Air of Adhocracy
Droop Street Studio patron good, old-fashioned manufacturing. From designing to material sourcing; to material experimentation and testing to handcrafting and paint lacquering.
The most admirable quality about Droop Street Studio’s furniture is their apparent material antithesis—to me, at least. The solid, honest and seemingly natural slab of their tabletops contrast with the manufactured and brightly painted legs in a way that most ignore.
This is an obvious admiration to make when you see that founders Hugh Williams and Chaz Hutton’s backgrounds lie in mechanical engineering and architecture respectively. The harmonious balance between the two has created a collaboration tainted only by the limits of their own craftsmanship and their needs.
There’s an air of adhocracy and life hacking about these designs. With that comes tactility and refinement, though—one that evokes the hand crafted and personal touch we all seek but avoid when we hit the Swedish boutiques for furniture of the flat pack variety.
Williams and Hutton profess they tend “to rely on easily attainable and cheap materials combined with simple construction methods.” The end result is furniture that looks far from cheap and simple, and highly slick and sophisticated. And to learn more about their bespoke furniture, we caught up with them to have a chat about their work.
Daniel Stilwell: Your work seems to be a subtle balance between the structural integrity of the industrial bent steel frames and the nuances of raw materials palettes. Do you feel that’s a healthy mix of the architecture and mechanical engineering blending at the seem—both from your thought process to the literal translation of the two materials rubbing against each other?
Chaz Hutton: Not necessarily, although it's a nice metaphor! I think the blending of architecture and mechanical engineering is most prevalent in the development of whatever core idea we're playing with. We'll start with an overall idea, and from there there's usually a back and forth between the manufacturing process and the design itself. That process plays out in architecture and engineering offices every day; frustrated back and forth phone-calls between architects wanting near impossible things and engineers trying to work a realistic solution around them—that requires adjustments from both sides for the best solution, and the same applies with what we do. So the end result is a blend, for sure, but tied up in a concise, singular object.
Daniel Stilwell: As mentioned above, this relationship seen in your approach between the easily attainable, the inexpensive materials and the end piece of furniture is bizarre but beautiful. You create something that looks neither cheap nor easily attainable… how?
Chaz Hutton: Details! I guess the one really valuable resource we own is 'time' and so by investing that into a project, you can pull out an elegant result. We tig-weld the majority of our metal work, which is a bit more labor intensive than other welding types, but it leaves a much cleaner weld resulting in a higher quality look to the metal work (there's also hours and hours of filing that goes into the work). The other factor here, I guess, is that a lot of our projects take their cues/rely on the shape of found (or salvaged) objects, and so as a result the project appears as a single intended design, rather than a slap-dash combining of 'cheap and easily attainable materials’.
Daniel Stilwell: Where is it the inspiration is taken from? You mention your work comes from a need?
Chaz Hutton: I think the studio certainly started as a result of producing things we needed at the time, but it has now started to direct itself in a certain direction—namely, a lot of simple metal frames combined with natural materials. As far as inspiration goes, some of that really simple, mid-century stuff has certainly been an influence. As a means of 'studying the masters’, we actually built our own Butterfly Chairs in the past, as well as some of Clement Meadmore sling chairs, which are great. It was through exploring those designs and going through the actual process of building them that we attained some of the skills that informed our subsequent designs. For instance, the tool we built to bend the metal rod for the butterfly chairs was the same tool we then employed to bend the rod for our Side Tables. So again, while design is certainly important, the actual building process also gets a lot of say in how the design formulates.
Daniel Stilwell: For me and at first glance, there seems to be this salvaged quality to your pieces. I see a refined and streamlined iteration.
Chaz Hutton: The aim for us, generally, is to create a usable object while drawing attention to the shape/properties of the particular materials we're using. There also needs to be a 'hook'; there's no point just designing a chair for the sake of it, so each project has an idea or a purpose behind it—be it repurposing a nice piece of stone that would have otherwise ended up in landfill, or something like our Strip Chair, which is essentially just an experiment in folding and spatial gymnastics.
Daniel Stilwell: There seems to be an element of retractability, whereby you get bored or find more exquisite repurposed materials to adorn your structures of steel.
Chaz Hutton: I actually see this the other way around: rather than the stone adorning the metal frame, the frame is adorning the stone, hanging off it, it's shape very much informed my the shape of the stone.
Daniel Stilwell: How did your backgrounds cross over into the field of furniture design and manufacture?
Chaz Hutton: Time. Architecture is a similar design process but it plays out over a 3–5 year time-frame, and often longer! As someone who—now being brutally honest here—feeds off Instagram 'likes', having to wait 3–5 years to see the result of your hard work is just way too long. Furniture allowed us to cut down on that time and to produce more things; if something didn't work, we'd scrap it and start something new, especially having only invested a few hundred dollars in it. You can't afford to do that kind of thing with architecture, unless you had one very rich, very patient patron!
Images courtesy of Droop Street Studio. To see more of their work, visit their website.
You can follow Chaz on social media: @chazhutton