Hellman-Chang's ground-floor Brooklyn facility has the offices in the front and the shop area in the back. Until their upcoming expansion brings their own finishing facility online, they're currently building the pieces in-house, then trucking them over to a finishing facility a few blocks away. What's interesting is that the pieces don't go from the shop area to be loaded onto a truck out back, as you'd expect; they go out through the front. The workers carry each and every piece through the office, meaning that even while on the phone or sending e-mails, Dan and Eric can eyeball the pieces as they go out of the door.
"We've made changes at the 11th hour, before it goes into finishing," says Eric. "If we see something, some portion that we're not happy with, we can go back in and make a change. The danger of a designer who doesn't make their own product is, they'll draw something on paper, send it out to someone to make, get it back and not be happy with it, because they're not a part of that production process."
Dan and Eric were kind enough to give Core77 their full story, describing how they built their business up from nothing into the highly successful brand that is the Hellman-Chang of today, with clients ranging from hotels to Hollywood, partners ranging from Showtime to Swarovski. A lot of their individual clients (whose names we cannot print here) include movie stars, CEOs, owners of sports teams, owners of department stores, and at least one Middle Eastern princess, who commissioned a Hellman-Chang table to be finished with a custom tabletop made from bone by craftsmen in India. (Sadly, the tabletop did not weather the transoceanic journey from India to Brooklyn very well, and a warped version of it is now holding up magazines and Snapples in the shop area's break room. Undaunted, the princess ordered more from the Indian craftsmen, and three tops later, Dan and Eric received one good enough to fulfill the order.)
We knew the story of how they've gotten to where they are would be of interest to up-and-coming designers, and Dan and Eric are no strangers to the concept of lending a helping hand. As a highly successful business in their own right, Hellman-Chang makes it a point to help the creative community develop in what ways they can, as evidenced by the rear of their shop area, which they rent out to fellow craftsmen.
"Dan and I started at the co-op in Brooklyn, sharing space with a dozen other woodworkers and artists. We all traded ideas, discussed fabrication techniques and created bonds," Eric explains. "That was an important part of Hellman-Chang's early days as a Brooklyn-based studio. When we opened up our own space, we wanted to maintain that energy and sense of community, so we set aside around 2500 square feet for rental and brought many members of our old co-op with us. We all built the new shop together - it was a great bonding experience, and now they each have their own bench space where everyone can communicate, bond, and work together."
Now that they've given us their history, it's Hellman-Chang's turn to tell us about some of their pieces. We asked them to walk us through some of their classic and current projects, so you can see what the company they've built is now capable of producing:These solid walnut Omni Tables are final sanded in our Brooklyn studio and await finishing. The Omni Side Table was designed to embody complex Hellman-Chang design and fabrication with its dynamic 'fast' lines and concave surface detailing. The first prototype took hundreds of man-hours to produce.
In collaboration with Swarovski Elements we created the limited Crystal Edition line of our popular pieces, including the Crystal Omni Side Table and the Crystal Z Side Table shown here. A sheet of crystal mesh is carefully hand applied into the top beneath a sheet of Starfire glass. The challenge was integrating the Swarovski Elements with Hellman-Chang's distinctive style in a tailored, tasteful and seamless way.
The Hayden bed and nightstand shown here is one of Hellman-Chang's signature and most recognizable lines, featuring distinctively carved solid wood faces. One of the main challenges when creating these pieces was maintaining the integrity of the design while balancing the stability of the solid wood as the coved surfaces are cut away.
The Lucid Dining Table is part of Hellman-Chang's latest line. It was a deeper exploration of mixing our solid-wood design fundamentals heavily with other materials such as Starfire glass and blackened, brushed, cold-rolled steel. The design balances substantial presence of solid wood with perceived lightness of the glass, creating both a strong stance and a sense of weightlessness.
Each Lucid Line piece features two 3/4-inch sheets of Starfire glass. The Lucid Dining Table here has an inset glass window in the top that creates depth, and a point of interest to the glass shelf below. This opens up the table, as well as creates a customizable option for our clients to swap in various inserts or interestingly display fauna, sculptures and any other expressive items.
The Tao Nightstand incorporates a low-profile center drawer and integrates the solid wood with our negative space design. It was important to be functional, beautifully crafted, and balanced.
The lofty Tao Bookshelf comes in 36", 48" and 60" and works well to highlight artwork, vases and collectibles. Interior designers have used it more frequently to double as an interesting room divider.
Winner of Interior Design Magazine's Best of Year Merit Award, the Tao Cocktail Table was the first in our popular Tao line. Canted edges lead the eye to the negative space, and the inset serving tray encourages entertaining guests, but once removed, allows users to highlight vases and sculptures through the hole in the top. The orchids shown here seem to grow from the table.
The highly customizable Tao Sideboard and Media Console shown here find balance in its heavy presence with the delicate frame, negative space, and inset glass top. Comes in various width and heights for various uses. The challenge was how to provide tremendous storage space and creating the zen-like lightness for which our designs are known.
The Xie writing desk is extrapolated from our Xie console, which is a heavily stylized table through a tremendous amount of solid-wood carving and detailing. Every surface is hand-shaped to feature swoops and bevels that ignore joinery lines and create dynamic views from all angles.
The Z Dining Table is one of our most popular pieces, originally designed for the Four Seasons hotel restaurant and expanded from our award-winning Z Line. Here, a long elliptical oval must be supported with two 'Z bases' which fuse together for a symmetric statement piece. The original design features one set of criss-crossing, hand-carved legs, so designing a brand new piece that could carry the larger top size without diverting from the fundamentals of the line was paramount.
Every Hellman-Chang piece is made to order by hand in our Brooklyn studio. More than 50% of our production is customized in either size, feature options, or finish colors for our clients' various projects. The Tao Cocktail Table that's awaiting finishing shown here is fabricated at a much higher height and without the inset-top serving tray.
Lastly, there are the Hollywood collaborations we mentioned earlier. In the past Hellman-Chang was commissioned by Showtime to collaborate with Piero Lissoni on a The Tudors-themed dining room for the Showtime House, and just last week, viewers of Gossip Girl may have noticed a Hellman-Chang crate turning up in the opening scene, as a character takes delivery of a 10-foot Z Dining Table. (Liz Hurley's character spiritedly uses the table, though not for dining.) "The Hellman-Chang brand goes beyond furniture," explains Eric, "so highlighting work with other industries like these, or with the fashion industry as we did with the Swarovski collaboration, is important to us."
So what's next for the company? "It's always been about a bigger brand and a lifestyle, so we're in the process of creating more lifestyle product. We're introducing flatware sometime in the near future, and we want to eventually get into things like textiles and lighting. And seating will be the next thing for us, design-wise."
I ask how long it will be before we see Hellman-Chang chairs; is this pie-in-the-sky, or something already in the works? Eric indicates I look down: "You're sitting in our first prototype of our chair," he says. So I am.
The door to the shop opens, and two workers march through the office carrying endtables. Dan and Eric both look up, their eyes tracing the tables' lines, as the pieces are carried out of the front door. The workers make it out without interruption, so these two are good.