Hudson home tour with Elise McMahon of LikeMindedObjects © Pippa Drummond

At Home in Hudson, With A Designer Embracing the DIY Culture of Upstate New York

Over the past few years, as designers from Bushwick to Red Hook have begun moving farther and farther up the Hudson River, we've begun to wonder: Is upstate New York the new Brooklyn? Five years ago, one of those such designers was Elise McMahon of LikeMindedObjects, a RISD grad who works within a kind of freeform, collaborative, ad hoc aesthetic. We visited her art-filled home in Hudson, New York late last summer to find out more.
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Chiyome minimalist handbags

Chiyome’s Japanese-Inspired, Minimalist Handbags

It’s easy to look at the work of designer Anna Moss and draw associations with a familiar sort of functional Japanese minimalism: her line of handbags, CHIYOME, is named for her Japanese great-grandmother. Yet for Moss, the starting point is plainly straightforward: “I strive for simplicity and that can take many forms,” she explains. What interests her is not minimalism for the sake of it, but rather a focus on the bag as vessel; it’s a study less in stripping back and more in adding intentionality.
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Mattes makes the slices to order — “you can tell me what toppings you want” — and jokes about creating a webshop “that’s almost like the Domino’s Tracker, where people can see what state their pizza’s in.” She plans to keep making them, but she’s also “interested in creating some other small-scale object weavings that aren’t necessarily pizza.”

Portland Textile Artist Kayla Mattes

Kayla Mattes’ tapestries are an antidote to the disconnection and depersonalization that spending hours online can sometimes leave you feeling. Her work is plugged in to all the technology we take for granted but she recontextualizes it, slows it down, and the effect is immersive, dizzying, a little chaotic, and oddly comforting.
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Francesca Capone, textile designer

Francesca Capone creates work that experiments with textile processes and language. The RISD-trained designer employs traditional textile processes such as hand-weaving, jacquard, machine knitting, marble printing, screen-printing and various dyeing methods such as shibori. But an MFA in "cross-disciplinary writing" at Brown has also led her to explore what happens when she distorts words and meaning through photo-manipulation, scanning, and digitally layering books. Combined, these methods result in unique and striking geometric patterns on fabric and painterly compositions of abstracted textual fields.
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Visibility, Product Designers

Sina Sohrab was born in Tehran and raised in Detroit; Joseph Guerra is a native Los Angeleno who grew up outside Atlanta. Yet when the pair met as undergrads at RISD, their backgrounds turned out to be their most influential commonality: "There was this emphasis in both our families on earning your possessions and respecting them — it's something we really connected on," recalls Sohrab. "Joey’s dad, for example, had this idea that he wanted all of his possessions to reference an older possession he'd had at another point in his life. This timeline of objects and the idea of emotional value became really important to us." Upon graduating in 2012, the duo knew they wanted to team up; Sohrab moved to New York and took a job at Bec Brittain studio, while Guerra spent six months in Europe working for Industrial Facility and Big-Game before joining him. They're now hunkered down in Brooklyn preparing to launch their first collaborative collection during ICFF in May, under the name Visibility.
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Katie Stout, Furniture Designer

What were you doing at age 24? Muddling through grad school? Working as a CAD monkey? Moving back in with your parents? If so, you might be more than a little jealous of recent RISD grad Katie Stout, who at that tender age already holds the post of gallery director at New York's Johnson Trading Gallery, where Paul Johnson not only represents her work but encourages her to introduce him to that of her peers (like Noho Next alum and future SU subject Misha Kahn, for example). Before she landed the job, Stout's only previous employment was a one-summer college internship for the novelty housewares brand Fred and Friends: "I showed the creative director my portfolio, and when he saw a table I'd made as a sophomore that was an udder with milk squirting out of its teats, he asked me what I was on," she recalls. "Obviously I said nothing."
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Meg Callahan geometric quilts

