Building a Cottage Industry as a Creative Couple

Keiko and Thomas Vogel—a married creative couple living with two cats in Petaluma, California—both have day jobs, but spend a lot of their free time working independently on inventive labors of love: Keiko makes whimsical things out of fabric; Thomas does intricate, Japanese-style woodworking.

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Thomas and Keiko Vogel at their home in Petaluma, California. Photo by Jim Newberry.

They both maintain captivating Instagram accounts, where they regularly post photos showing their respective works in progress. Schrödinger, their exhibitionist cat (the other cat, Fiona, is shy) is often seen in their IG pictures, especially in Keiko’s feed, where she can be seen perched atop a sewing machine, modeling one of Keiko’s impossibly cute “cat bandanas.”

Many of Thomas’s posts are in video form, in which he demonstrates the painstaking techniques he uses to create his elegant wooden handicrafts.

I recently visited the pair at their home, and had a chat at the kitchen table over coffee.

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Keiko Vogel constructs a patchwork quilt. Photo by Jim Newberry.

Rewire: How would you compare your aesthetic sensibilities?

Thomas Vogel: I am almost strictly influenced by Japanese aesthetics… I’m interested in sashimono, a totally obscure Japanese woodworking style.

Keiko Vogel: I’m not influenced by Japanese aesthetics at all, more Western.

Rewire: How do you respect the other’s vision?

KV: I tend to get in a really comfortable working pattern, and it is so great that we push each other to try something new constantly.

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Thomas Vogel making a “jugumi,” or frame, for a Japanese-style lantern. Photo by Jim Newberry.

TV: My most favorite thing I make (the nesting hexie box), Keiko basically told me to make. I think it is my best design.

Rewire: Are there challenges to having two creative people in the same household?

TV: It’s actually really awesome… No challenges. If Keiko’s busy I try not to bother her; she does likewise for me. “We stay out of each other’s way” —we came up with this quote together.

Rewire: How do you support each other’s creative drives?

TV: By constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. “Would you come look at this?” is a very common phrase at our house. I am currently working on a series of sewing boxes that Keiko inspired.

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Keiko Vogel’s fabric collection. Photo by Jim Newberry.

Rewire: How do you collaborate?

TV: A lot of back and forth and discussion. We are sounding boards for each other. I get to buy lumber, Keiko gets to buy fabric.

Rewire: How does Instagram affect your process?

KV: I get feedback and encouragement and nice comments… (It) makes me happy when people like my stuff. Also, I made a connection with Birch Organic Fabric; they sometimes send free materials for me to use. I like their fabric, and they like my work on Instagram.

TV: I’ve achieved some level of notoriety, which is pretty cool… It’s entirely gratifying to put up a video of me cutting some wood and 20,000 people watch it… That’s fascinating to me, and it’s cool for feedback.

Rewire: What role do the cats play in the creative process?

KV:  Schrödinger is my sewing partner… She sits on my lap, my shoulder, or my back while I work.

Rewire: At this point neither of you are getting rich from your creative endeavors. Why do you make stuff?

TV: I’m obsessed with it…we moved here 6 months ago, and I haven’t unpacked the TV.

KV: It’s fun and I love to do it.


Jim Newberry

Jim is an internationally published, award-winning photographer based in Los Angeles. His interest in photography began as a young child, when his father—James Newberry, who founded the photography department at Columbia College Chicago—gave him a camera and taught him how to use it. He later graduated from Columbia, and soon after began shooting assignments for magazines and record labels.
Jim continues to shoot for editorial and commercial clients, as well as shooting fine art photography, especially street pictures.