A building, like any, has technical requirements. And a weaving mill, with noisy machines that drive the process, must meet certain considerations. But as a space reflecting a creative process, it needs to have a sense of artistry. An aesthetic sensibility. In a location that is so interwoven with the natural world – a historic homestead where indigenous trees abound, where a view of the ocean is not too far from sight – there’s a need to encapsulate something of beauty. Not a skyrise eyesore, not a factory, but an organically shaped, visually interesting space.
The building reflects an intersection between modernity and antiquity. A respect for the past – for the mills of old – infused with modern design elements. Which is really where Mungo finds its seat; using traditional tools and looms (some of which are century-old) to produce a product that’s contemporary. Perhaps it is this, alongside the use of high quality threads, and enduring design styles, that adds a philosophical note, a poetic nuance to the timelessness of a Mungo product. Rooted in history, born from the past, crafted from generations of hands-on skill. But done in a way that’s modern, and that’s responsive to the times.
“The last time I met Stuart we were talking about the element of water. The mills in the old days had water (the looms originally steam powered). And in fact, that reflection of the skin, of the building, on the water’s surface, I think that’s the best part of the mill… Going back to the idea of the building – those face bricks are a part of the historic English mills, the industrial ones. And then the corrugated sheeting – that’s where we’ve added a more modern element; done it in a more playful way. So when you look at the building, you can see the combination. It’s almost like we’re trying to make the materials talk together, just like the threads would have to weave.”
Before I met with Andrea, Dax had given me one piece of precursory information. “He’s more of a philosopher than an architect, really.” And this no doubt was evident from the onset of our conversation. That this was someone who had elevated the design of the Mungo Mill from its fundamental elements. More than brick, metal and wood. More than a functional space to house a functional process. This was a space with an aspect of alchemy.
“[Of course there were] the requirements of the space. How you put them together, the volume, and how to make it experiential. The walkway is raised so that you can experience the operation from the right height – to see onto the looms. It’s almost like those viewpoints in Florence; there’s a balustrade from which to view. A place to see – to say: look how we do it, how many people are involved, at the atmosphere.
I could not say no to this project. Because I understood right away that the intentions were really beautiful. In this case, it was a kind of translation of someone’s dream. And I am too a big dreamer. I think life is about storytelling, at the end of the day. And Stuart is telling beautiful stories – bringing looms from England, passing on that skill. When he brought me here, he brought me to the back of Old Nick Village. I’m not too sure why. I think that was a prime spot he had – at the front, where the mill is now. And that’s when I said, look, this is your dream. It must go on a throne. It must go there. We have to do it there.”
This idea of a dream. Putting it on a throne. Putting it at the front. This was, in fact, something that Andrea had wanted to say off the record. But here was the hook, here was the story. It could not be left out. And what it revealed was more than the sum of its parts. Stu’s hesitation to build the mill at the front of Old Nick Village – it seemed to reveal something of his very nature. A characteristic that is woven into every Mungo product.
Perhaps it was modesty? I asked Andrea.
“That is the goosebump moment, he replied. Modesty.”
Some businesses are built out of ego. Or material imperative. But there has always been about Mungo – something for which I have become assuredly sentimental – of modesty. Less quick and clever marketing. More than the bottom line. There is consideration and care – for the people who work there, the product in creation, the planet and the customer. The ethos is what steers the ship. Guided by a commitment to transparency, and a willingness to refine. If you’ve had a chance to see behind the looms – to meet the makers or see the process behind the product – you’ll get a sense of that too. Mungo is more than a towel. Mungo is more than a dishcloth or a blanket. Here there is story. There is soul.
“Of course a building has to stand, has to serve its purpose. But in terms of shape and feeling – it’s almost like fulfilling your bucket list of what you would like to perceive. So we spent a lot of time looking at books, at buildings around the world. This is too modern, this is too cold. Just playing with a feeling. Expressing it in different ways, going back and forth. It was a beautiful experience… talking in peace, dreaming, daydreaming, thinking out loud. This is where you find the right balance.
When [Stuart] brought me to the original mill, and I saw all these threads, it blew me away. I was hearing, and understanding – there was a lot of noise. But we got talking and I took some photos of the threads on the warping machine. I went home and looked at this photo and thought, this has to be the building. I don’t know how, but it has to be. [It was this idea that] a thread is just a thread – a piece of string – but when you start to put them together at angles, with different colours, that’s where the magic comes.
What I did was take a piece of cardboard and started working with a very simple element – a working plank. I started twisting them and that became the initial idea of the building. And it kind of guided the rest of the lines, which could not have been straight. So if you have a walk around the building and you see it from far away, even the rows of the corrugated sheeting, you’ll see the different lines because they’ve got different angles from different perspectives.
The main feeling for me personally was to give an experience of the place. I call it the ‘skin’ – the front part – how that could be part of the building. And the warmth of the material – the ‘authentics’, if I could put it into a word. Warmth. We’re talking about an industrial building so it’s pretty difficult – I suppose the two don’t really go together – an industrial building – how can it be warm? But with the water, with the nature around, with the wood and the face brick – I think we did achieve that.”
Andrea undoubtedly has a sense for the intangible – for the importance of process in action. The revelatory power of story. And the imperative of connecting people to how things are made. A lost art, perhaps, in an over-mechanized, over-stimulated world. Where mass production reigns supreme, and the threat of AI looms large, there’s an ever more urgent need to bridge this gap. To look, to feel, to touch. To connect.
“Nowadays everyone lives through cellular phones and social media. You cannot touch a thread… for me this is what we need to pass on to the next generation. They might not have a clue as to how a piece of fabric is made. They might think it comes out of a 3D printer. These new machines, they might have a lot of capacity, a lot of production. But the old ones [like you find at Mungo], there’s that element of weaving and handwork. It’s not completely standardised – the subtle differences, the little details – that’s what makes it unique. That gives you a different perspective.”
And if you stand at the front of the Mungo Mill, you’ll feel it all. The Coral tree, a graceful gatekeeper. The pond, catching the reflection of the slatted beams that snake around the mill, rising angular, skyward. The winding walkway. The interior viewpoint – a Shakespearean balcony on which to glimpse upon passion. All brought to heart-stopping attention by the rhythmic, sonorus beat of the looms. Step beyond, close your eyes and take it in. Process. Prowess. Poetry in action.
The Mungo Mill is open daily to the public for self-guided tours.
Guided tours can be arranged by contacting Mungo via firstname.lastname@example.org