From the outside, the last two decades on the New York scene have looked free and interesting, perhaps not weighed down by design history. What is the scene like now?
When I think about American, or New York design, a bit of it is just about being very naive about design history. Our country is very young, and being familiar with history is not so important. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we don’t feel a lot of pressure here to get our facts straight. It’s all about what is new, looking ahead and forgetting the past in many ways. I think that is what our country is going through right now with the whole Black Lives Matter movement. We’re like “this is not that long ago, this is still fresh wounds”. That is our country’s story. It’s so different from many other countries where you have this weight of many centuries, it’s just really different here. That’s why I wanted to found my own company, to have independence and freedom, it’s the American story. I don’t want a boss, I don’t want investors, I don’t want to be dependent on anyone, I want to make my own mistakes. I want to be responsible for every penny I make. I was so driven by not having ties to anyone. I think the spirit of the design in New York is very similar. People are like I know what I want to see come out of my studio. I don’t even know if people are that worried about making their mark, but I think a lot of people are just so excited to see a bit of them in the world, whether it’s lighting or another type of furnishings. I think a lot of New York designers are really driven and excited to see their expression exist and manifest in reality. It’s probably also like second nature, just in terms of our culture. Even if people’s work at the beginning of their career arc looks derivative at first, usually the people with staying power outgrow that, and in a way it’s just a natural process of finding their own voice. It just takes time, to experiment and develop ones own point of view. So, any designers with staying power have found that, it’s like a struggle and a joy. We are not comparing ourselves to anything, we don’t have a ton of awareness in many cases, I think it’s pretty naive in how we make work.
Onto the pandemic. How’s it been for you, the studio, your family, for New York?
One thing I have been reflecting on is the resilience of my studio and my team. Any time I would get overly worried or anxious, what I realised in that they want to keep this studio alive as much as I do, and so people very quickly amongst themselves figured out how we can continue to fulfil orders with all of these new regulations put on us from the city. When the studio had to close down and we couldn’t go in, people on my operations team and the director of operations, they within a matter of days came up with a plan. We anticipate this shutdown, we are going to gather up all of the jobs that are ready to be assembled and we are taking them out of New York City and found spaces in spots like Western Massachusetts, like wood-shops, where people had family there. Two guys who work in Harlem set up a production line in their kitchen. I don’t want to call our studio a cockroach, but if our studio can survive this, it can survive anything. They love their jobs, they want to be employed, the sales team just worked their butt off, and they are killing it. It really has nothing to do with me. I can get overly anxious about what is coming next, but I realised that their drive and energy, and they are all younger than me, is incredible. They are so resilient. Back in March, April and May, when we were all working from home, I posed a question to everybody. I said, I know it’s a time of uncertainty and we are all stressed, but if you could take time out to reflect on what are you loving about this time and what do you not want to give up? People all wrote in answers. So we compiled the responses, and we as a studio figured out what we could continue. To not lose the parts of the quality of life that people treasured. We allowed a lot more flexibility, with how people work with the hours, the number of meetings, with blocks of time people want to keep undisturbed, with how they can work and find time to be in nature, or with their families. We just didn’t want to go back to what it was. It wasn’t an optimal work life balance. So that has been an interesting change.