Material choice is a critical decision for every product, an essential phase of the design process defined by material swatches and samples, perhaps a few prototypes, all to ensure that the final product will convey the perfect look and feel.
But for Qualities of Material, the latest collection to come out of New York-based design studio Fort Standard, materials aren't merely a decision—they're the crux of the concept.
"We were trying to hyperfocus on the things that we were most excited about in terms of our collaboration and figuring out the driving force behind our designs," says Gregory Buntain, co-founder of Fort Standard. Taking a year off from the perpetuating cycle of endless design weeks, Buntain and his co-founder Ian Collings decided to spend that time instead collecting their thoughts and discussing where they wanted the New York-based studio to go.
"That conversation shifted into what would become Qualities of Material, where we were just able to focus on some of the materials and processes that were really exciting to us," Buntain says.
The collection returns to the experimental side of Fort Standard's process, exploring natural materials beyond conventional limits and applications. Focusing primarily on wood, stone and leather, the duo utilized specific material characteristics and processes to create structural designs in the context of furniture.
"We were less interested in building a large furniture company and scaling our business in that way," Collings says. "We would rather spend more of our time designing and creating more specialized, unique objects, but still within the context of functional furniture."
"It's definitely an oversimplification to say it is pushing the limitations of materials," Buntain says. "I think on a more interesting note, it's about what happens when you explore materials and start thinking about what they're capable of in a practical sense and realizing that there's opportunities for those materials to be pushed outside of a conventional application."
For Buntain and Collings, that meant looking at stone outside the context of architectural facades, or questioning how leather could be used as something more than cushioned upholstery. "That's really what the genesis of the project was," Collings says. "To push our understanding of materials to the point where we could find new opportunities and new ways of working with them."
One of the pieces in the collection is the Stacked Leather Chair, which is a far cry from your standard leather recliner. For this piece, the duo stacked and rolled layers of vegetable tanned leather to create the structural components of the chair. "We are all familiar with armchairs and we are all familiar with leather, but you're not familiar with leather being structural," Collings says. "We worked with it until we could create solid panels and solid tubes that we could then cut up to create functional, structural, leather components which would then be assembled to create our stacked leather chair."
The Relief Stone Cabinet is another example of that approach to material exploration—featuring a triangular relief pattern milled into the exterior panels, which serves the function of removing excess weight, while the remaining ribs retain the material's strength. "The milled surface might appear to be a stylistic treatment, but the reality is it was a very process-driven decision we made around how to remove a lot of material while still retaining structural integrity," Buntain says. Soapstone was also chosen for its soft, yet dense properties. "And the reason that those patterns have a triangular format to them relates to the machine that we were using to cut them. It ended up being the fastest, most economical way to remove a large majority of material while retaining a structural ridge without having to lift up the tool a hundred times."
The cabinet is made up of three stackable units, sitting atop a hard maple base. "Even if you are familiar with cabinets, it's rare that you see a stone cabinet out there," Collings says. "So it's not only what we're doing with materials that is interesting, it's also the fact that we're working outside the familiar context of standard furniture design typologies that you often see expressed in certain materials."
Buntain and Collings view their latest collection of pieces as a divergence from their standard furniture lines, and have debuted them as such. Qualities of Material was shown for the first time at Collective Design Fair, the high-end addition to New York Design Week featuring an international roster of established and emerging galleries. There, collectors, gallerists and other spectators could check out the aforementioned pieces, with pricetags of $9,600 and $52,000, respectively.
The Fort Standard founders view the collection as the manifestation and culmination of their conversations over the past five years. "The materials in this collection are very much our material palette," Buntain says. "There's nothing new about us working with these materials, it's really about taking it to the next level while still working with these inherently beautiful, natural materials that we enjoy working with so much."
Don't have an account? Join Now
Create a Core77 Account
Already have an account? Sign In
Please enter your email and we will send an email to reset your password.