It was an honor to give back to a community that has given me so much. This experience caused me to dig deeper and think more closely about how the mission of little miss workbench is brought to life.Read More
Kidolo may be a fan of ours, but we are a huge fan of theirs. They continue to love and support our small business as well as many other amazing small businesses. It is refreshing to feel the connection, even when it is miles and miles away. Thank you, and thank you.
JUNE 14, 2016
We spy with our little eye a bird, a plane, and the top of a palm tree! Little eyes get a boost thanks to the wooden toy expert behind Little Miss Workbench. Kids now get a telescopic view with the limited edition IPE 1 x ∞ binoculars!
We first fell in love with Little Miss Workbench earlier this year when we picked up the signature Zoom Flash Mali wooden camera. Founder and head woodworker Michele Chiaramonte continues to remind us to see the world through a child’s enchanting vantage point with these limited edition binoculars.
These wooden toy binoculars will continue to spark the explorer in every child. Made of maple wood and cherry, the design is simple and playful. Take them on a hike in the city to view the tallest skyscraper, or in the country to view the littlest bird, perched in a tree.
Little photographers are now able to capture their “pictures” by drawing the image right on the camera. Flowers, bugs, and siblings (a few of the more common artistic subjects) can now be immortalized with this imaginative camera. Well, until the next picture is taken…
So whether your little nature lover is enjoying the world through toy binoculars or wooden cameras, Little Miss Workbench will be there for every sight.
Kidolo is awesome. If you haven't taken a moment to check them out, please do right now. Thank you for believing in me and little miss workbench kidolo. Had to repost this article from January because hindsight really is 20/20. Much love. Enjoy!
LITTLE MISS WORKBENCH WOODEN TOYS
JANUARY 19, 2016
Hindsight is 20/20, right? We’ve all been there; in the moment we may think “why am I doing this?” But looking back you realize every decision perfectly led you to where you are today. It’s this wonderful phenomenon that makes life so exciting.
This is the case for Michele Chiaramonte, founder of Little Miss Workbench, who can look back on her professional career with similar amusement and pride. From business marketer, to school teacher, to mommy, to woodworker, the book of Michele’s life has had many chapters. KIDOLO virtually sat down with Michele to hear more about Little Miss Workbench and how she wound up as a master artisan.
Michele and her husband were avid New Yorkers before giving birth to their daughter, Mali. Though the city had their heart, they wanted to raise their family in Long Island, where they had both grown up. But as Michele fondly notes, if she were going to trade in city life she would have to gain beach life.
Michele now found herself in a beautiful old home with a beautiful new baby. Mali, to her parents’ delight, was a mighty sleeper – like, a really deep sleeper. Having burned through every book and having completed every project she could think of during the long nap times, Michele would sit and dream about remodeling her home. She envisioned custom built-in bookshelves and handcrafted tables. These day dreams, however, didn’t include someone else making them; she imagined herself doing the work. So Michele began woodworking. She made bookshelves, a kitchen island, and a kid-size activity table for Mali. It was Mali who inspired her to take this hobby in a new direction.
Mali loved playing with the extra wood from Michele’s projects. This propelled Michele to blend woodworking into another favorite mother-daughter activity – photography. Michele and Mali would take many photos during their daily walks and eventually Mali herself became transfixed by photography. Michele created her first wooden camera for Mali complete with magnetic parts for her to move and imitate the motions of a real camera. As Michele is explaining all of this to us, Mali bellows from the other room, “Don’t forget the zoom!” (Note: Mali was an integral part of our conversation. Thank you for making sure we got every detail right!)
Soon Michele made more Zoom Flash Mali cameras to sell and later added a version without the magnetic features, the Say Cheese camera, for younger children. Mali was not the only three year old who adored her wooden apparatus. There seemed to be something magical about a kid and a camera. Little Miss Workbench’s cameras allow parents to see the world through the eyes of their child. Such a unique vantage point makes life a little sweeter.
The wooden toys of Little Miss Workbench foster imagination and mask education with fun. Kids master fine motor skills and coordination while learning to focus and appreciate their surroundings. Additionally, every Little Miss Workbench toy is made with plant-based dyes and is sealed with a beeswax sealant.
