If there’s one thing that’s defined a Rich Brilliant Willing product since the studio’s three members graduated from RISD in 2007 and banded together to make furniture, it’s the idea of the mash-up. In most of their pieces, seemingly disparate materials and odd colors come together in a sort of joyful schizophrenia — a lamp with differently colored, awkwardly placed dowel legs, a wood-and-metal coat rack with copper, steel, and plastic pegs, and even a candle holder crowded with tapers, birthday candles, and fat, number-shaped votives. But a funny thing happened this spring: The trio released a series of cast-glass pendant lights with the Los Angeles–based design company Artecnica that were notable not only for their pretty, industrial aesthetic but for their adherence to a single, monochromatic material. “It’s unusual for any object to made of a single part these days,” says Theo Richardson, who with Charles Brill and Alex Williams makes up the trio, their surnames forming the basis for the studio’s cheeky name. “Most of the time, things are glued together, screwed together. But for us, this was going from assemblage work to something that’s made of a single piece.”
It’s another sign of maturity for a group who, while there’s nary a thirty-something among them, has been fortunate enough to produce work with four different manufacturers in the past year alone. But don’t expect it’s a signal they’re letting go of the loose-limbered quirkiness that made them famous in the first place. “We’re constantly trying to balance growing a creative business while retaining some of the specialness of what we’ve done so far,” says Williams.
So far, the balance has worked. The trio has pieces in production with Areaware and Roll & Hill in New York, and Innermost and SCP in London, but for the most part, those companies have taken on works that the three initially developed and produced in-house. It’s a process that’s left RBW with a surprising amount of creative control; for them, hooking up with a manufacturer has often come to mean they can expand their product line — a table upturned to become a pendant light, for example, or a floor lamp adapted into a sconce — and not that they are beholden to someone else’s vision.
So even as they’ve begun a ginger courtship with companies from Marset to De La Espada, they’re still tinkering and experimenting in the fifth-floor studio and workshop they share in a Lower East Side building that’s been home to everyone from John Derian to The Talking Heads. They recently invited us over to tell us what they’re working on next and to share with us a few of the inspirations that have informed their work so far.
It’s possible you’ve spent hours foraging flea markets, wondering how a Russel Wright pitcher or an Eames shell chair or a Jens Risom credenza might fit into your home décor. But did you ever stop to wonder how those pieces may have figured into the homes of their own makers? Leslie Williamson, a San Francisco–based photographer, did — and the result is Handcrafted Modern, a new book that offers an intimate glimpse inside the houses of 14 of America’s most beloved mid-century designers.
Australian wine capital Adelaide has a population of 1.3 million, putting it on par with Dallas or San Diego. But as native Daniel To sees it, it’s a big city with a small-town mentality — one that nearly consigned him and his wife Emma Aiston to a life designing laundry lines. “We met at the University of South Australia, where our design program was heavily engineering based and suited to what’s required for the city's industry,” explains To. “Adelaide has three main manufacturing companies: one making garden sheds, one light switches, and a third clothes-drying lines.” Rather than learning about mid-century modern, Memphis, or the Bauhaus — all of which would later inform their work as the independent studio Daniel Emma — the pair were taught to perfect their technical-drawing skills and gear up to become cogs in the local wheel. Just as they were starting their final projects in 2006, though, they had a kind of mutual awakening.
If you were familiar only with Uhuru’s work, it would be enough to surmise that the Brooklyn-based furniture designers are experts at creating something beautiful from practically nothing. (The formal term for this, we’re told, is up-cycling.) In the half-decade since RISD grads Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf have been designing their own line, they’ve produced chairs from Kentucky bourbon barrels, loungers from the Ipe wood planks of a demolished Coney Island boardwalk, and scrapwood stools so stylish they were recently picked to decorate the café at New York’s SANAA-designed New Museum. But while it's true Uhuru are a resourceful bunch, step into their sprawling Red Hook studio and any assumptions you might have about their bootstraps process all but disappear.