Jamie Gray can't pinpoint the moment he fell in love with design. His interests quickly shifted from collecting midcentury pieces to following the new ideas and materials being explored by contemporary designers. Matter, the design shop he founded in 2003 to showcase that work, is now a fixture of New York's design scene, and Gray is widely known for his discerning eye. MatterMade, the shop's in-house line, was developed expressly to champion American designers, and to prove that small-scale production—and real design for living—could succeed. With this year's collection, MatterMade focused on a single designer for the first time, releasing a line of furniture and lighting by Roman & Williams.
How do you find out about new designers?
New designers come to Matter in every imaginable way. I'm immersed in the design community locally, nationally and internationally, so people come to me through other designers, introductions and recommendations. I follow the industry via blogs, magazines and periodicals. I'm always intrigued by what's happening, what's current.
Elle Decoration UK is probably my favorite magazine, because they feature the type of work Matter looks for, but there are so many others: Surface, Dwell, Wallpaper, World of Interiors. Online I'm all over the map. I'm always checking Sight Unseen because I think Jill [Singer] and Monica [Khemsurov] are constantly curating and finding interesting new work and talented young designers and creators. David John, who runs You Have Been Here Sometime, puts together a really beautiful blog. There's also Architizer, Yatzer and, of course, Core77. And the list goes on.
I also receive cold calls, or more specifically, cold e-mails. We receive a lot of work via e-mail, all of which I look through with excitement and enthusiasm. Maybe one in a hundred I will respond or relate to. It's not even that all the work is good or bad; it's that the process of curating, or the process of beginning a new project, is such a personal endeavor. Occasionally I'll open an e-mail and really respond to somebody's work and I'll introduce myself.
The Matter store in New York
What kinds of design are you looking for at the moment?
I'm always looking for design that I have a visceral reaction to, whether in person or in a photograph, rendering or PDF. There's no particular genre or style I stick to. The MatterMade selection began as a collection that I imagined being informed, inspired and influenced by American design history and craft. Surprising as it may seem, I look to craft quite a bit: the quality of materials and intent, the functionally. In terms of form and material, I'm looking for something that I respond to, and that I think others might have some sort of personal—hopefully good—reaction to.
What's the best way for a designer to approach you?
The best way to approach me is through our submissions e-mail, though I'm not adverse to a person stopping by and dropping off a portfolio. I generally don't have time to stop what I'm doing and meet with folks that drop in, but it's always nice to receive something that's been considered, printed and hand-delivered. People have also mailed really beautiful portfolios of work, but the standard for us is usually a PDF of a specific piece or a portfolio of work.
And what should he or she not do?
What's right for some is not necessarily right for all. Some designers will pursue me via e-mail asking for a response to a prior submission. In general, I just don't have time to send a response to everyone, but I do look at literally everything that I get. Sometimes I see something I really like and lose track of it or forget to respond. In that case, it's nice to get the reminder. Designers shouldn't take it personally if they don't receive a response.
In general, I don't want anybody to walk in my door and demand to see me, or accost me on the street or at a fair. That being said, people have stopped me and handed over a portfolio of work during Design Week. As long as you're thoughtful about your approach and understand that I'm often busy, I don't know that there are many don'ts. Just don't be mean.
Quilts by Meg Callahan, produced by MatterMade
Can you tell us about a recent successful collaboration with a young or emerging designer?
Most of the designers I work with tend to be younger, I think because we have a similar perspective on design. Young designers are more interested in new technologies, new methodologies and new modes of production, development and creation. I respond a lot to that.
Meg Callahan comes to mind because she's probably the newest and, prior to our collaboration, was the most unrecognizable designer we have worked with to date. She approached me through a reference from RISD, where she studied, and I thought her work was interesting so I agreed to meet with her. Shortly thereafter we found ourselves collaborating to make a couple of quilts for our launch during ICFF in 2012. We endeavored to make a soft good for the first time, which continues to be a learning experience, but it's been great to see how that can play out. Meg, who was on the outset unknown to the world, suddenly became—I guess I can't say a household name yet, but a pretty well-known young designer. She recently had a quilt on Gwyneth Paltrow's blog, Goop.
With the MatterMade collection, I spend my time trying to bring new design, young design and predominantly American designers to both a design-aware community and to the greater public's eye. It's such a thrill to one day meet this young and aspiring designer, to see the potential in their work and then see their work published. You never know what's going to happen. Some things you make and the audience responds, and sometimes they don't, but the process is always so rewarding.
Bryn Smith is a writer, graphic designer, and critic based in Brooklyn. She is currently at work on a collection of interviews with legendary designers, and a book about the design studio Open. She teaches in the graduate graphic design program at RISD.