Even for struggling post-grads, the constraints under which Pete Oyler and Nora Mattingly of the fledgling design studio Assembly created their debut furniture collection would be considered rather limiting. The couple — he a Kentucky-born RISD furniture grad, she a Pratt-educated interior design major — were living in a cramped apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant with a third roommate, sharing a studio space in even farther-out Brooklyn, and commuting nearly four hours to a woodworking shop in Westhampton, Massachusetts, where Oyler had apprenticed for two years before grad school. But rather than chafing against such strictures of space, the two worked with them, creating pieces that were easily transportable and could be effortlessly placed in any small space: side chairs with smaller-than-usual footprints, glass-and-blackened-steel lamps with hand-blown shades hardly bigger than the bulbs, even a stripped-down toilet paper holder that doesn’t consist of much more than a brass cylinder that mounts directly into the wall.
That was earlier this year. But as of two months ago, the couple and their Border Collie mix had picked up and moved full-time to that shop tucked away in the woods of western Massachusetts, where the glut of space has proved exciting and almost a bit overwhelming. “It’s a 2,000-square-foot shop that’s like state-of-the-art for 1940,” laughs Oyler. “We’ve got every single old industrial machine you would need, and everything is huge — a 36-inch bandsaw, a 24-inch joiner, two forklifts — but it’s not a CNC-type situation.” The two are adjusting slowly to country life — and returning frequently to a friends’ 8×10 guest bedroom in the city — but the benefits have already shown themselves. “We never had a bed because I didn’t have room to make one,” says Oyler. “Now I’m installing one tomorrow.”
Favorite design object: “Hands down, the rubber band. It’s simple, versatile, and useful in so many different situations.”
Last great exhibition you saw: “‘Franz Erhard Walther, Work as Action’ at Dia: Beacon. It’s always so interesting and inspiring to see works in progress. This exhibit paired process with product but positioned the entire collection as a work in progress, as its success depended on the willingness of its audience to participate.”
Favorite place to shop for materials: “McMaster-Carr.”
If you had an unlimited budget for a single piece, what would you make? “We’ve always wanted to outfit a bar – a whole bar. Pete is from Kentucky, so a bourbon bar would just be a dream.”
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be? “You know, there really isn’t anything else we could be. Starting a small business, being a young designer in America — these are not easy paths to take. We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if there were a Plan B.”
What’s your next project? “We’re excited to be working with Misha Kahn on a series of vases. Pete was Misha’s T.A. at RISD, the two have been playing Words With Friends ever since.”