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Interview: Southern Resourcefulness and Ingenuity of Holler Design
|Melissa and Matt Alexander
of Holler Design were kind enough to answer a few questions regarding their work, lifestyle and passion for furniture design. You can enjoy some of the beautiful pieces of furniture designed by Holler Design in this post and further information and furniture pictures can be found on their website, HollerDesign
- Freshome: How did you get started with HollerDesign?
- Holler Design: I think Matt and I knew that we wanted to work together pretty soon after receiving our undergraduate degrees and moving to Detroit. Matt and I have overlapping skill sets, but we have disparate approaches to design. Matt works intuitively, while my approach is more analytic and rigorous. Sometimes that makes it hard to work together, but we both agree that our projects are better for it in the end.
- Freshome: In the three years since you started the business, which project was the most provocative?
- Holler Design: We recently designed a piece as a response to a project brief for a design show in Atlanta. The show, an off-site event associated with Modern Atlanta, enlisted designers to address the word ‘Fixed’. Our entry Beam is created from reclaimed pine barn beams and held together with bowdock pegs…a traditional timber framed barn construction method. Then we burn the sides or top to generate a rich black finish and finally seal with polyurethane. Up to this point, most of our designs have been rather complex and involved, and thus demand a higher price point. Beam is compact and easier to fabricate than our other products. It responds to the project brief conceptually, but it also literally ‘fixes’ a problem we had with our product line by offering one of our designs at a more attainable cost.
- Freshome: Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
- Holler Design: Traditional American furniture, barns, traditional wood joinery, the culture of the southeast, contemporary design, music…
- Freshome: How do you market your business and who are your clients?
- Holler Design: We’ve been pretty fortunate with both local and national editorial coverage, so most of our clients find us that way or by word of mouth. We were also lucky enough to have an online flash sale with Fab.com, where we sold out of Beam stools in three hours! Our clients are typically design conscious professionals. I think most of them appreciate the value of small scale American manufacturing.
- Freshome: How does your design philosophy integrate in your daily lives?
- Holler Design:Our design philosophy is more akin to buying local, organic food from your farmer’s market. All our wood is sourced locally, most of it right off the farm. Our fabrication techniques are inherently sustainable. In our personal lives we try to seek out companies with similar philosophies. Both Matt and I come from humble roots: Matt’s father is a farmer, while mine is in the tool and die business. So we know that not everybody, (including us!) can afford the highest quality in all their purchases. But what we tell our clients (indeed, what we try to practice ourselves) is that paying a little more for something American made, sustainably produced, and built to last a lifetime is an investment. After all, you aren’t really buying it for yourself…you are buying it for your grandkids.
- Freshome: You say that your work is inspired by rural forms and textures. Can you describe the process from idea to finished product?
- Holler Design: If we are doing a custom design for a client, we start by sitting down and having a discussion…what is the purpose of the piece, how will it be used, what type of room will it be in, what other furniture will be close to it, etc. We then create at least three distinct options: the first option is always the most straight-forward iteration, while the other options approach the design with different perspectives. The final choice is always up to the client, but sometimes we take the option we like best and develop it for ourselves! Our BentDesk was developed in this way. In our own furniture line, we try to rethink and reinvent traditional typologies. For example, with Rocker03 we began by analysing a series of antique ladderback chairs belonging to Matt’s father…scale and dimension, joinery, wood type, caning, etc. Our interpretation employs the same ladderback proportions and aesthetics, but is completely redesigned to employ modern CNC milling technologies. The result is a sensuous, sleek silhouette that is at home in both grandma’s house and your urban loft. With our FarmBench, we started with large planks of pristine reclaimed pine, with the weathered finish intact. After assembly, everywhere we’ve carved into the planks we highlight with a water based, brightly colored lacquer. We really like the playful quality of the bright color juxtaposed against the weathered pine.
- Freshome: How did your life influence the decision of starting HollerDesign?
- Holler Design: If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll see our description as “Two Southerners who have left home and returned with an imperative of what it means to be Southern, and a desire to share that view with others.” In our estimation, being Southern is less about cliche ideas of hospitality and friendliness. It has more to do with a pervading sense of resourcefulness and ingenuity…something our colleagues at the Southern Design Concern call ‘bootstrappy-ness.’ One of our favorite quotes is from the late demographer Calvin Beale. He said Southerners aren’t “barefooted hillbillies given to moon shining and quite disinclined to work for a living,” but that we are “inclined to self-sufficiency and simple living, [with a] widespread interest in environmentalism, conservation, alternative fuel sources, rural aesthetic values, home food production, and local self-government.’
- Freshome: Both you and your husband have extensive knowledge of architecture, design and fine arts. What do you think would be another great addition to your field of interest? What would you like to learn next?
- Holler Design: If I didn’t have to sleep, I would love to learn more about poetry. Being specific and finding just the right word is very important to me, and sometimes the right combination of words can speak volumes. (For example, in one poem e.e. cummings describes Spring as “when the world is puddle-wonderful”. Isn’t that somehow perfect?) Matt’s latest endeavor is beekeeping. It’s slightly HollerD related, in that he’s been researching traditional wood finishes and thought having a homegrown supply of beeswax would be nifty. But the bees are also terribly interesting little creatures. It’s been exciting watching the stack of hive supers get taller all summer.
- Freshome: If your weekdays are filled with work, your weekends must be filled with inspiration. How do you spend your free time?
- Holler Design: As I’m sure any husband and wife partnership will agree, it is crucial to carve out some ‘normal marriage’ time on the weekends. Not that we don’t chat about ideas for future projects and such, but we try to keep business talk to a minimum. Being in the ‘Music City’, we of course enjoy seeing live music shows (most recently the Carolina Chocolate Drops). We also enjoy museums and gallery events, as well as more traditional Southern pastimes such as gardening, beekeeping, home brewing, porchswingin’, and lazy walks across the farm.
- Freshome: How do you see your work evolving in the future?
- Holler Design: We have a couple of ideas for future expansion, such as devoting more time to our interior design & architecture services. So far we’ve tackled an office renovation and a farmhouse bathroom renovation, but we would love to design interiors for a restaurant! Another ambition is opening a retail store where we could offer our furniture, along with other high quality, handmade, local goods, such as Emil Erwin bags, Otis James clothing, or Borough Furnace iron goods.
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