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Housework With: Megan Bre Camp of Summer Solace
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Housework With: Megan Bre Camp of Summer Solace

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Continuing our Housework With series, we met with passionate slow body care producer Megan Bre Camp of Summer Solace and her lovely family. After a warm welcome full of hugs and hellos, we took our shoes off and sat down at the kitchen table for a chat, some sesame cookies and fresh brewed tea of turmeric, ginger, orange peel, black pepper, and rosemary from their garden.
Their unique, largely handcrafted space is like an urban sanctuary, perfectly tucked away behind an unassuming double-door system and nestled in a relatively sleepy corner of Oakland's otherwise busy Temescal neighborhood. Every element seems to be a story, from the literal construction of the house, which Megan's husband Brian has lived in and continued to transform for 15 years, to all of its fine decorative details which make it a home. Wherever your head turns, your eyes can't help but meet souvenirs from trips past, fun flea market finds, and depending on the room you're in, a Summer Solace product uniquely appropriate to that particular space in the house.

We talked kitchen tools, household investment pieces (she cooks a mean egg in her Alice Waters 'Egg Spoon'), rural living vs. city living and the idea of finding balance outside the suburbs, French filmmakers, Buddhism and its relationship to urbanity, and so much more. Their sweet daughter Ulrikke all the while ate spoonfuls of manuka honey.

From a long wooden table, in a kitchen framed by glass jars full of heirloom beans, cartons of pasture-raised eggs, and bouquets of farmers' market flowers, we got to know Megan a little better.
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What is home to you?

Home to me is many things. It is my sacred space, my identity and where I set my roots. My home is a signature and a reflection of myself. It is in my loved ones, my husband and our daughter, Ulrikke. It is any space or area that I put my intentions and aesthetics into. Whether it be a camping tent, a blanket for an afternoon spent at the park, a hotel room, or even in our car, I strive to create a cozy, home-like space that is warm and inviting. It is important for me to really make a home and dwell in it. My home is a place of relaxation, reflection, comfort, and spirituality.

The place in which my husband, daughter and I reside is a converted storefront in North Oakland. It is 1,400 sq. ft., and we call it our Viking ship. It serves as an escape from the busy, congested street in Oakland just outside the door. It’s a generally shadowy space, with only two windows in the back and two in the front. We take inspiration from the concept of wabi-sabi, and look to books like Axel Vervordt's Wabi Inspirations, which really embraces the lack of light in domestic spaces for interior design ideas.

What space in your home do you spend the most time in?

My favorite part of our home, and where I by far spend the most time is the kitchen. I cook all of our meals there, and additionally the kitchen is where I do production for Summer Solace. I clean it constantly, decorate it, make it cozy, and take care of everything that is in it. The kitchen is my heart, the central station, literally the Mothership. I command from it and I nourish my family from it. My energy and creativity flow from it into the rest of our home. My bed would be my second favorite area!
What are some rituals you practice in your home life? Daily, weekly, monthly?

Every day when I get up from bed, I first light a tallow candle, start a pot of water for tea, and then start to tidy up - doing the dishes by hand, sweeping the floors (which I try to do three times a day), wiping down surfaces and making the bed. Weekly, I’ll polish the wood tables and counters with tallow and beeswax. I roast a chicken every Sunday. Every other week, our polished concrete floors get cleaned by our housekeepers, who are truly a great help. I used to do this every week, cleaning each square of the floor on my hands and knees, but once I started my business, I had zero time keep it up. Seasonally, we will dust, do a deep clean project, and tend to the garden where we till the soil and plant new vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

For me, cleaning is done every day, all of the time. Housework is a constant, yet ever-changing ritual. I am a professional, and working from home means that my workspace and the surrounding areas have to be impeccably clean. I treat my home like a professional kitchen. I cannot have anything cross-contaminate my working area.

What household chores do you find most relaxing?

Sweeping and hand washing the dishes are both very relaxing for me. I wouldn’t be able to live without my brooms (of which she has several, including a mini one for her daughter) or my Japanese tawashi scrubbing brush to clean our dishes and cast iron pans.

Are there certain household duties you or Brian tend to stick to, or is your system a bit looser?

