YOUR STYLE IN YOUR SPACE?

I like movement – nothing too cluttered or “done.” It’s good to change things up and not hold onto too much stuff, otherwise I feel stuck. When I moved New York three years ago I left my books and art work behind, so I’ve slowly built up pieces here and there that I care about. Most of the non-essentials are rocks, driftwood and other foraged stuff. My roommate would tease me that I’m a nature hoarder – and it’s true. I’ll bring back a bag full of acorns from Prospect Park or shells from Montauk and realize I have no more space to house them! Also, I like a plain old white wall. This might just be since living in New York and wanting to open up the space as much as possible, but I find an unadorned wall calming. Your eye can wander and watch the light change. This may also be a side effect of working at Kaufmann Mercantile. You’ll notice that everything on the site (and in our Brooklyn offices!) has a very minimal, modern aesthetic, an aesthetic that’s begun to translate to my décor as well.

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HAS WORKING AT KAUFMANN INFLUENCED YOUR HOME?

I’m much more conscious of where things come from and how they’re made. Kaufmann Mercantile is all about creating a slow and thoughtful home, one that’s filled with products not only built to be beautiful, but to also stand the test of time. So now I have the “KM guilt” when I walk into a dollar store. I avoid buying quick-fix plastic stuff that will inevitably break after a few uses. I’ve also learned a lot about design, materials and manufacturing processes from being around the product team. The amount of work that goes into, say, a pair of copper garden shears, is incredible.

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HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THIS BOOK COME ABOUT?

The book really brings to life what Kaufmann Mercantile is all about. We’re more than just a shop selling beautiful pieces, we want people to derive meaningful experiences from those pieces – hence the need for “How-To’s”. I wanted to make a how-to guide that was practical, of course, but also had some whimsy. Any question can be looked up online, so the book had to have more substance than simply a series of step-by-step instructions. There should be some inspired moments, too – which is why my co-editor, Jessica Hundley, and I asked a different expert to preface each how-to. We also included illustrations by five artists, and each brought their own style. Some are very detailed line drawings while others are softer watercolors. I really like that mix.

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WHAT IS A FAVORITE SKILL YOU PERSONALLY LEARNED FROM CREATING THIS BOOK?

Tying basic knots definitely took the longest for me to wrap my head around! I loved getting into the nitty gritty on a subject and geeking out a bit – like learning how to make ice for a cocktail (you want your cubes to freeze from the inside out, so fill your tray with crushed ice and top with water rather than only water).

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WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN CREATING THIS BOOK?

Being okay that there are many different ways to doing something. The fact-checker in me wants the one right answer but each person has their own take on a project. Ultimately we want people to make the book their own – revise a recipe, make right-handed instructions adaptable to a left-handed person, etc. And, of course, editing down the list of how-tos from roughly 70 to 48 took some serious discipline.

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BECAUSE I’M A FONT NERD…HOW DID YOU SELECT THE FONT FOR THE BOOK’S COVER? WE LOVE IT!

Princeton Architectural Press, who published the book, suggested the font. The entire project came about when the co-founder, Jennifer Lippert, contacted us after reading our blog (then “References” now “Field Notes”). I learned so much about design while collaborating with them on details like the font and how to play off traditional guide book elements but keep things fresh. The cover was an ongoing discussion: how should it feel, what’s the right size, what color…

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WHO IS THE IDEAL PERSON TO BUY THIS BOOK FOR?

Oh, I hope everyone can use the guide in their own way as a kind of household compendium. The idea is that dabblers as much as hard-core DIYers will enjoy taking a flip through. Anyone who is curious and creative.

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ANY FAVORITE MEMORIES OF THE PROCESS YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?

Digging into vintage how-to manuals for inspiration, from canoeing to cookbooks. Pre-internet, there was a guide to everything. We hope The Kaufmann Mercantile Guide will fill that void for today’s modern urban dweller.  

SHOP THE BOOK 
HERE
!

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Watch now:
How to poach an egg.

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