DMTV Milkshake: James de Wulf on Concrete and Self-Discovery

04.10.24 | By
DMTV Milkshake: James de Wulf on Concrete and Self-Discovery

It hasn’t always been glamorous, bronze-gilded concrete sculptures for artisan James De Wulf, as he modestly shares of his decorated résumé in this week’s Milkshake. “I’d say it was failure, failing at other things is what led me to discover my abilities with art.” The Emory University graduate started a career in investment banking in the late ‘90s before getting into real estate development where a particular project brought him in direct contact with concrete manufacturing. It was there by serendipity that he became bewitched with the material’s transformative powers – to this day it remains a fascination and his primary expressive medium.

A storied career of fine-tailored countertops, myriad clientele commissions, and the founding of his boutique design firm de Wulf Concrete, the maker finally sloughed off the remainder of his former careers to fully invest in creative practice. “I was trying to be a rich guy when I was younger, and I was following what I thought was the right path. I didn’t realize I was artistic until my late 20s,” he adds. “I wish I had discovered it sooner because I love it.” By 2014, the designer moved to Berlin, Germany, to further foster business within Europe and Asia, adding to his journey with time in Denmark, Sweden, and Thailand.

Led by the magic of materiality, the now Los Angeles- and Hawaii-based artist is currently casting spells with concrete formed furniture, like the Split Locking dining table, and other materials including brass, bronze, iron, steel, and stainless steel, some of which are seen in the Ball pendant-based lighting systems. Some of his favorite creations, however, include the 700-pound Block chair and monolithic Ping Pong table that also accommodates dining. “The newest thing I’m stoked about is my Exo Obelisk sculpture that builds on previous skeletal bronze designs.” The constantly evolving Exo series is truly worthy of the avant-garde title. Distilling form through physics while incorporating his proprietary exoskeleton design, objects like the Leaning Shelf fuse function with aesthetics. While vastly different in visual language, it echoes the ambition of the late designers Oscar Niemeyer or Tado Ando whose works often subverted expectations of material performance. “It would have been a dream to work with Ando,” de Wulf admits. “He was an amazing pioneer of concrete architecture.”

Today, de Wulf’s operation and cutting-edge designs have evolved into a full-scale product line of indoor and outdoor furnishings, lighting, sinks and countertops, and notably monolithic game tables. A robust career boasts a variety of professional lessons to share: learn to say no, practice studio safety, broken product is just part of business, and always be appreciative of progress. “I feel grateful for where I am, having started out with countertops and now strictly from-scratch design, it’s pretty awesome.”

A person walks past a modern table with a concrete top and cylindrical bases.

Nautilus Dining Table

A minimalist James De Wulf concrete table with a circular top and a tapered cylindrical base.

Leaning Coffee Table

A modern low-standing James de Wulf fire pit table with a small flame in the center, set against a plain background.

Floating Fire Table

A minimalist room with white walls, large windows, and a round black James de Wulf table.

Split Locking Dining Table

A James De Wulf modern chandelier with four industrial-style pendant lights suspended by chains from the ceiling.

Ball Pendant Lighting

Minimalistic dining table set for six with a large floral centerpiece in a modern space.

Ping Pong Table For Dining

Minimalist concrete ping-pong table with two paddles and a ball on an industrial floor.

Ping Pong Table For Game Play

Modern concrete armchair with black cushions on a plain background.

Block Chair

Round table with a patterned top and a conical base on a white background.

Exo Opihi Library Table

Minimalist, brutalist concrete bookshelf with asymmetrical design by James de Wulf.

Exo Leaning Shelf

James De Wulf concrete table designed with a flower petal top and a tapered base.

Exo Poppy Console Table

Milkshake, DMTV (Design Milk TV)’s first regular series, shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators, and industry professionals to select interview questions at random from their favorite bowl or vessel. During their candid discussions, you’ll not only gain a peek into their personal homeware collections, but also valuable insights into their work, life, and passions.

With professional degrees in architecture and journalism, Joseph has a desire to make living beautifully accessible. His work seeks to enrich the lives of others with visual communication and storytelling through design. Previously a regular contributor to titles under the SANDOW Design Group, including Luxe and Metropolis, Joseph now serves the Design Milk team as their Managing Editor. When not practicing, he teaches visual communication, theory, and design. The New York-based writer has also contributed to exhibitions hosted by the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture and Architectural Digest, and recently published essays and collage illustrations with Proseterity, a literary publication.