Everyone has a “little miss” in them. No matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you truly can do anything your heart tells you. “All things happen for a reason. Simply find what you love and love what you find.”
It is a dream come true to say that you have your art at the in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Store). A special edition collection of our concept cameras is available at the museum store as well as online.
Here is an interview I recently did with Morgan Pearce from The Met Museum Store:
APRIL 22, 2016 · BY MORGAN PEARCE ·
“Green” Comes in Many Shades: Eco-Friendly Toys by Little Miss Workbench
Made in Bellport New York, these unique wooden toys pay homage to the joy of things make by hand.
Today we meet a maker of eco-friendly wooden toys, Michele Chiaramonte, the founder of Little Miss Workbench. Examining the unique career evolution, which has taken her from business marketer, to schoolteacher, to mother, and finally to woodworker, there’s no doubt that she has explored her creativity and professional flexibility on various fronts.
Chiaramonte’s work as a toymaker began when she and her husband relocated from New York City to the picturesque town of Bellport, New York, after the birth of their daughter. Quickly exhausting the many projects and activities she’d dreamed of completing while her daughter napped, Chiaramonte decided to remodel her home on her own.
After purchasing some basic tools, she began undertaking woodworking projects around the house, creating furniture, bookcases, and soon, an activity table for her daughter, Mali. Chiaramonte says, “There is something therapeutic about creating by hand. The concept of going from a sketch to an actual piece with raw materials is satisfying. Hand-making the collection allows my ideas to grow with the item. It evolves into a better piece each time I go through the process. There are always design and finishing touches to improve on. As I learn new techniques, the collection becomes better. Our workshop is small, so we have to create systems that are efficient and effective to produce products that meet the highest quality standard.”
Chiaramonte continues: “I love learning, playing, and building. My daughter, Mali, inspired me to take my hobbies in a new direction. The Flash Zoom Mali camera was the first wooden toy I made for her. Photography is a hobby of mine, and Mali has always tried to use my SLR camera. I decided to make a wooden camera for her that had similar movements to my camera. After making the prototype for Mali, I gave one as a gift to my nephew, and he loved it. I gave several more to friends as gifts and received the same response. Friends started asking where they could buy the camera. It took off from there, and we began a shop.”
Each item is made by hand using American hardwoods and plant-based dyes, and is finished with an all-natural beeswax sealant to create a fun, safe and eco-friendly toy appropriate for children of any age. “We source our materials here in the USA,” Chiaramonte says. “The process of completing a set of cameras takes several days. Initially, and up until recently, it was just me in the workshop from start to finish—designing, cutting, sanding, routing, drilling, dyeing, waxing, sewing, and packaging. Now I have three people in the workshop with me.”
Further to her mission, Little Miss Workbench products support Four Girls for Families, a charity that helps provide clean water in rural Cambodian villages.
Chiaramonte has created two exclusively customized camera styles for us at The Met Store: the “Flash Zoom” and “Say Cheese,” both of which feature our Metropolitan Museum of Art logo stamped into the leather handle and on the burlap carrying case. She has additionally created an array of colorful yo-yos, also adorned with our new branding. Now featured as a part of our new concept store, Rock Paper Silk, these unique playthings spark imaginative play and creativity.
On visiting the Museum, Chiaramonte says, “The Met is one of my favorite indoor places and it is located in one of my favorite outdoor places, Central Park. When I lived in the city, I would often go for a visit just to focus on the architecture of the building itself. There are so many nooks to explore, you could get lost so easily, and I have! I also enjoy the furniture and drawing galleries (kind of random, I know). I took a drawing and painting class and would spend hours each week there. It was so peaceful and powerful to be in a room with so many great works. Sketches have always appealed to me because they are simplistic and complex all at once. They are often much greater than imagined.”
Shop the cameras online here and visit our new store for a selection of wooden home objects, jewelry, and toys inspired by techniques showcased in the Museum’s collection. Learn more about our Rock Paper Silk store here.
