Trella and the rise of the designer-maker
Trella and the rise of the designer-maker
As our collective consciousness challenges the ethic of mass production and high-end furniture makers move towards more conscious and custom manufacturing, a design and build mentality is becoming increasingly present in the industry. It’s new but old. It’s the workshops that take center stage and it’s happening when design entrepreneurs engage with the very 2022 concerns of zero-waste production, individualization and sustainability.
The return of the studio-workshop
Few exemplify this design and manufacturing approach better than trelle, the Brooklyn-based brand that’s both design studio and boutique. Founded by trained architect Daniel Termini and former sculptor and jeweler Timothy Mellema, the studio is perhaps best known for its Benedict light, a globe-shaped luminaire surrounded by two metal hemispheres assembled in a section. This happened by happy accident when the couple – skilled in woodturning and metalworking and who at the time ran a workshop that supplied other local design brands – made the hemispheres to serve as their feet to a custom furniture project. Two of them fell together in a nice way one day and a lightbulb went on – or at least was blown at the mouth to fit the two metal bowls hugging each other.
The Benedict has now been produced in all manner of brass finishes, including an oxidized Prussian blue and hand applied antique patina, as well as nickel, pewter and powder coat finishes – in eleven standard colors and countless colors customizable – which can be mixed in one piece. It comes in different sizes, such as a single pendant and wall sconcesa two globes Where five globe chandeliera linear chandelier to illuminate tables or kitchen islands or in a grouping of draped pendants. As they explored the potential of this one-of-a-kind piece, the two discovered that their calling was actually to tinker and carve themselves, developing their own designs from the basic pieces of a room to the decorative finish, then adapting and customizing them for specific projects. They would work directly with customers and a group of qualified local manufacturers, both internal and external, to produce parts to order.
Let materials guide creative practice
Whereas trelleThe practice of doesn’t always start on the drawing board, its product designs evolve down an equally creative path. The couple consciously let go of their digital distractions, cut phone lines, and regularly spend time experimenting in order to grow their practice and portfolio. From this creative idle time, new patinas and finishes could emerge such as the Gingko tactile relief, resulting from engraving experiments. Gingko is such a delicate design that they designed a mirror design specifically to highlight it at eye level. “We celebrate what the materials can do,” says Mellema as she flips and flips a section of joined copper tubing. Stemming from sample material sent to them by mistake, he settled on it, certain that it could evolve into something more.
While they take on the roles of designer and manufacturer, they leave the ego aside in the development phase. When they present an idea to their glass blower, for example, the blower’s sense comes into the process. “We ask his opinion because we never want to do something that is painful to produce; the process must be predictable,” says Termini. “It’s like cooking,” adds Mellema. “I feel like you can tell if someone was stressed out while they were preparing your food.”
Poetic and practical
What evolves are poetic and practical – and evolving – pieces. The working pieces of their lighting pieces are designed in the studio and built in their workshop, so there is no side ordering involved when a project comes along. They have a number of studio-made stock parts that they fit into different models and produce in quantity to have quick access to supplies – what they call “the production economy”. Customer-workshop interactions then focus on finishing details – the exact sizing, arrangement or finish of decorative elements. It is a model that enables efficient, lean and adaptable production.
With materials and craftsmanship at the forefront of the studio’s design process, the pair take pride of place when their precise details are appreciated, the exact thing that perhaps gets lost on a factory production line. A fellow lighting exhibitor at a recent trade show recently stopped by to inspect their parts, and acknowledging that theirs were not purchased parts, she simply said “Nice woodwork”. For Termini, that’s the best compliment. “You can keep zooming in on our pieces and I’m confident that after careful consideration our work is still a satisfying little composition.” Thoughtful and customizable, what more 2022?