Cult Shop: handmade furniture with pioneer spirit
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Born to a carpenter and a quilt maker in rural Oregon, Tyler Hays learnt the value of making things with his hands from a young age. “I had a sewing machine when I was five years old, welded a go-kart when I was nine, and my brother and I would rebuild engines and make cannons,” he recalls. “As I grew up I developed an obsession with texture, detail, construction and engineering.”
He channelled this obsession into BDDW, the furniture and design studio he started in New York in 1994. Clients of this multidisciplinary visionary now include presidents, rock stars and Hollywood royalty (although good luck trying to prise any names from him).
Hays’ latest BDDW outpost opened on London’s Mount Street last year, and his meticulous attention to detail is visible from the moment you step inside the entrance. Look closely, and you’ll see that each oval tile is painted with pale blue birds, flowers, leaves and tiny faces, a style inspired by American salt-glazed crocks. The 19th-century salt-glazed and hand-printed stoneware pottery was something his mother once collected. “I want people who walk in to feel that everything’s a little soft,” he says. “Not old, not new.”
This sensibility is felt throughout the shop. Walls are finished in a “family recipe” of brushed plaster and parquet floors are fashioned from blackened oak. The fireplace has been covered with more handpainted tiles. “You could never do any of these techniques with a machine,” he says.
Playfulness runs through the designs on display. A large papier-mâché lamp painted with folk-art flowers, hanging from a ceramic chain, is named the “Grandma crappy craft pendant” (£15,000). An acrylic and oil painting of swimmers is one of several pictures cut into loose puzzle pieces (£28,000). His (now iconic) ping-pong table is made in maple with a holly inlay, and with a net from perforated leather (£26,500). Individually painted stoneware mugs include the raunchy XXX collection (from £290). And a turntable designed to play three records in succession nods to Hays’ love of jazz and bluegrass, which he likes to play while working in the studio.
That each item in the BDDW universe is made by hand is central to Hays’ belief in craftsmanship and timelessness. Everything is designed by Hays before being brought to life in a complex of craft studios in Philadelphia, where around 100 ceramicists, carpenters, stonecutters and garment-makers work.
These traditional methods were “not at all fashionable when I was growing up in the hyper-sleek design world of the ’80s”, says Hays, but, partly thanks to him, have since become so. Now his “weenie” roasts and archery contests, held in upstate New York, bring together his community and are attended by a cohort of fashion designers, musicians and artists.
His next ambition is to start his own hotel, “somewhere that really represents who I am and what I love”, he says. “I often joke that I would love to be the concierge in a hotel where everything was designed by me, and I could carry people’s bags in and get to watch everyone enjoy my work.”