Ladies and Gentlemen Studio

say hi to_ Ladies and Gentlemen Studio

There are so many great and innovative contemporary furniture designers out there these days but when I found the work of Ladies and Gentlemen Studio, I found a breadth of work that was so forward thinking, so playful yet clean and classic - I was hooked and could not stop following the rising success of this power couple. Jean and Dylan of L&G Studios, take playful and fun design that doesn't take itself too seriously, and executes it to the perfect level of clean contemporary minimalism.

What I found when I had the honour of sitting down and talking with this duo about their beginnings, design process, balancing work and personal life as a couple in and outside of the atelier - was a refreshingly humble and down to earth design team. A design team who uses unconventional methods for inspiration and prototyping and created functional works of art that I (and more than a few people that I know) would more or less kill to have in our homes or offices.

 

date
December 3, 2015

length of read
8 minutes

say hi to_ Dylan

say hi to_ Jean

 

Introduction

Please introduce yourself, for instance: If you just met a stranger at a party from a different industry altogether, how would you briefly explain to them what you do?

Hi, I’m Dylan, co-founder of L&G Studio.  We design and produce our own collection of lighting, furniture and home accessories … Sorry, I don’t have a super catchy elevator pitch :p


What is a typical work day for you?

For me, I have to start the day with coffee! Our average day is checking emails when we get in to the studio, then we'll mix it up with some assembly or sometimes running around to work with other vendors for certain parts of materials.

It’s often difficult to find time to actually be creative during a normal day, so we often work on new ideas at night when most of the day’s work is done.

I imagine you would have to separate creative time and business time as they don’t always go hand in hand.

To keep creativity going, we try to do something called “sketchercise” a couple times a week.

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"So, we take a book that we find inspiring and open it to a random page.  We set a timer for 2 minutes and challenge ourselves to sketch as many ideas as possible in that time."

 

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What is that?

It’s meant to get our minds going on quick ideas.  So, we take a book that we find inspiring and open it to a random page.  We set a timer for 2 minutes and challenge ourselves to sketch as many ideas as possible in that time.

When 2 minutes are up, we switch to the next page and do it again.

At the end of 30 minutes, we have pages of new ideas…we talk about them and put them in our idea file.  Often the ideas are silly, but the idea is to get our minds thinking creatively.

It's more of an exercise to loosen our minds and to not think about things too seriously.

 
 

The Beginning

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Did either of you you go to university? What did you major in?

We both went to University of Washington for Product (Industrial) Design. We were in the same class, we were friends and hung out a lot with our classmates and worked really well together. It was about 2 years into the program that we then started dating. :)


In retrospect, do you think a university degree was necessary to be where you are now in your career? We all know that college in the US is especially expensive, do you feel like it was worth the money or you would have been able to learn what you needed to know for your career now, in another way?


Regarding the degree, this is a tricky question.  For us, it was necessary because it’s where we met!  I think that at it’s best, working academically on design frees you up to work more conceptually and that type of thinking is critical to design.  That said, not all industrial design programs provide this type of experience.   They’re more focused on CAD skills and styling and I think that’s a shame because the magical thing about designers is their ability to think creatively.

The other important aspect of schooling is creating relationships.  The people we met while studying are so crucial to where we are now.

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Yes, I think it was necessary for us, because I was still unsure about what I wanted to do and being in the program pushed me to think about design from a more academic level. but I don't think it's necessary for everyone.

We’ve learned way more outside of school practicing design and starting a business than we learned in school.

We also did a study abroad program in rome and that was the most eye-opening & memorable experience for both of us. It was from that 3 months trip in Italy that inspired us to want to have our own design studio!


Did the sparks start flying when you had to work as partners on a project?

Both of us are more on the reserved side and the spark didn't happen right away....which was why it took almost 2 years for us to figure it out that we work really well together and we liked each other! There was one particular team project that we did together that made us realize that we worked well and had a good dynamic together.