My husband and I both take great care to upkeep our working home. We think of it as a machine that needs to be cared for and 'oiled' every day in order to keep it functioning correctly. I clean several times a day while working from home. Generally, I cook dinner, and Brian does the dishes. When I’m working at the farmers’ markets on the weekends, Brian takes over for me and cleans the house.
Your entire home is peppered with plants, and then additionally you've got the garden. How long has having plants around been important to you?

I have always had a plant in my room, a rooftop garden, plants in containers. I am deeply inspired by nature, and plants will always have a place in my home.

What's growing right now in your garden?

We're nearing Spring, but not quite there yet, so my garden hasn’t reached its full potential at the moment. Carrots are still lengthening, greens are budding, stinging nettles have taken over in one raised bed. I have some weeding to do, and it is still a bit too cold for the flowers to bloom. They are still seeking the Sun. The white sage and hearty herbs like oregano, thyme, and rosemary continue to fill the garden space and our potatoes are beginning to sprout from the soil. If you visit the garden again in a few months, the calendula will have opened up, and raspberries, strawberries, sunchokes, kale, marjoram, hops, anise hyssop, lemon verbena, and tomatoes will have come out to grow.
Would you say more of your time is spent indoors or out?

Time spent at home or out depends on the season. In the Summer, when there is more light and warmer weather, my family and I naturally spend more time outside, biking, hiking, or at the beach. In the Winter, of course, we are hunkered in our dark cave/ship of a home. It’s easy to get stuck and hibernate here. Throughout the year, we do like to spend sunny weekends out on our rooftop deck, with a cooler of ice, a bottle of sparkling wine, blankets, and sun hats. It's our way of being outside but staying home.
Do you have any goals set for the next year or so in terms of improving your family's quality of home life?

My goals for the next year are to build an additional loft, tear down the ceiling plaster in order to expose the natural redwood beams, install skylights, and to make more rooms for us as a family. Warehouse and loft spaces are tricky to delineate rooms in, and we're always working on balancing private rooms with open living spaces.

What sort of qualities do you look for when acquiring new household or clothing items?

The characteristics of what we look for have changed over time, but most important to us is definitely quality of construction, materials with which the item is made, where an item is made, and necessity. We always ask ourselves whether or not this item is something we can see ourselves still using years from now.

How much would you say having a child has impacted your use of or preference for natural materials around the house?

Though it has heightened our awareness in general of what things are made out of, it hasn’t really impacted our use of natural materials, as they're something we've always sought out. My husband and I are on the same wavelength – we greatly prefer natural materials in all aspects of living. When it comes to bringing up children, we consider what traditional cultures use, or really, what they don’t use, and draw inspiration from that.

We tend to refer to household materials from Scandinavia and Japan. We are wary of plastics, and try to avoid sources of lead and other environmental toxins, and make a point of trying not to purchasing things which contain them. We support local, and we don’t buy too much for Uli. She isn’t surrounded with toys – usually she just plays with things around the house or in Brian’s music studio.
Both you and your husband were once dedicated vegetarians, and you were a vegan for a while, as well. How did the transformation to passionate pasture-raised tallow soap-maker happen?

My journey from being a hardcore vegan/vegetarian to a lover of free-roaming animal products was a life-changing one, for sure. From my teens to mid-20s I went from vegetarian, to vegan, then raw foodist, and finally locavore. Working in many vegetarian and Buddhist kitchens in the Bay Area, I didn’t eat seasonally, but I did eat organic. I loved going to Rainbow Grocery in SF to shop vegan/vegetarian, but most of that food was processed and packaged, not sustainable.

When I spent a Summer homesteading in Maine in my mid-20s, I was exposed to young radical farmers who were raising their own animals, harvesting them, letting them graze off of the land. These farmers fermented foods, they foraged and ate seasonally. That opened me up to the idea of farming. I started studying horticulture and permaculture, and began working at a community supported kitchen in Berkeley called Three Stone Hearth. I was introduced to traditional diets and the book Nourishing Traditions. My mind was blown. Grass-fed butter is good for you, fermented foods are nourishing, bone broth can heal your gut. I was so excited about learning and practicing how to make nutrient-dense foods.

I had an epiphany - I wanted to work with grass-fed fats like beef tallow in the form of skincare products. Time passed, and I worked in other food-related jobs as a baker and as a French chocolatier. There is where I really learned attention to detail and how to slowly melt fat and chocolate. I spent over 2 years in chocolate production. I loved it. I loved taking care of my machine, tools, and molds.