My dad is a retired scientific tool and die maker; extremely meticulous and methodical when it comes to anything related to machining. I love to watch him work and come up with ingenious fixtures and jigs for projects. He has a knack for breaking down complex processes into simple parts. The pure joy he gets when he figures out a puzzle is enough to put a grin on anyone’s face.
Recently my dad began helping me craft the wooden cameras. On his first day in the workshop, he literally cringed at my selection of measuring tools (what else do you need besides a ruler, a square, and a pencil?). The next day he gave me a pair of digital vernier calipers, which at first I thought was overkill, but now I use daily.
From measuring the diameter of dowel to drilling magnet holes in wooden cameras, precision is the name of his game. Quality control is done with those calipers on all of the parts that we make. He is a master craftsman. I continue to learn from him and I am grateful to have him by my side.
I used to think that people who didn't post to their blog regularly are lazy or not committed to their blog. I now realize how ridiculous I was for thinking that because it has nothing to do with either, it has to do with how you prioritize life. It is more important to live life than to post about it. It is a bonus when you can do both, but it is definitely more important to live. Ahhmm. So, my last post was back in November... and the statements above are not excusing me from my non-post, but a whole lot of living has been happening around here.
little miss workbench has evolved into a major project. My time has been spent building wooden toys, along with photographing, editing, and posting to the website, oh and being a mom and trying to be a good wife. It is sometimes a total circus here; Mali will be running around dressed like a princess, freezing everything in sight with her magic wand, while I'm trying to sand down pieces of wood. Then she will try to sneak a piece of wood off of my workbench, but blow her cover because she is giggling. I get it. Eat. Play. Sleep. Repeat.
Mali is almost three. (Potty training is also in progress; someone please remind me if we have another to start the process much earlier.) She is a fun, energetic, and curious little kid. But on some days, my patience is tried and the amount of work that I actually accomplish while she is dancing circles around me drops exponentially; we dance and have tea parties instead. Sometimes she runs as fast as she can into my arms and says, "I love you mama, can we snuggle?" and life is good.
Priority #1 - Live the life you love and love the life you live. The rest will figure itself out.
I'd love to hear from you. What are you working on these days?
Posted on November 23, 2014
Mali and I are always on the lookout for all natural toys (ok, maybe it’s just me, but she is my sidekick). Learning how to build toys was definitely on my list, but the warm weather had been dictating larger scale, outdoor pieces for our home.
Now that the temperature has dropped significantly, I’ve started to do all of my work inside, which means it is time to scale down the projects that I work on – a perfect opportunity to try my hand at wooden toys.
The goal for this new adventure is to create toys that are simple in design and full of imaginative play. The first piece in the collection was a no brainer. Mali is always wanting to get her little hands on our SLR digital camera. Playing with this piece of equipment is not an option; so I began sketching what Mali’s camera would look like.
Before I started sketching, the first words I jotted down on the page were:
- child friendly
After tinkering with some scrap wood pieces, I came up with a final product.
This concept camera is powered by imagination instead of batteries.
The natural tone of the wood really looked beautiful, but I thought it would be fun to add some color. Mali loves to paint and be involved in whatever I am doing, so she helped me dye one set of camera pieces with all natural ingredients. Here she is mixing a block in a homemade kale concoction. (Image of green camera to follow; the process is a bit slower and messier with a two year old.)
All of the wooden pieces are finished with a natural bees wax sealant. That sealant really is coming in handy these days!
Right now we are having fun venturing around with our cameras, snapping photos.
This is just the beginning…
Thanks for reading.
Posted on November 19, 2014
This island is the most used prep space in our kitchen. More importantly, it acts as a bridge for children and toy cars.
The island has been stained, painted and stripped several times. I cannot decide what I want it to look like. Here is a photo of it raw.
The first go around, I painted it light blue; that was a mistake. *It is a good idea to have a plan in mind before you do labor intensive work. Ha! The plan to paint it blue was a good one, however it just didn’t look the way I wanted it to in our current kitchen. So, instead of redesigning the kitchen, I stripped the island. It took almost as long to sand it than it did to build it.
After stripping down the top I realized how beautiful the wood was natural, so I used the bees wax sealant as a protectant. The base of the island is another story. Here’s what it looks like today.
