In this edition of Where I Work, Design Milk visits designer David Weeks at his office and workshop in the DUMBO (that’s “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”) neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The studio designs lighting that takes cues from mid-century and machine age products, furniture with minimal forms, and fun accessories, including wooden toys with flexible joints.
Weeks, who studied painting at RISD, has been in the building, home to many other artisan-types, since the mid-90s, when he went out on his own after working with jewelry designer Ted Muehling. He recently took on more square footage, and now occupies a light-filled, airy office space with a view of the bridge, in addition to his original down-and-dirty workshop.
We sat down at this very table, under his No. 433 Kopra Burst chandelier, to chat, and then got the grand tour.
What’s your work style?
Creatively, messily, with music, usually hip hop or Fugazi or something.
Do you have a daily routine?
I have fantasies of coming to work, making coffee, and spending two hours at my desk drawing, but it doesn’t work that way. Inevitably, I’m running the business.
Do you set aside dedicated drawing time, when you just sit down and create?
I’ll see a material or something, like a mechanism and get an inkling, a spark and then think about how to apply it. I might see something tiny and imagine it would be great if it were ten times that size, playing with scale. It’s at the back of my head all the time.
Do you use a particular type of sketchbook or pen?
I have a Moleskine that someone gave me a long time ago. I don’t sketch in it chronologically, I skip around; it’s totally jumbled inside the book. I try not to use the same pen. I like the idea of using whatever is around. It’s sort of going back to art school rules — never let it get precious. The minute you have your perfect pen or paper, it can lose energy. The drawing should be about discovery. Getting deeper into it, drawing another one, zooming in and out.
What is your favorite design tool?
A mat knife.
Do your kids influence your work?
Absolutely. My best work has come from solving a problem in my own house or making a toy I’d want my own kid to play with. That has integrity. The gorilla is the classic. The other day my daughter was here and said, “we don’t have a rhino,” so I have to bring one home, they love the robots too.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve designed?
The gorilla is emblematic for me, creatively and personally. I’ve said it was a cry for help. Business was good; it had grown. But it gets to a point where it’s driving you crazy, because you’re so busy, but you’re not making enough money to get to the next step. In one of those moments I thought, “I think I’ll make a wooden gorilla.” So we went over to the shop, clamped a belt sander to the table and started carving shapes. It was very cathartic, satisfying. That was around 2006. It came out great and was mechanically compelling.
What are your bestsellers?
The Cubebot has done very well this last year. Most of the chandeliers have done well, we’re lucky. The Mobile was one of the first ones, the Sarus has been popular. I really like the lighting, and the challenge of coming up with new pieces year after year. Fortunately they’ve sold well, but that set expectations. I did furniture for one of the trade shows, and everyone said, “Where’s your lighting?”
What’s on your desk today?
I cleaned up before you came… My iMac, one of my gorilla ashtrays used as a business card holder and an envelope of business cards, mostly from Italy. Oh, and a glass of water.
What design software do you use?
We have some crazy mash-up PC computer that a previous employee built. It’s used primarily to run the rendering software. We use Graphite, which generates two-dimensional line drawings, Rhino, which is a rendering program, and Keyshot, which lets you set the lighting so you get a photorealistic image.
I’ve been wary of the programs; I try not to get seduced. You see things that look great in a rendering, like a chair maybe, but you can tell there’s no way it will be able to stand up. It can be inspiring too though. You can get a drawing halfway there, and it can spur you on or inform you that it won’t work. In the past I made prototypes by hand, and when they were done, they might be off an inch; there was no way to check your progress along the way.
What amazes you about what your technology can do that you would have thought impossible just a few years ago?
3D printing is fantastic; it’s going to revolutionize things. You’ll probably be able to buy a 3D printer at Staples in a few years for a few hundred bucks.
What do you do differently now that the studio and business have grown?
It’s very different. I used to be the one driving everything around the city. We started everything from scratch, made every part, assembled it, put it in the box, and drove it to the store.
Let’s walk over to the workshop now…
Wow, there are a lot of machines and tools in here…
What happens in this area?
This is the metal shop. All the lighting begins here. Raw metal is cut, braised, and welded, then cleaned up and sent out for plating. We clean up and sand the shades here, to prepare them for painting. The big machine in the middle is the lathe. It’s where the metal pipes are threaded; custom parts are created on this machine as well.
This is the chop saw, where every part is cut. This area is mostly used to clean parts, the pneumatic sander is used to sand away scratches and bumps in the metal.
What are these guys up to?
This is the wiring shop. Once the finished metal pieces come back from the plater, and the painted shades are returned, we begin to make the lights. The stands on the wall hold the finished metal pieces. There are standing lamp frames sitting on top of the shelves on the back wall.
What does this machine do?
That’s Scott, on the mill. He’s using an indexing head to create holes in a part for a Tri Boi chandelier.
Are you doing something with a Heart of Darkness theme?
Ha ha. No significance, it was found it in the hallway one day. But, we’ve been meaning to start reading the classics out loud at lunch hour.
What can you tell us about a current project you’re working on?
It’s been a good year. The new collection for Ralph Pucci comes out in July. We were recently in Ohio meeting with the extruders. We’re working with Design Within Reach on some pieces, one definitely and we’re in the pitch process on a grouping. We’re doing rugs now; an edition of rugs with Christopher Farr.
What’s your dream design project?
I would love to do a car. I just got a chance to drive a 1969 Porsche 911, a friend gave me a coupon to a car club. I drove a newer one, but the ‘69 was so much more satisfying. The new one was very fast and that was cool, but the old one… each gear had its own personality. To somehow bring that back would be amazing, but nobody would ever produce it.
This was David’s original space, which is now the shipping area.
Photos by Kate Glicksberg for Design Milk.
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