There are elements of Bec Dowie’s northern New Zealand home that are impossible to capture in photographs alone. One may not realize, for instance, the scope of its rural surroundings. It may be hard to detect the relative quiet in comparison to the city where the designer, her husband, and daughter previously made their home. And it most certainly may be difficult to grasp that, despite a noticeable lack of embellishment, it’s a multifaceted — and completely modifiable — space that belies its minimal appearance. To put it plainly: Its walls move. “The bedrooms in our home are on movable pods,” says Dowie, who is half of the furniture and lighting design studio Douglas and Bec. “That way, our space can go from home to studio easily.” With a workshop a kilometer away, Dowie needed a house that could meet multiple personal and professional requirements. Once a barn, the building she and her family now call home was converted accordingly.
It’s appropriate that Dowie’s home epitomizes a seamless blend of work and living space — Douglas and Bec, after all, is a family business. Launched in 2006, the studio is a collaboration between Dowie, a designer with a fine arts background, and her father, furniture designer Douglas Snelling. “We decided we would start designing and making things, but we didn’t know what direction we would take. With my art background and his practical skills, however, we went into woodwork first. It all grew from there.”
Today, Douglas and Bec is a business with global reach, well-known for goods that marry outstanding materials with clean design and meticulous craftsmanship. And while the company has showrooms in Auckland and Melbourne, there’s likely no more attractive display of its wares than the Dowie home we’re featuring here today, furnished almost entirely with pieces of the family’s making.
Expanding beyond a twosome, the Douglas and Bec team has grown to include three full-time workers at Snelling’s workshop, and Dowie’s husband, Paul. “My husband and I run the production, marketing, and financial side of things,” Dowie explains. “As far as design goes, I’m the ideas person and my father is the maker. He loves building things that are strong and structural and functional, whereas I bring a softening aesthetic to our pieces.”
While business has expanded, the work dynamic at Douglas and Bec remains much the same as it’s ever been. “We’re still very small,” Dowie says. “We’re hands-on, we’re always making something. People ask, ‘What’s your next collection?’ And there is no next collection—we’re always rolling, all the time.”
From birth, Daniel Heer was groomed to take over his family's leather- and mattress-making business. He learned the necessary skills early on, honing them through an adolescence spent at the Heer workshop in Lucerne, Switzerland, watching his father and grandfather work. His post-secondary education focused on one thing and one thing only: how to ply his trade. And then when he moved to Berlin at age 20, he left it all behind.
Brian Eno is playing, green tea is brewing, and there are half-finished projects and prototypes stacked up ’round the place. I could be in any East London live-work space. But as I talk more to my hosts — Marc Bell and Robin Grasby of the emerging London design firm International — I realize there’s something simple that sets these two Northumbria grads apart from the thousands of hip creatives populating this corner of the city. They started the studio a year or so back, with the intention of doing something a little out of fashion in the design world: “Our approach is quite commercial,” admits Grasby. “We are looking to create a mass-produced product.” Yes, he’s used the c-word — and it wasn’t crafted. By opting for production, rather than taking advantage of London’s buoyant collectors’ market, the two are aware they’re taking a tougher route. Bell puts it plainly: “Rather than shapes we enjoy making or colors we like, our designs really are function-led.” Their work always seems to boil down to intended use, and at this stage they aren’t interested in seeing their pieces in galleries. But while there have only been a handful of designs released to date, International have been getting the right kind of attention.
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.