 

"We’ve learned way more outside of school practicing design and starting a business than we learned in school."

 
 

The Business

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When it came time to produce your furniture, what did you do then? Contact manufacturers? Had did you figure out that side of the business?

By and large our products are produced with parts made by our vendors and assembled by us in our studio.  Because we work with products that use multiple materials, it’s a particular challenge to find and coordinate with the right people.  They need to have the right combination of skill, reasonable price, and willingness to try new things.  However, when we find good fabricators they become a huge part of what we do and help drive the new things we design.


How did you find distributors or go about selling and promoting your work once you had a few good pieces?

We do a mix of tradeshows (i.e. during NY Design week, New York NOW) at least twice a year, and in addition we will partake in 2-3 satellite exhibits with stores or museums throughout the year. Not only do these shows connect with buyers, but they also help generate press features which are a huge part of why people know about us.

Additionally we promote our work, inspiration, and ideas and on our Instagram which has brought us amazing connections with peers and customers alike. We’re so fortunate to operate in a time where traditional advertising isn’t necessary.

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How much do prototypes typically cost? Are further editions of each piece made to order? 

Sometimes the prototypes can cost more than we expected because something didn’t work out the way we expected and sometime it cost us nothing because we use scrap materials and made it ourselves!

However, we find that doing as much prototyping ourselves allows us to speed up the process, make the design better, and keep our costs lower.  Generally, we make the first round of editions in-house as well so that we can work out the kinks and streamline the production process.

 
 

Working With a Partner

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Jean, we read that you had started a company with a friend before Ladies and Gentlemen Studio, was it easier or more difficult to start a company with your partner rather than a friend? Can you compare the two? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?

Everything happened organically... I first started working for my friend, Chika who has a company called R&L Goods, I then became partners after about a year. Since it was a company that she had started before me, I was more of a partner helping her to build her brand.

Where starting the company with Dylan was that we started the studio together from scratch, so our vision was inline from the start.


Ah yes this is something completely different. Do you still find that there are big differences between working with a friend compared to a partner or there were no major differences?

The major difference is that with a friend, we can say bye to each other at the end of the day and can have more of a separation between work and personal life.... whereas with a partner, we have to see each other almost 24/7. That was one of the biggest challenges and it's something we're still figuring out, how to balance our work and personal life.

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Do you have different roles and strengths in the company or do you do everything together?

Our differences are definitely part of our chemistry. Jeans very good at creating overall visions for things. She has a great eye for what looks good and is great at thinking outside the box. Shes also very social so is great at reaching out to the community and organizing events..

My strong point is in helping determine the practical details or developing products or ideas. I tend to be a bit more technically-minded, so when it comes time to make a product real - I figure out how to make it happen.

While we have different strongpoints, our values and aesthetics align very closely so it allows us to create end products that are cohesive yet varied.

 

"We’re pretty up front with each other about this and know that we can’t have hard feelings when we don’t agree.  We have an unspoken agreement that we must have group consensus on any new product.  We have to both say ‘hell yeah’ about an idea…we have to be excited."

 

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Is it difficult to give constructive criticism to one another if you’re ever not on the same page about something?

We’re pretty up front with each other about this and know that we can’t have hard feelings when we don’t agree.  We have an unspoken agreement that we must have group consensus on any new product.  We have to both say ‘hell yeah’ about an idea…we have to be excited.

It can be frustrating some time when one of us really likes an idea, but in the end the idea we agree on is always better.

That's also something we're learning how to balance..which is our communications. Depending on how we express something it can easily switch from constructive criticism to personal opinions... objective vs. subjective.

What works about the way we both work is that we can look at things logically and know to not take things personally.

Yes it’s a thin line but as you are so aligned creatively, I suppose it can help initial ideas grow faster in a way as well.

I think that's the most important part. Because at the end of the day, we're both trying to solve a problem and it's not about who's right or wrong.

