American Design Hot List 2016
Bainbridge Island, Washington, graindesign.com
We’ve long been fans of Chelsea and James Minola’s understated furnishings and Guatemalan-made textiles, but their most recent collection reached new levels of sophistication.
What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?
American design is:
As independent American designers, we’ve had moments — especially in the beginning — where we looked at young European designers and thought they had it so much easier with support from their government. Our thinking on that has shifted over the years. In having to build and maintain a business to support our design practice, we’ve created an ecosystem around our work, supported by relationships with peers, manufacturers, photographers, press, retailers, and clients, that now affords us a lot of creative freedom.
As part of a large country, with such diversity of culture, climate, and geography, we can’t help but get excited when we see regional design communities working together to create their own point of view based on their specific experience of time and place.
We are builders in this country. We admire invention and the search for newness. Designers are at the center of this action as problem solvers and catalysts for change. There is kind of American heroism in the ambition of those who build a practice around curiosity and discovery.
Our design education taught us how rewarding it is to collaborate and learn from one another. We’ve been so shaped by working together with our peers as well as the artists, craftspeople, and manufacturers that help us realize our work. This has been especially important for us within our small Northwest community, where so many of us share resources and support each other through creating collective events and experiences.
We started our practice at the height of the recession and spent a few years in this optimistic naivete that is so much a part of the American Dream narrative. We have learned a lot since then, but that optimism is still with us and with so many of our peers who have also built businesses from scratch.
What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?
We have some exciting client work in production at the moment. It is a lot of customization of our line, which is something we do well since we make so much of our work to order. Working with architects and interior designers is another collaborative relationship that we find super rewarding.
Moving forward, we are working on our next collection to launch during NYCxDESIGN. It is loosely inspired by a recent residency experience in Northeastern Oregon — think alpine mountains meet prairie. We were so energized by this new, but also familiar landscape. We hope to capture some of the quiet drama of that wilderness in our new work.
Closer to home, we are actively searching for land to purchase here on Bainbridge Island to build a future studio space — one that also provides us with an opportunity to work on an architectural scale to shape an environment for our work to live within. We are so deeply rooted to this place. We want to embed ourselves further within our local community as well as provide a destination experience for people visiting the island who are curious about our little utopia.
What inspires or informs your work in general?
Chelsea: Each other. The push and pull of a long-term partnership.
James: Over the past couple years I have been thinking a lot about non-human environments: High alpine, subsurface, astrophysics, and robotics.