Photography by Emily Sobecki
Niles resident Mandi Latislaw’s work station could be described as comfortable chaos. Nearly every spare inch of space is covered in beautifully decorated ornaments, wooden letters and forged signs. In the background, a large machine whirrs to life, filling the room with the scent of singed wood and sawdust as it carefully begins to laser neat letters and shapes into an awaiting piece of wood.
From the computer at her desk, Mandi smiles as she waits for the design she created on her screen to be translated into a tangible Christmas ornament.
“It’s always so exciting,” she says, watching her mother, Kathleen Cain, pull a fully formed ornament from the machine. “When it comes out, and it turns out as awesome as you thought it would, you have to have a little celebration.”
Mandi is the creative force behind Forge On Décor, a décor business selling laser forged items in a variety of materials, from wood to acrylic and more. On her Etsy shop, Mandi, along with Kathleen, sell everything from farmhouse-inspired signs to personalized neon lamps to engraved cutting boards. One of Forge On’s best sellers is its “propuzzles” — engraved wooden puzzle pieces that, when put together, spell out a marriage proposal.
“We keep an eye on what’s trendy and what is popular,” Mandi says. “[Kathleen and I] have different styles, but we often work on things together, and by the end we both know we have something really cool.”
The fact that Mandi can sit in front of her computer watching her designs come to life now is something of a miracle, as two years ago, she was legally blind.
In 2018, Mandi was diagnosed with a brain tumor, taking with it most of her sight. However, several surgeries and lots of radiation later, she can see again. While Mandi’s diagnosis has been difficult for her and her family, it is what gave her the push to open her own business.
“This was something we thought she could do when her vision was impaired, but now it’s not impaired,” Kathleen says.
“At that time, there wasn’t a lot I could do, but I could barely see the designs on the screen,” Mandi says, recalling the time before her vision was restored. “This is something I was able to do when I couldn’t do much else. This is my creative outlet. Everything I was going through kind of inspired us to take the jump. [Kathleen] said, ‘Let’s just do it. Let’s just go for it.’”
A lifelong-crafter, Mandi says she is glad she and her mother took the plunge to start Forge On in fall 2019, as it has allowed her to turn her passion into a business.
“Just seeing someone take your work into their home and enjoy it makes it all worth it,” she says. “It’s really great to see.”
As Forge On continues into yet another holiday season, both Kathleen and Mandi say they hope the business continues to be a creative outlet that brings a smile to both Mandi and their customers.
“We just want to keep growing and have fun,” Kathleen says. “Having fun is a big part of it.”