I’m thinking of whitewashing the entire base so it pops. What do you think?
As always, thanks for reading!
Posted on November 3, 2014
This post brings me back to my second grade classroom and the How to… writing unit of study. We would start off by giving some examples of how to… tie your shoe; make peanut butter and jelly, etc. Writing out a step by step process was the concept to be mastered. As a test to ensure that no steps were forgotten, they had someone actually do it exactly as written. It was very entertaining to see what second grade students came up with; here are two examples.
The pie, I might try.
The (raw) hot dog…
Nostalgic teacher, I digress.
Mali’s table needed a child safe and eco-friendly sealant. The little artist’s workspace was routed, sanded (thank you Dad for helping me do this) and ready to be sealed — After reading about all of the natural benefits of using beeswax, a beeswax and olive oil mixture seemed to be the way to go. Here is the recipe. (You can let me know if I passed the How to unit of study)
How to make a beeswax sealant
You will need:
- A sauce pan
- 1 tempered glass measuring cup
- 3 cups of water
- oven mitts
- 1/4 cup bees wax (you can buy at a health food store or online)
- 1/2 cup olive oil (I used Trade Joe’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 1 mason jar (I used a 8oz)
1. Measure out approximately 1/4 cup of wax. It is easiest to cut the bar of wax like you would a hard block of cheese. Start at the edge and rock the knife back and forth so that the wax crumbles.
2. Next, put the measuring cup of wax into the sauce pan. Fill the pan with the water so that the waterline is flush to wax in the cup. Double boil the wax on a low flame.
* The wax melts pretty quickly; ensure that you are gently stirring it until it melts down. Keep the flame at a low level so that the liquid does not get hotter than 200 degrees F.
3. Next, slowly and carefully pour 1/2 cup of olive oil into the measuring cup. It will instantly start to solidify the wax (see clumps below).
4. Stir the mixture until it is a homogenous liquid.
5. Now, with your oven mitts on, remove the measuring cup from the sauce pan and let it sit for a moment on a towel.
6. Still keep those mitts on, and pour the liquid into a tempered glass jar. (It will keep for several months sealed and in the refrigerator)
7. Your homemade bees wax sealant is now ready for use. (First, I did a sample strip on the left hand side to see how it was going to look.) Here is the table half sealed and half unsealed. (Why I then started on the right is beyond me. ha!)
The sealant protect the wood from drying out and gives the maple surface a beautiful, smooth, and natural finish. It is eco-friendly, safe, and really simple to make. If you use this recipe please share photos of your final project.
Thanks for reading.
Posted on October 30, 2014
This bookcase was an entertaining project because I failed to consider the depth of the bookcase when installing it. It was built in the basement and then carried to the second floor; simple enough plan. The reality, however, was that because of its height, it should have been built upright in the room it was going to live in; there is only two inches of clearance from unit to ceiling. Way to use those fourth grade math skills…
Short of disassembling the entire piece and realigning all of the shelves that were precisely measured, I cringed and went for the quick fix – chop off the top section, stand it up and then reassemble it with hardware. Oops!
Note to self: build tall structures in an upright position or create stackable, manageable sections and assemble.
Unlike the assembly process, the side hat hooks were a happy accident. In order to conceal the shelf screwheads on the sidewall, I cut 1×2 pieces, glued and single-screwed them, then added simple hooks to cover the screw on each piece. Ingenious way of hiding a design mistake!
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog
Posted on October 13, 2014
One day, I laid out paper and crayons on the kitchen floor for Mali and I to color. She sat down next to me and tried to figure out how she was going to rest on her knees, lean into the paper, hold her balance, and color. Seemed kind of silly that we did not have a child size table.
After searching for design ideas, I found a Potterybarn kids table, which became my inspiration. Mali uses the table for tea parties, drawing, painting, snacking and everything in between.
The idea of having a table with an endless roll of paper is a good one, so long it is in a supervised area; ours is in the kitchen. Think of a toddler left alone for three seconds with a roll of toilet paper.
*My friend gave me the Boos butcher block several months ago. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it, but I knew it would be a great top for something. It was put aside until the right practical and purposeful design plan came along. Thanks Sean!
