Pawtucket’s place in history as the “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution” is not lost on the many artisans who make it their home today. This is true for Laura Burkett, who lives with her partner Sue Fricker in a renovated mill building on Bayley Street. Burkett is a self-employed leather bag designer/maker and founder of the Art Providence Show. Originally from Kentucky, it was during nearly a decade of living in European cities that she became fascinated with old mills and acclimated to living in smaller spaces. When a position brought her to Rhode Island, one look at a two-level loft and it was love at first sight. Sealing the deal was the building’s history as the first industrial sewing machine company to combine the then-new technologies of lock-stitch and waxed thread. “Destiny!” says Burkett.
Like many mill units, the open floor plan is cavernous sans interior walls, requiring strategic thinking, like dividing spaces into zones for specific purposes and utilizing light to create moods and highlight certain areas. Burkett notes that one challenge is that everything is exposed. “There’s no room to hide things away,” she starts. “There’s a corner of the main space that we call the ‘garage’ where we keep tools and exercise equipment; this flows into the ‘office’ which is an area with a table, inspiration board, and painted chalkboard.”
Burkett lands on “contemporary eclectic” to describe her decor. “I like what I like, and it absolutely does not have to fit a theme. Harmonious colors are important, but I avoid being too matchy-matchy. I love the minimalism of the Bauhaus and tend to favor furniture of a Danish modern flair.” She confesses to having a “years-long obsession with orange” and that dark chocolate is a go-to for its rich look and versatility. “Without intentionally planning it, lots of the objects in our home have those colors or work well with them.”
“I love industrial salvage in general, but it’s even more special due to the history of the immediate vicinity in Blackstone Valley,” says Burkett, who notes that the couple’s favorite decoration is a large round gear that came from a nearby mill. “It’s placed front and center on our living room wall and inspired the logo for our ArtSmart Productions.” She adds, “Most everything that is decorative in nature was handmade by someone we know or have at least met. This is very important to us!”