On the water’s edge a building that dates back to Civil War era has been split into smaller commercial and industrial spaces, one of which is occupied end to end by design studio TOKEN. Here, inside the centuries old façade their team of designers, fabricators and artists are working to “reimagine standard materials to create engaging, engineered objects.”
So to begin with tell us about how you ended up in this particular space in Red Hook? To be this close to the water is something that is equal parts amazing and terrifying depending on the weather. So I guess more specifically what brought you here and what keeps you coming back every day?
Primarily, this space allows us to directly connect with the thriving community of artists and designers here in Red Hook. We share our own studio with emerging and established artists and foster a creative environment where we all support and push each other. Between our studio and the larger artistic community, there is a lot of troubleshooting and collaborative problem solving among us, which serves to make each of our projects better. In New York, Red Hook offers a unique place to connect and help each other make your best work.
To set up a shop like you have that is completely vertically integrated is no easy feat. What made you decide to set things up this way and how do you feel it impacts TOKEN’s design?
At the beginning, we set up to do everything because we couldn’t afford to outsource metal and wood fabrication, so we just did it ourselves. As we grew, we started to streamline our production process, but we maintained the high quality control standards, which made outsourcing a bit difficult.
(Will): The way that I design involves integrating drawing, prototyping and fabrication into one fluid process. The fabrication process influences the design and vice versa, so it made sense for us to have an integrated shop.
How would you describe TOKEN’s design language and where do you draw your inspiration from as the company continues to grow and evolve?
I primarily draw on certain types of painting, sculpture and architecture. I’m interested in both craft and art that explores the reduction of form to its essentials, amplifying the emotional and physical connection of the materials. I admire the sculptures of Robert Erwin, the paintings of Bridget Riley, the ceramics of Lucy Rie and the furniture of Poul Kjaerholm as they express certain truths about the world around them through the innovative manipulation of materials. Much of my own design is about inventing, learning and exploring. That’s what I strive for in my work, an understanding and curiosity about how things work, their function and their presence.
You’ve recently developed a beautiful contract collection. Although, you could say this is a commonplace for much larger companies what made you decide that this was an avenue worth exploring and investing in for TOKEN?
This line of product interests us as makers and designers, as it challenges us to examine the scalability and efficiency of our fabrication process. We like the challenge of, “How can we make things more efficiently and more quickly while maintaining the design? How can we make this piece better?” As a designer and maker, it’s also a different experience to have your pieces out in the world in a more accessible way, where the general public can interact with them without having to purchase one for their home.
Something I really appreciate about the entire Token team is the commitment of being in the studio and making things happen day in and day out. There is a commitment to quality and a pride in your work that is really admirable. With this said, looking into the future do you aspire to be in the shop the way that you are now or do you expect growing responsibilities to pull you away from being as hands on?
(Will): I see myself as a studio artist, engaged in an active studio practice. There will always be a component of hands-on studio work, whether that’s troubleshooting a production problem or fabricating a prototype.
As we grow, certain responsibilities, like everyday production, can be resourced and tackled in house. Every member of our team now starts on the shop floor and grows organically into different roles based on their strengths. We are a designer-driven fabrication studio that relies on skilled makers and technology.
INTERVIEW BY ISAAC FRIEDMAN-HEIMAN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MELISSA WALBRIDGE