Meg Callahan is Making Quilts Cool Again

Earlier this month, Jamie Gray of New York’s Matter was named a “game-changer” for his patronage role in the American design scene, and we've got to give the man his credit. Though we pride ourselves on unearthing emerging talents in design, it was Gray who introduced us to Meg Callahan, the recent RISD grad whose coolly geometric, midcentury-meets-Ma Walton quilts were released through Mattermade, his in-house furniture line, last spring. Callahan quickly became one of our favorites, for the way she mixes the traditional with the new, alternating hand-stitching with machine-quilting, color-blocking with digital printing. “I started making quilts because I really like the aesthetic nature of things, but I also like figuring out how things are made,” Callahan says. “A quilt is a functional, 3-D object but it’s also 2-D, a composition of color blocks; you have to figure out the math of how to construct it. The combination of the two intrigued me.” When she approached us with a series of images she shot back home in Oklahoma of her new Caddo quilt — well, we’d have been crazy if we didn’t publish them and get the story behind their making.
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Ravenhill also cites the work of midcentury designers like Jean Prouvé, Charles and Ray Eames, and Friso Kramer: "They had such an amazing sensitivity about how things are made," he says. Ravenhill's Cord Lamp, shown above, improved upon the original wooden iteration while also reinterpreting Prouve’s classic Swing Jib design for a modern, cost-conscious consumer. "It has a simple construction, where the cloth-covered cord acts as both the power source and the tension element that holds the arm straight and prevents it from swinging too freely," Ravenhill says.

Brendan Ravenhill, Furniture and Product Designer

Believe it or not, Los Angeles–based designer Brendan Ravenhill owes the success of his Cord Lamp, at least in part, to Etsy. It’s not that the designer spends his days hawking the spare, Prouvé-inspired insta-classic on the online crafters’ marketplace. But a few years ago, Ravenhill was coerced by his wife to participate in something she’d created on the site called Mail Order Pals. “It was basically a penpal for purchase," Ravenhill told me when I visited his Echo Park home and studio earlier this summer. "People could buy you in order to receive a letter or a surprise package in the mail.” After someone “bought” Ravenhill, he went to the hardware store and whipped up an elegantly simple wooden swing-arm lamp in one night. Upon seeing his creation, the designer’s wife convinced him it was just too nice to send. The penpal ended up getting a wire sculpture of a penguin, and the couple began living with the lamp. In the months that followed, Ravenhill became obsessed with the design, refining and tweaking it in his head to the point that by the time he was approached to create a piece to show with the American Design Club at a trade fair in New York, he was able to fashion a prototype in just one week. The final lamp — composed primarily of porcelain, cast aluminum, a cloth cord, and a bare bulb — packs and ships flat and sells for less than $200 at places like The Future Perfect, cementing the young designer’s status as a rising talent to watch.
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Wiseman is obsessed with abstracting the language of nature, and much of his work springs from a series of drawings he began developing six or seven years ago in which he would obsessively sketch idealized natural environments. “In the background would be these crystallized mountains, which eventually became the basis for my faceted vases, and in the foreground would be strange little animals interacting with objects,” he says. The moss drawings decorating the above vase stemmed from that series. “I drew a whole page of them, scanned them, and printed them onto ceramic decal paper. I individually compose patterns on each vase based on how I think the moss might grow. The ink has glass silica in it, which means it can be fired into the clay itself. It’s a really common industrial process for applying things like flowers and text to cups, but I like to twist those processes to make something that feels in a way more handmade.”

David Wiseman, Designer

For a designer whose most high-profile interiors client is Christian Dior, David Wiseman has none of the flamboyance you might expect — neither the stylized degeneracy of John Galliano nor the leather chaps–wearing showmanship of Peter Marino, the architect who in the past year-and-a-half has hired Wiseman to create massive, site-specific installations in his newly renovated Dior flagships from Shanghai to New York. Rather, Wiseman is a 29-year-old RISD grad whose studio is located in a former sweatshop in the industrial Glassell Park area of Los Angeles, just behind an unmarked door in the shadow of a taco truck.
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Crested Comb-Back Chair, above “Applying a seat to a frame feels superfluous somehow. I wanted to keep the same principles, but pare down the lines a bit.”

Tim Liles, Furniture Designer

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."
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