I HEART WORK
Who are you: I am Heather Chontos, mother and personal chef to two beautiful daughters, a painter, a designer, a stylist, and the artistic director and creator of Milk Farm Road.
What is your work: I create as many beautiful things as possible with my own two hands.
What is your website: www.heatherchontos.com, www.milkfarmroad.com
Describe your work in 5 words? A well curated visual journey.
Tell us a little about your work? My work has taken such an abstract path, starting out working in furniture design, then painting, fashion illustration, styling, art directing, designing…and so it continues. My work gratefully is also what I love doing and what I am best at doing. I want to make beautiful things and create a visually beautiful world and that is what I get to do most of the time. I guess I could best explain it as being an instigator of inspiration, a creative problem solver - taking something that is empty or blank and giving it life to tell a visual story.
What is the first thing you do when you get to work? I kiss and hug everyone. When I am away on a shoot these days, I am travelling from home in Montana to New York City or San Francisco. I used to see these people all the time when I lived in Brooklyn, but now it is only once or twice a month - so it is always a pleasant reunion to see my colleagues and friends. If I am working at home in my studio in Bozeman, the first thing I do is make coffee and sit in my garden with Zana my youngest daughter, and we talk about what I should make that day and what colours would be fun to use. She is like a mini consultant!
Why do you love what you do? I like sharing a piece of myself with the world. I love painting, but not everyone can buy a big painting to hang on their wall, so through styling and designing I share an element of my creativity in a more tangible way.
Describe a typical working day? If I am on a shoot, I get to the studio around 8:30am and the rest of the team trickles in, my assistant, the photographer, the creative director etc. We all have breakfast together and then discuss the shoot list, laying out what we will need for each shot and the layout from the selection of props I have pulled or made for this shoot. If I am designing something I usually have a colour sketch laid out or I make one, and then I doodle around with designs - which leads to sewing, drawing, or painting a piece of tableware. Then there is the PR part of my job. I have to keep on top of my blog, and be good at staying in touch with customers from Milk Farm Road. I take a lot of photos and try to come up with new ideas as often as I can to keep things on a good roll of productivity. There are a lot of parts to my job - they all tie in together and play nicely with each other, but sometimes it’s like being an octopus keeping all the parts together to keep it whole.
What can’t you work without? My apron! I have an old apron that needs to stay on me at all times or I am instantly splattered with paint!
Who or what inspires you? My children of course inspire me all day long, they always have. But it is also anyone who takes a risk on what they are good at. I am always impressed greatly by the people in this world who believe in themselves enough to take that chance, and give something they love a shot. It is a bold move and it makes me want to try harder.
What is the best advice you have received? “Keep it simple.”
One moment in your career you will never forget? Hanging my huge paintings in an old dairy in London called Egg. It was a beautiful gallery space and my name had been put in the window with the title of my show. When people piled in that night for the opening, it blew my mind that people actually wanted to see my artwork - they cared about what I thought and what I did. I had to take a moment in a back room as I cried a little in awe of accomplishing this stage in my life.
What are you working on at the moment? New designs all the time for Milk Farm Road. I am trying to narrow and fine-tune the collection into its best place.
What’s your proudest career achievement? That I have a career and have managed to be a single mother for more than 10 years to two girls who are healthy and happy people on this earth. I still create and grow in my career and I get to be a mother at the same time. This is what I am most proud of for sure.
What is the best part of your job? All the beautiful things I get to play with on a shoot.
And the worst? The schlepping of all the beautiful things over the years!
Which phrase do you overuse? “I need options!”
If you could be someone for a day who would it be? Lee Krasner the artist - Jackson Pollock’s wife.
How do you spend your downtime? I do a lot of hiking in Montana with my girls and our big, stupid dog Riley. She is a St. Bernard cross and loves to run up the mountains with us. I love to be outside whenever possible - it makes everything better.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life? A private jet so I can just fly whenever I need to. Travelling from Montana is a tricky thing at any time of the year.
What have you learnt the hard way? To be patient.
If you could do another job what would you like to do and why? I would like to work for the UN as a humanitarian aid worker. I would like to live in Africa especially, and help solve problems in the under-developed parts of the world to build a better humanitarian practice in these countries always in turmoil. It would feel so good to be able to really help people.
If you had an extra hour each day what would you do with it? Bake a cake with Zana my youngest daughter, who is four and a half.
What’s your personal motto? I don’t really have a motto. I suppose I believe in being positive. There is too much energy wasted on things that are negative, so I try to believe in who I am and what I can achieve, if I am positive in my thinking.
What advice would you give to your younger self if you were starting over again? Follow through - don’t wait for anything to come to you .
What dream do you still want to fulfill? I have seen a lot of the world, but there is still so much out there. I promised my daughters we would buy an around-the-world ticket when they were both a bit older, so I want to keep that promise. It would be a wish come true for all three of us.
How would you like to be remembered? As a good artist.
Portrait of Heather Chontos by John Kernick.
Thank you Heather for talking to The Lifestyle Editor.