 
 

Living and Working Abroad

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You studied abroad together in Italy. Italy seemed to have a big impact on you as designers. Did you or would you ever consider living and working there? What did the Italian artisans teach you about work ethic and quality? How did it differ from America? How do you think you could take the best of both worlds to create your own way?

We've always dreamed about living in Europe! We actually both wanted to move there before moving to NY, but the logistics of moving to our business there and getting a visa was too complicated for now. We'd like to plan to live in Europe for some sort of residency at some point!


Yes it gets very tricky in owning a business in Europe, there is a lot of red tape. Everyone always tells me that it is very difficult to get a visa to live and work in America but I’ve lived and worked in 3 European countries at this point and let me tell you it is a major headache!

We were so inspired by how the artisans/makers/designers in Italy were so apparent and integrated in the culture. We would see locals shopping and befriending the makers/artisans and to us, we felt that those sort of intimate interactions between makers & consumers were so much more meaningful than shopping at big-brand stores where people are so detached from the objects and don't value it in the same way.

I couldn’t agree with you more. It adds so much value to the product when you are also buying into the makers story and the story behind the products.

When we were students in Seattle, there just weren't that many local design studios around and most designers there were working for big corporate companies designing electronics or tech products. It was an area that neither of us are that interested in. So when we went to Italy, we got to see how people were making a living by being hands on and making beautiful things with their hands. It was beyond inspiring and refreshing for us.

It also made us think about why we value certain things than not, what's valuable vs. not valuable. The idea of value can be so subjective, but we try to at least make things that adds something special for us and for the consumers.

Value & function both can be so subjective but we try to express that in our work and what we do.


You recently relocated the studio to NY, what was the catalyst for that? What do you expect the biggest change will be?

The main reason we moved is simply to just change things up! Both Dylan & I have been in the Pacific Northwest for more than 20 years. As much as we love the scenery and the community in the PNW, we felt it was important for us to see/do something different, experience something new and continue to explore new environments. Neither of us have ever lived on the East coast and we’ve met some really wonderful New York based designers over the years of going there for trade shows. This is what made NYC specifically so appealing.

The changes will happen as we gain new experiences (good or bad), but ultimately we’d like keep expanding our horizons and explore other creative avenues beyond what we do now.  There’s so much happening in the city all of the time, so we’re excited to see what new adventures come our way!

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I’m from New York myself and feel like New York has an invigorating energy that I haven't yet experienced in another city before. I’ve never been so productive and stressed at the same time (although those are my ideal work conditions!) Do you feel like the pace and work culture will differ greatly from Seattle? What do you look for in a city to work at your fullest potential? 

The whole reason we moved is because we know that NY is so different from Seattle. We grew up in a much more laid back culture in the PNW so find that it’s good to challenge ourselves and learn from New Yorkers (like how to really HUSTLE!) and operate on a different pace and see things from a different perspective.
I see us moving to New York will be like boot camp for us…. where we’ll probably get our asses kicked (metaphorically speaking), and hopefully we’ll come out of the experience feeling more accomplished, more confident and stronger as designers and as individuals.
We also found that the design/creative community in NY is quite amazing. 

We noticed that people are very open and excited about new ideas and collaborations, which is something we want to fully explore and see what new things can come about. We really want to further expand on what we know and gain new experiences by collaborating with other creative disciplines beyond design.

 
 

The Work

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How did you go about designing your first piece of furniture? What is that process like? Sketches, illustrator mock-ups, playing around with material at home?

This is actually the story of how Ladies & Gentlemen Studio started. We were working day jobs as designers and had an online vintage shop as a side hobby.  Our friend Jamie Iacoli (of Iacoli & McAllister) had this idea to put on a show of independent design in Seattle. She asked us if we wanted to make something for it.  We loved the idea and started to experiment with ideas inspired by items from our vintage shop.

The first pieces of furniture were based on reinterpreting these vintage things for modern use. We took a small dainty doily that we had collected and re-imagined it large scale as a floor rug. We also took vintage brass table lamps, deconstructed them, and reused the pieces in multiple to create a bench and large scale floor lamp.

