A journal of workers working
I GOTTA WORK HERE INSTEAD
I was open to anything after graduating RISD and New York was great, I came here with a painting portfolio and people were receptive and willing to talk to me simply because I could draw. I wanted to pursue art but it was 1990 and the 80’s thing was fading, it was this ‘emperor’s clothes’ kind of moment, everything was irrelevant and pricing was so messed up. I was working for a commercial painting company, just to make some money, when they were hired to paint the new Ted Muehling store. I was in the new store painting the ceiling and started to wonder if they were hiring. So, I just hung around, painting everything I could and refinishing chairs until eventually I got a job. Ted is a phenomenal designer and a great person. In his studio, he has these huge wooden cabinets that you’d think would be full of paperwork but instead they’re full of all these collections of natural specimens; shells, bones, seed pods. He was a big influence on me and the primary reason I switched from art to design. He inspired me to make objects with price points, objects that make sense and have relevance in the marketplace.
STARTED WITH CURTAIN RODS, TABLES AND BOOKSHELVES
While I was there I started doing metal fabrication on the side for friends and people I met. During that time I built up a shop and got tools and materials together. I think a lot of the stuff I’m making now is based on that period, when I was just sorting things out, making mistakes and solving problems through fabrication.
I started with curtain rods, tables, bookshelves, whatever people wanted, but whatever I made had a design element I met several furniture makers, but lighting seemed like a better direction for me. Primarily because furniture requires so much space. Once you make a table you have to store it. Lamps seemed a lot more logical. Eventually I made a line of 10 or 12 desk lamps and that got the whole thing rolling.
I was this guy in a studio making desk lamps, getting in my VW bug, driving from vendor to vendor and eventually to the customer to collect my $300 check. My wife and I had this cheap apartment and as long as I sold 5 lamps a month, I was OK. It was a good time in Brooklyn then. There were a lot of small manufacturers in Williamsburg doing different things.
THE ONLY EQUATION YOU NEED TO KNOW
Initially I approached the lamps as sculptures to hold light bulbs. But I soon realized the nuances of light was what completed each piece; that I could create a nice contoured sweep of light on the wall or table top by giving the shades different profiles. Recently we had a show in LA, and someone I talked to was convinced that I “really understood light” because I had studied painting. But I think it mainly comes down to observation and experimentation. I’ve always enjoyed eating breakfast in the morning daylight. I hate to turn lights on in the winter when the sunlight isn’t quite enough. I think I am aware of light in that sense. It’s a personal experience and its completely integral to your experience of a given space.
THERE’S AN INNOCENCE
When you start out you think: draw it, render it and make it - done. But what almost always happens is you sketch it, render it, make it, make it again, make it into a final version and then maybe you’re done enough to make an actual finished product or send out drawings to have it made. It’s complicated. You can make a lamp and find out that that one leg needs to be two inches longer to stabilize it 2” shorter to avoid having you look right into the bulb.
We’re doing more and more drawing on the computer. We use two drawing programs. One is very primitive and allows you hash out the dimensions. The other is very high-end and complex. Paired together they work nicely.
The engineering part of the process is very intuitive, there’s no real math involved. More and more I’ve started following what looks right to me instead of what the dimensions should be. The new lighting and furniture collections for Pucci were made as models with a very loose dimensional ratio. I basically gave up the initial planning phase and started carving foam and bending wire. Planning can be so regimented, you start with squares and grids, which can be boring and take the life out of the process.
I used to always work in full scale, which is probably why I wasn’t making any money back then. There’s an innocence when you have a vision of what you think the final object will look like. It’s a sort of gullibility, thinking everything is going to work and your first version is going to be the final version.
THEY LOOK NUANCED AND FINESSED
Initially, for the first run, we make almost all our parts except for the little items like brackets and swivels that we can get from manufacturers. We make all the hubs and pivot joints. We have a great relationship with a machine shop in Long Island that will critique our initial versions. We’ll send them the drawings and they’ll say ‘yes or no’. Not using off-the-shelf parts is really one of our strengths. Our objects are unusual, they look nuanced and finessed.
FROM ARTIST AND CRAFTSPERSON, TO BUSINESS
Art, design, craft, and business usually don’t naturally blend together. That’s something I’m really proud of in terms of my business. I think many people have the ability to do any one or two of those well but to tie them all up into a package, and turn them into a business is rare and hard. Especially a good business that provides health care and good compensation for its employees. That’s special I try to foster a nice, healthy environment that everyone here can respect and appreciate.
JUST GIVE IT FIVE YEARS
Almost every industry in the US is so much about marketing and cheap overseas manufacturing. But you see people who cut through it, they have this personal thing they want to do and they just do it. And they just keep doing it until more people start to appreciate it; it starts to develop a grassroots following. When you’re that person success usually takes a lot longer than you want and you feel like you don’t have the patience for it, or the endurance. I remember when I started, someone said, just give it 5 years and it’ll be great, and I was like, ‘five-years and I’ll be broke.’ But he was right, within 5 years I finally had some money in the bank and my business was paying for itself.
Photography by Dan Sharp. Interview by Daniel Pasley.
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