One day, sitting at my holistic dentist’s office, I revisited the idea of working with tallow I'd had years before, and this time I was motivated. I quit my job a few days later and dove right in to creating a line of tallow-based balms, soaps, and candles.

I had the idea on a Monday, created my blends during the week, then on Thursday went to downtown Oakland, created a fictitious business name (which at the time was Summer Sequoia Tallow), applied and received my business license and seller's permit. On Friday I created an email address, a website, and went out to a couple of shops who then became my first stockists. It was a brushfire of uncontrolled energy and excitement getting it all together. I had nothing to fear and nothing to lose.

Everything that I've done in regards to food, nature, and career, I feel, goes back to my ancestors. My father’s family is indigenous to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. They are coffee and rubber tree farmers, humble animists living in their ancient matriarchal society. My mother’s mother is Irogot, part of a group of indigenous minorities from the mountainous countryside of the Philippines. Nature, farming, integrity, respect, and connection to the land, seasons and environment are and will always be a part of me. Even when I was a rebellious teen choosing the city over the country, I returned back to the land and found contentment. My roots were calling me home.

Vegetarianism was my way of seeking spirituality, and looking back, it was inevitable. It was a rite of passage as a teen, but also important in shaping my culinary career. Because of it, I sought out natural foods and all things organic. I had the responsibility of cooking for myself. Learning about sustainable, seasonal, and traditional foods took me further into understanding that the Earth's systems function necessarily with animals, and taught me that we can incorporate well cared for, pasture-raised animal foods into our diets in a holistic way.
Can you explain to us your soap-making method, and what sets it apart from standard practices?

When making my soaps, I use a cold-process method. I render grass-fed beef tallow that I pick up myself from nearby organic farms using a ceramic pot, strain it, and then infuse the fat with locally grown calendula. Next, I weigh out the tallow, adding Séka Hills extra-virgin olive oil, which is grown by the wonderful people of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation not too far north of here. This is the oil base that I saponify with sodium hydroxide, homemade floral water, and sea salt harvested in Monterey, California. Then, depending on the particular soap recipe I'm working on, I add organic essential oils, herbs, or sustainably harvested Mendocino seaweed, which is collected under a new or full moon when the tide is low. Once completed, I pour the blend into soap molds and place it in my curing space for a day or two. I un-mold the soaps and place them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper where they will cure for 1-2 months. During this time, the lye and water slowly evaporate, which leaves you with a hard, mild, and luxurious bar of soap.

Higher-quality artisan soaps are made using this cold-process method, but a more common method utilizes a hot process where you 'cook' your oils with the lye and water to saponify. This method allows you to bypass a long curing process and use your soap within a few days of making.

Personally, I prefer the slower, aging process. It feels like I’m growing the soap. Like fermenting vegetables or home-brewing, you’re letting time transform the ingredients into something more alive and profound. You connect to its metamorphosis and therefore have more pride in the final product.

Your workspace and home space are one and the same. How do you find a healthy balance between the two?

Running a business from home can certainly be tricky. It can get muddy where the line between work and family life overlap. When it comes to my production space, I make a point of separating work tools from cooking tools. I have a cubby and a speed rack for sheet pans and tools. Upstairs, I have storage, back stock, and a soap curing space. In the front is my studio where I package orders, keep inventory, and farmers' market set-up equipment. I do have a system, but it's spread throughout the house for now. I would really like a second loft to consolidate all of the inventory and storage for my business. Something to come.

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The depth of care this family puts into good living is blatantly apparent, yet spending time with them is hardly an exercise in one-upsmanship. Megan and her family are nothing if not incredibly laid-back. Morning poured into early afternoon, and the tea that we had started off sipping was replaced by a sampling of Brian's home-brewed ciders (which were all quite good - he's a bit of a fermentation geek). Once again, after the weight of the cider's strength had subsided, we met at the door, this time for goodbye hugs, and were on our way.

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Megan is pictured wearing a Kimono Blouse in Undyed Linen by Coeur x Housework. Her husband Brian is pictured wearing a Mandarin Collar Button-down in Undyed by Industry of All Nations.