It was a very hands on process using things that were easy for us to get. This approach is something we use today…taking parts and pieces we find interesting and recomposing/recontextualizing them. Albeit, the vintage references are less apparent in the work we do now.

We're both hands-on people, so we like to play with materials. It's often how we design sometimes. Looking and playing with physical things, we build an idea (literally) the way kids play with building blocks.

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We read that different factories in Seattle would give you scrap metal to use. How did you get that idea? Did that mean that each piece of furniture made from that were 1 offs or did you use those as prototypes?

The metal scraps were from a local metal supplier in Seattle who had a pretty expensive ‘cut-off’ bin. You could buy the metal by the pound, so we loved picking through it and grabbing bits and pieces we found interesting.  We put them on our bookshelf in our house and use them extensively when thinking of new ideas.


We are obsessed with the shape up lamps, are they custom made to order or where can they be purchased?

We’re very excited/proud to collaborate with Roll & Hill on the Shape Up series. Roll & Hill produces them here in Brooklyn to order (and a very high degree of quality). They are designed to be flexible and install to fit the shape and scale of a room’s layout and needs. You can purchase them directly through us at www.ladiesandgentlemenstudio.com

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Tell us about these infamous 3D mood boards we keep reading about. This sounds like a lot of fun and a great idea in terms of an inspiration pool to draw from whenever in need. How’d you come up with this and did you keep them to put them back up in your new location?

Oh how we missed our 3D mood boards!! It was the last thing we took down when we moved since it’s a big part of what we created together when we first started living together. Both of us used to collect lot of vintage & antique finds, so we figured why not build a nice shelf to display them while creating rotating vignettes in our living space.
We love to interact and play with tangible objects like building blocks, and little did we know that these objects on the shelf would become these ‘blocks’ and lead us serendipitously to new ideas and directions. We would often pick the materials off the shelves and start stacking them or flipping them upside down or create a whole composed mood board still-life in 3D.

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We can’t wait to see what you do next. Do you have some projects in the pipeline? Where do you want to go next with Ladies and Gentlemen Studio?

We recently went to Hancock Shaker Village for 5 days trip doing research and learning everything about the Shaker culture and aesthetic on a collective project called Furnishing Utopia. It’s a project initiated by our good friends John & Wonhee from Studio Gorm (who are also both product design professors at University of Oregon). They invited 10 studios, including us to design in response to the Shakers and create modern day artifacts for today’s context, which we plan to launch in 2016 during NY Design Week.

 
 

Thank You Dylan and Jean!

 
 

New York

Best coffee in New York?
Kings Coffee in Columbia Waterfront District: it’s a local roaster who operates out of a little garage. They only open on the weekends and they make the best hand pulled espresso and slow drip iced coffee that’s incredibly smooth and amazing.

Best co-work space in New York?
I heard a lot about wework….but we’ve never been.

Best place to get a drink in New York?  
The Ides, a rooftop bar and outdoor terrace on top of Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. You can see a nice panoramic view of Brooklyn and see Manhattan across the way

Hotel you would stay in if you weren’t from New York?  
The Jane Hotel, looks and feel like being in a set from a Wes Anderson movie and Amelie. Its also just a few blocks away from the New Whitney Museum and High Line.

Best unknown shop?   
Shibui, (not sure how known or unknown this place is..) it’s a great Japanese antique store in DUMBO packed with lots of amazing things from small artifacts to big furniture pieces.

Up and coming talent?
Something Like This Design where they make stunning modern ceramic vases and puts them in the coast to grow barnacles on the surfaces of each vase http://www.somethinglikethisdesign.com

Resources to help you with your career
So far I found the best resources is by roaming through the industry-specific districts like the garment district, jewelry district, lighting or even chinatown where you can find really specific parts or hardwares or really random things that sometime we don’t know what it’s for but it’s intriguing.

 
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