Eden Prairie’s Araya Jensen: Inside Wind & Willow Home

With nature as inspiration, Eden Prairie’s Araya Jensen creates beautiful kitchenware.

The kitchen bowl cradles so much more than the food it serves. The vessel holds memories of a grandmother’s warm German potato salad, sweet mounds of cookie dough or a family’s treasured holiday recipe.

It’s the perennial guest at many family meals or reunions—the one that withstood battered rounds from an overly zealous hand mixer or waited patiently on the crowded buffet for conversations to end and the meal to begin. “I think (a bowl) has a nostalgic element to it,” says Araya Jensen, owner of Wind & Willow Home, an online shop featuring Jensen’s handcrafted kitchen items and select housewares. “When I think about a wooden bowl, the wood itself gains a beautiful patina. The more you use it, the more beautiful it becomes. You can almost trace the memories with the use it’s had.”

Wind & Willow Home took root in 2012 after Jensen’s two-year job search came up empty, and it was time to set a new course. Jumping into business ownership wasn’t completely foreign to Jensen. Her mother owned Weeping Willow in Esko, Minn., a store promoting primitive arts and crafts.

While Wind & Willow features more than 2,500 nature-inspired items, including mixing spoons, candle cups, cutting/serving boards, planters and treasure pots, the real stars of the show are the bowls, which come in 10 sizes and feature bases hand-dipped in a colored, custom-mixed synthetic rubber material. “It’s the update on the classic,” Jensen says of her line of multi-colored bowls.

Craftsmen in Michigan and Texas turn the bowls, and Jensen adds her spin on the classic in her workshop, which is lined with her products in various stages of completion. One shelving unit is filled with bowls of beech, cherry, maple and walnut woods. The grouping is striking in its marriage of simplicity with function. “A lot of the inspiration comes from nature,” Jensen says.

With husband Jordan, and children Avery, 7, and Quinten, 4, Jensen spends a lot of time outdoors, often carrying a macro-lens camera, searching for and appreciating nature’s smaller details—the hidden colors in a flower’s interior blooms or a beetle’s tinted spots. “Some of those colors are really inspiring,” she says.

Jensen takes those inspirational moments and translates them into the custom color mixes she uses to tint the soft rubber. Achieving the right color blend takes time, sometimes up to three hours just to create one batch.

But Jensen doesn’t sacrifice form over function as she works on her pieces. A former certified kitchen and bath designer, she explains, “It’s important that my products be functional. Spoon handles must be comfortable to hold. Bowls need to be slip resistant. It’s more than just pretty.”

The fall/winter line features colors such as bay, peacock, canyon and mist; metals are highlighted in a limited winter line. Soft goods include hand-inked pillows and tea towels, and Jensen hopes to introduce table linens to her repertoire.

Jensen’s bowls and spoons have caught the eye of Martha Stewart (her products are featured in the Martha Stewart American Made store on Ebay), and have a loyal following among local shoppers. “Everyone loves them,” says Katie French, interior designer and sales manager for Forage Modern Workshop, adding customers “grab them up” for wedding, shower and other event gifts. The store began carrying Jensen’s goods in September 2012.

Two months after Jensen’s products appeared on Etsy.com, wholesale orders arrived from Australia, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. Wind & Willow Home has been featured in several national magazines, including Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Food Network Magazine, Country Living and Bon Appetit.

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Find Wind and Willow Home products at windand willowhome.com or Forage Modern Workshop, Park Boutique, and the Walker Art Center’s gift store, all in Minneapolis. Martha Stewart’s American Made Marketplace on eBay and Food52’s website also feature the items.