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The Revolutionary House, by Narie Foster

June 25, 2017 | Filed in: Humans of MM

Narie Foster is the COO and co-founder of MM.LaFleur.

Short version: I am taking an extended sabbatical to help my parents build a rotating house in the Pacific Northwest, which has been my father’s dream for decades.

Long version: It all started with a papier-mâché house, a science fair, and a beach full of bivalves.

On the “Our Story” page of MM.LaFleur’s website, my bio says I was “raised by scientists who served math problems with dinner.” I’ve often considered changing that blurb because it just seemed so… cliché. And yet, it’s entirely true: My strongest memories of childhood include lessons from my dad about sneaky arithmetic tricks we never learned in school, often over my mom’s home-cooked Thai meals. But those memories pale in comparison to the family extravaganza that was the annual Greater Syracuse Scholastic Science Fair.

The science fair was exactly what you’re picturing: rows of eager kids standing next to poster boards displaying hypotheses and results. My parents were judges at the fair every year, and I entered my own projects as soon as I was old enough. During my freshman year of high school, I unveiled my all-time favorite project, “The Revolutionary House.” Even at age 14, I couldn’t resist the pun: my project was about a house that could rotate. In actuality, it wasn’t much of a science “experiment”; all I did was prove that I could build a rotating structure out of papier-mâché and foam board, and for that reason I received only “high honors” that year, instead of “highest honors” — something I’ve been trying to live down ever since. But this wasn’t the last the world would hear about the Revolutionary House, and we all knew it.

My medal from that fateful science fair.

But I can’t at all take credit for the rotating house idea. Believe it or not, it’s been a longtime dream for my dad, who was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest on a small plot of land overlooking a beach full of mussels and, beyond that, the sea. It’s the kind of sweeping view that, it turns out, compels a person to fantasize about a house that can serve you the full 360 degrees while you’re sitting down for breakfast, or position a room of your choosing to face the sunset, or the reflection of the moon on the ocean. Especially if you’re like my dad (or perhaps a daughter born with his genes?) and you seek out activities because they’re hard, or borderline impossible.

The view from the property, painted by my aunt, hung over the piano in my childhood home.

For years, the rotating house was just that — a fantasy. But as time went on, my dad began to work out the many technical challenges of actually building a viable rotating house. This includes how to make it spin (we’re thinking the maximum speed would be one turn in 10 minutes, and usually much slower), as well as how to make it environmentally-friendly, ocean salt-friendly, senior-friendly… the list goes on.

And now, as we set up for my parents’ retirement, it’s suddenly go time. My science fair “experiment” is coming to life, and I’m heading west to help make it happen — to give it a whirl, if you will.

My father, as captured by my sister in 2016.

Everyone in my family is really excited. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, I always like to add a disclaimer: We’re going to try to make the house rotate. There’s still a lot to figure out. Worst case, it’ll end up being a pretty great, stationary house (also known as a “house”), and I’ll learn a lot about residential architecture, building code nuances, and creative approaches to plumbing. But hey, five years ago I knew nothing about cut-and-sew garments, company culture, or payment gateways, and that didn’t stop us. And more important than anything, I’ll get to spend time with my parents, in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet.

The partly-finished model in 2002 (with a Lego girl for scale).

So that’s what I’ll be doing during my extended sabbatical from MM. As you can imagine, this decision weighed on me for months. But then suddenly, it became obvious: This year is for family.

That’s not to say that MM isn’t a kind of family, too. It truly is. I’ve spent more than five years and the deepest sources of my energy building this place into what it has become. It has been the hardest and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I won’t be able to stray far. I’ll stay on as an advisor, and my involvement will evolve and increase again when the time is right. Only a place like MM would be this hard to leave, and only someone as bold and compassionate as Sarah LaFleur would immediately understand this crazy dream and insist that we make it happen.

It’s this spirit of family, of celebrating individual passion, and of having each other’s backs — cornerstones of MM culture — that make this place so authentically unique, and I want to thank the entire community that has created that: Sarah, Miyako, everyone on the team, our customers, our many partners and investors, and, notably, my own family and friends who supported me and MM since our very first trunk shows, and cut me a ton of slack for putting MM first for all these years. It’s time for me to put those people first, but hopefully one day soon I won’t have to pick between the two families. And we can kick it off by all squeezing into a big, revolutionary housewarming party.

The model of the Revolutionary House, resurrected recently from my basement. The design has changed a lot since then, but we’re still thinking a stationary ground floor and a six-sided floor plan. The house probably won’t be sea foam green, but who knows.

Photos by Maria Karas and courtesy of Narie Foster.

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Narie Foster is the COO and co-founder of MM.LaFleur. Read more of Narie's posts.

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