The image below shows the bees wax sealant on half of the table. It really preserves the wood beautifully and I don't have to worry about any chemicals because all it is is beeswax and olive oil.
Posted on October 1, 2014
Little miss photobomber! This is what life has been like these days. I could write a whole story about building this bookcase from scratch, but I feel like these photos tell it all…
Thank you to all of the friends and family who kept an eye on Mali while I worked on this project. Much love.
Posted on September 15, 2014
Coffee; an absolute necessity when you have a toddler. This coffee bar houses all of the essential items needed for the morning brew. The end.
The project is assembled with pocket holes, self-tapping screws, and Gorilla Glue. The pocket hole system I use is called a Kreg Jig. (www.kregtool.com) It is a handy tool that allows you to drill precise pocket holes and create strong joints. The Kreg Jig is awesome. My husband makes fun of how excited I get every time I use it.
The shelving support pieces are cut with a chop saw at a 45 degree angle on both sides (to form an equilateral trapezoid shape), then glued to the vertical wall rail and the shelf. The mugs hang from simple 3/4 inch brass cup hooks. If you’d like more information, leave me a comment.
Posted on September 14, 2014
Mali expresses herself with art. “False,” as Dwight Shrute would say, but if you think about a toddler and her mood swings, there is absolute truth to that statement. When she is a roaring beast, her color choice is usually black, the lines bold and angular. When she is a singing pixie, her purple crayon glides cheerfully in circles. Despite the mood, there are always several crayons scattered about the table and floor.
Enter The Crayon Block; similar to the one used in my classroom. The block makes it easier for a hand to grasp ONE crayon, use it, and then return it to its spot. It may sound lame, but this is a big deal; the classroom was clean and organized.
Is this logic applicable to the work space of a toddler? The table was set with the paper and the block. She sat down, giggled, took one crayon out, colored, then placed it back into its spot, and chose another.
One crayon at a time.
Then she started to belly laugh because she had invented a new game – dump all of the crayons out, and put them back… mostly
Posted on September 11, 2014
As a child, I always wanted a sandbox. When I saw this plan on ana-white.com, I immediately wanted to build it for Mali (and for me). The ingenious way that the cover folded to become the sandbox benches was so smart and cool! I needed to build it.
The first couple of times we went shopping for lumber, the employees would stop and ask me, “Oh, what’s her name? How old is she?” At that point, Mali would charm them with her ability to answer for herself, and then proceed to ask them the same questions in return. They would look at me in amazement, smile and say, “Wow, ok. So, do you need anything?” (Yes, a day off.)
Any trip thereafter sounded like this, “Oh look, Mali is back with her mommy. Hi Mali, how are you? What project are you building today?” It was hilarious; we had become regulars along with the local contractors overnight.
This sandbox has certainly had its share of dump truck excavating and sandcastle creating. It is a play structure, it is going to take a beating. Mali also likes to tap dance on the box when it is closed…
The stain for the entire structure is deck grade. The floor of the sandbox is lined with weed block screening, which is a huge help in keeping the grass and weed from growing. A blue tarp is placed over the top of the box in order to keep rain and snow out.
Posted on September 9, 2014
Enter Amalia (Mali). She wakes in the morning like a lightning bolt and does not stop buzzing, dancing, and singing until her head hits the pillow. The flip side is that she is a great sleeper, which of course, is every mommy’s dream.
During those marathon naps I would sit and daydream about what I wanted our house to become. Benches, bookcases, shelves, a kitchen island, the list grew and grew. As I was having these ideas I thought, why not sketch them and build them myself? So, I convinced my husband that we needed a miter chop saw, a drill and some other essential tools and I did just that.
…where did this come from?
A former NYC school teacher, turned stay at home mom, now a craftsman? I call it, filling the void of not being in the classroom and adjusting to motherhood. I needed something hands on and creative to do while the Little Miss napped the afternoon away.
So, for my first Mother’s Day (2012), I received what every new mommy dreams of having…a DeWalt portable table saw. The family was complete.
Two years have gone by and many projects have been completed. This is a chronicle of my work designed to inspire others to create and reinvent themselves again and again.
Enter, little miss workbench.