In the three years since we met Eric Trine — who, at the time, was a grad student skipping his art-school graduation to show with Sight Unseen during New York Design Week — the Long Beach, California–furniture designer has emerged as a true talent. And though his powder-coated pieces — geometric, clean, bright, and fun — have wowed us from the start, over time he’s honed his approach and philosophy, shifting from a DIY mentality to a full-fledged operation with a driving vision behind it: to make great-looking, high-quality products that are actually affordable. “I went to a crafts-based graduate school, but I’ve kind of always felt like it’s easy to make an $8000 table,” Trine explains. “You get some brass, some marble, some live-edge walnut. I know how to do that, from a conceptual standpoint. I know how to make that big, expensive thing. But what I felt is really hard to do is: How do we do this thing for the middle class? That price point is really challenging. How do we get this good design stuff in our lives and make it more accessible? And can we do that domestically, production-wise?”
For Trine, the answer lies in working largely with metal. And, as he puts it: “I can’t design anything complex. People say, ‘Oh, you have such a refined sense of simplicity’ and it’s like, no, I just don’t know how to do something hard.” Self-deprecation aside, Trine’s focus on accessibility is not only about cost but part of a down-to-earth, gracious ethos. “Having great furniture in your house is so you can have people in your house. I love this dining table so let’s have food around it. Not ‘Let me tell you about this table, it’s from this guy…’ You should be having Spaghetti-os and Two Buck Chuck and laughing with your friends, not talking about your status piece.”
Still, his own story helped form his ideas about design. “I grew up going to the Long Beach flea market, and I was a thrift-store kid. I used to ride my Beach Cruiser four miles when I was 12 years old to check out the local Goodwill, and my fascination with objects came from me not knowing anything about an object and realizing I could make it up.” Trine eventually pursued fine arts as an undergrad before getting his MFA in 2013 in applied craft and design from Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland. “I like that immediacy of design, that direct, pre-verbal response — I don’t know what this is but I love it.”
That’s just the kind of response his work tends to inspire, whether it’s the elegant woven leather and polished copper frame of a hexagonal Rod + Weave chair or a perfect cobalt blue perforated-steel side table — the likes of which he’ll be rolling out at next month’s Sight Unseen OFFSITE. There, he’ll unveil a whole family of products, including a set of nesting tables, a wall-mounted shelf, and a bath collection, inspired, in part, by his friend Ellen Van Dusen’s line of towels. We can hardly wait to show you. But in the meantime, we’ll tide you over with a closer look at Trine’s Long Beach studio and some insight into one of our favorite designer’s creative process.
Before the show Alley-Oop opens at L.A.'s Poketo store this coming Saturday, you should take a moment to thoroughly examine the portfolios of its two Portland-based collaborators, illustrator Will Bryant and furniture designer Eric Trine. Because think about it: How easy is it to picture the results of a collaboration spanning the two disciplines? Especially when Bryant's work is so crazy vibrant — full of squiggles and anthropomorphized hot dogs wearing neon sunglasses — and Trine's is so very understated, albeit with a lot of cool geometries in the mix. Alley-Oop is like one of those software programs that lets you crudely merge the faces of two people to find out what their child might look like at age 5, though perhaps a better metaphor would be that it's like what would happen if you pumped two designers full of methamphetamine and locked them in a room together for 48 hours with nothing but some spray paint and a welding gun. Actually, that's not too far off from how Bryant and Trine describe it themselves. See our interview with the pair after the jump, along with the first preview images of their collaborative work — which hopefully won't be the last.
It used to be that if you left your big-city corporate job, moved your family to a small town in New Hampshire, did some soul-searching behind the wheel of a camper van, and opted to spend your days doing what you really loved from the basement of your house, you were most likely a 55-year-old man having a mid-life crisis. Twenty-seven-year-old RISD grad Tim Liles — who followed that exact trajectory after quitting a footwear-design job at Converse last fall — understands this perfectly well: "My girlfriend is a couple years younger and her friends don’t get it, they all live in Chicago and think we're just confused," he says, speaking to me from week five of the couple's two-month cross-country vision quest. "But in traveling around the country, I’ve met a lot of people my age who have quit a salaried job in search of something simpler."
Two hundred years ago, when American pioneers were streaming across the country making homes for themselves in the uncharted wilderness, anyone who needed a corn grater or a mouse trap had to knuckle down and make one. “Everyone was a designer,” says Paul Loebach, who’s long been fascinated by such primitive, purpose-built objects, typically hand-carved in wood or crudely forged in metal. “Whereas Europe had a network of goods trading, for the settlers it was like, we’re limited to these five square acres. They had to be really clever to make the most out of what they had, and that kind of ingenuity is inspiring to me.” Already knowing this about the Brooklyn designer after interviewing him last November, Sight Unseen invited him to choose his favorite objects from the 1972 book American Primitives, which we found at an Ohio flea market for $2 and which contains several dozen annotated selections from Norris, Tennessee’s Museum of Appalachia.