Where I Work: Matthew Hufft of Hufft

Hufft is a busy Kansas City, Missouri design firm founded in 2005 by Jesse and Matthew Hufft, who recently expanded and opened up a second office in Bentonville, Arkansas. In the 13+ years since its inception, the award-winning studio has amassed a diverse portfolio of architectural, fabrication, and construction projects that have been featured in the likes of Architectural Record, Metropolitan Home, Interior Design, Esquire, and more. In 2008, they brought the fabrication division, which includes a Digital Studio, Wood Studio, Metal Studio, and Finish Studio, under the Hufft brand further elevating their capabilities. From architecture, interior design, object design, and building, they’ve become an all-in-one design house that focuses on collaboration and quality craftsmanship. For this month’s Where I Work, principal and co-founder Matthew Hufft takes us inside his world to show us around his office and to give us some insight into how he works and does it all.

What is your typical work style?

My work style varies extremely, depending on the day, project, mood, and even season. I have to go in and out of focus time versus collaborative work sessions. Most of my focus time happens in my private study at home, very early in the morning or very late at night. While in the studio, I typically spend my time bouncing from one desk to the other in order to keep on top of our current design projects.

What’s your studio/work environment like?

It is a large old factory, which is situated at the base of a beautiful park. Our workstations are all in one big open room, located where the old loading dock used to be. We replaced all the garage doors with storefront, and that allows us to live with the seasons/feel like we are outdoors. On the other side of our workstations is our fabrication studio, just a few steps away and separated by just a single pane of glass. We opened a second location this year in Bentonville, Arkansas, which is reminiscent of a smaller version of the KC studio, without the shop.

Bentonville, Arkansas office

How is your space organized/arranged?

Everyone sits in one big open room with long desks – we tend to like our space to spread out. We rearrange the seating chart about once a year, and it is loosely based on teams or roles. And it shakes up perspective, feels fresh.

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

We have been in the space exactly three years. It has allowed us to grow in both team and project size and capabilities. Prior to that we were in an old horse stable, located in a more urban setting. It was a great starter space, but not very practical for our fabrication division.

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

Being in one big open space is mostly great, but does come with a few challenges. The biggest ones are a lack of privacy and at times, the ability to focus quietly. We do have four conference rooms, but they are not as private as they need to be. So, that is what we need – more private space.

Is there an office pet?

Yes, his name is Blue and he is a 11 year old Weimeriener.

Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?

Yes, a must. The great thing about our music, is it is totally democratic. Everyone takes turns playing whatever they want. So we go from classical, to jazz, to country, but one constant is Hip Hop on Friday afternoons – you can feel the energy change, we work hard all week and this signals the kickoff of the weekend.

How do you record ideas?

We certainly use the standard mediums – pencil and Moleskine, sketch paper that we pin up, chalkboard walls are covered in various process thoughts, we are even launching our own series of video tutorials for pretty much anything you could potentially come across as a team member at Hufft, from coffeemaker use to the reasons behind our Mission Statement – we are calling it Hufft U – in its infancy now. A platform we have recently started using for internal collaboration is OneNote – its use as a digital notebook is straightforward.

Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

I have several, one for each project that I am currently working on. Right now I am collecting inspiration that may be a little less ‘typical modern’. I am very interested in where design is going tomorrow, and I think it will be something very different than what it is today. So I am studying more traditional and historic architecture, along with fine art.

Mockups around the studio

What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?

Our body of work is heavily rooted in Hospitality, Retail/Restaurant and Workplace, in addition to our residential studio. We focus on designing spaces for your life – where you live, work and play. This allows a great synergy of understanding across our various project types.

So, while it does depend on the project, timeline, etc., we do follow a process in our studio that investigates three things: people, places, and concepts. The people and places part is fact based: budgets, programs, context, etc. The concept piece is where you instill something special into the design of a project to make it more meaningful.

Nick Cave Sound Suit

What kind of art/design/objects might you have scattered about the space?

We have art pretty much on all of our walls, from a wide variety of artists. We even have a Nick Cave sculpture in our studio. We have a lot of books. Once a week on Monday mornings, someone from our team presents a ‘Book of the Week’, not always architecture related, but they are always somehow meaningful and inspiring. Many mockups and pieces from our fabricate division can be seen around our space.

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

We have a 30,000-square-foot workshop broken into five different studios: digital fabrication, metal, panel assembly, hardwood, and finishing.

What tool(s) do you most enjoy using in the design process?

I most enjoy using our CNC router. Not only is it a super cool machine, it is really fun to see how our designers can get creative with its capabilities.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

I have a Surface Pro, an iPhone, a Moleskine, and a Fuji X-T20. I try to keep everything digital, except for my Moleskine notebook. Oh, and I carry a stack of notecards so I can send out handwritten notes when I think about it, which is almost daily.

What design software do you use, if any, and for what?

I mostly use SketchUp and the full Adobe Creative Suite. Right now, my favorite software is the new Adobe Lightroom CC.

Bentonville Flight Center rendering

Is there a favorite project/piece you’ve worked on?

Not really, all our work is really like children to me. I love them all for different reasons, and every one of them taught me something. What I love is that after 13 years, each project represents a meaningful experience and a great client relationship. Both our commercial and residential projects are a great source of pride for our team. One of the more recent projects that means a lot to me is the Bentonville Flight Center – it is a multi-use building meant to be a gateway to the Ozark Mountains and a hub for backcountry flying. It’s a hobby I have had to put on hold for a while, but aviation is a passion of mine. It’s going to be an incredible project – finishing up later this year.

Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances? Or what will it take to get there?

Wow, well, professionally? I am not sure what the ultimate goal is. I don’t think I have one that defines this. My work is my lifestyle. I just take it one day at a time, try to do my best, and be a good person to work with. I do know that I feel a great sense of pride about the company we have built. Our team is just incredible – being surrounded by these people certainly feels like success. Personally? Yes. I have an awesome family and host of friends. I feel gratitude for that daily.

Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

We are working on several projects right now. One project we are just starting is the conversion of a 120 year old girls boarding school into a boutique hotel. There are a lot of fun historical precedents to pull from on that one. Plus, it is literally half a mile from our studio, so it kind of feels like designing something for ourselves (since we plan to hang out there often).

What’s on your desk right now?

I keep it pretty clean and ready for creatives sessions, however, there is a megaphone leftover from a party we had – comes in handy from time to time.

Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?

Yes, we built our home 7 years ago from the ground up. Our shop fabricated all the casework and metal work, and a ton of the furniture. I live there with my wife, 3 kiddos and dog. We call it Showhouse as we often show it to current and future clients – we use it as sort of a living showroom. Its less than half a mile from our KC office – not a bad commute.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.