I think our Studio Visits are some of my favorite posts to product on this site. They give me the capability to peek behind the curtain and learn how something is lovingly designed and made. Today we continue this peek behind the curtain with Allied Maker, a New York based lighting design and manufacturing studio that is helmed by the husband and wife duo, Ryden and Lanette. Their lighting collections are sleek, gorgeous, and put a new emphasis on thoughtful design. The same could be said for the couple themselves who invited Pia and myself into their design and manufacturing space, gave us some of the best bagels we ever had, taught us how to make a cup of coffee with a Siphon and sent us our way with Lanette’s favorite coffee, Graffeo, that she has shipped in from San Francisco. This couple curates everything in their life to be something they love, so it’s no wonder the execution of their lighting designs and exceed your average reading light.
Ryden, the name Allied Maker stemmed from an idea you had to bring a collective group together and commit to making two pieces of commercial goods to sell a week. When you looked around and saw you were the only one committed you forged ahead. What was it about lighting design specifically that inspired you so much to take over your parent’s garage and keep building?
Without fully realizing it, lighting really made sense with my background. My upbringing in my father’s jewelry design studio gave me insight into materials and craftsmanship. Lighting is often referred to as jewelry of the home. My art school experience fed my desire to sculpt which ultimately let to sculpting with light. My program was structured around practicality yet with a sense of freedom to explore unexpected ways of thinking about objects. When I first took over the garage, I just wanted the freedom to create. Just a space where I could have my own studio practice of bringing things to life.
Can you talk a little bit about why you consider brass to be the perfect metal and thus use it so frequently in your designs?
Brass is the perfect material because of its workability and beautiful surface finish. Brass is easily bent and formed, yet is strong enough to hold together parts in an assembly. It also radiates a warm hue when illuminated. Our favorite aspect of brass is the finish. The copper content in the brass allows for beautiful patinas to be crafted like our Blackened Brass finish. Part of the reason I love our finishes is because it takes on the qualities of its environment, reacts uniquely to every home. Our brass finishes will darken over time and blackened finishes might actually fade to appear more weathered if near an open window. A raw brass finish is the perfect opportunity to have your own unique patina that was crafted from the environment of the house, which feels really authentic to me. Like a well loved pair of jeans or leather bag.
While touring the studio and watching so many employees touch and give life to a single piece, I realized the physical labor and personal touch that goes into such hand made objects and why a written note carries so much more weight than a typed one. What’s the first thing you both remember making with your hands?
Food and music. It is the same idea of creating something special to enjoy that impacts a moment and personal experience. The process of making something, simple or complicated is the same. Sometimes you are inspired and that inspiration carries through to every ingredient or note used and the way that is presented. Sometimes you try something and it’s not that good. Ultimately though, it is that process of trial and error and inspiration that brings you to something amazing that impacts – even if it’s only one person. Making does that. It changes the fabric of what exists.
How do you balance running the production and design elements of your brand? Do you find your brain can seamlessly float between the two worlds or do you try to divide and conquer when tasks require different sides of the brain?
Designing a product for our studio is so much more than just coming up with the idea. It is designing and testing the hardware. It is creating prototypes and testing all of the various elements that make the fixtures come together. When all of those pieces are just right, coordination for production happens relatively effortlessly. When we can clearly communicate the design to our team, we can move fast. We also feel growing the business and inspiration for new work comes hand in hand. We get our best ideas for design and growth while traveling, speaking to other designers and meditating on our ideal version of the company.
We talked about how Instagram helped launched your brand and business, particularly when you were featured on Instagram’s home page as a “Maker to Watch.” Can you talk a bit about how you’ve capitalized on technology to create connections with clients?
The instagram momentum began simply – just me sharing my story of making things with images. In the garage days there were a lot of photos of the process. I was documenting a maker lifestyle and people were excited to watch Allied Maker grow. The people following me were other makers and for me it was a sense of community and support. As it grew, interior designers and architects started to follow along also. Everyone seemed to love to be able to identify where a product was coming from and how it was made. Now, we have a great network of contemporary designers that “tune in” for the pulse of the studio. They draw their specifications from fresh material from our feed in order to keep their designs ahead of the curve. We produce a lot of work and variations of collections, so it so amazing to be able to leverage the platform as our marketing tool. It is our newsletter and catalog. Not only that, but you can see how people are responding to particular products and make adjustments in real time.
You mentioned each of your collections has a common story and thread that runs throughs it’s elements and design. Where do you look for inspiration to tell a collection’s story? Has anything unusual ever inspired a specific piece or collection?
Our studio is built to make lights, and we’re always experimenting with new ideas and pushing to make the next thing. Inspiration often comes from geometric shapes found in our manufacturing process – like a spun-brass hemisphere or a bent arc. Put them together and you might have something interesting. Engineer it meticulously, finish it artfully, craft it masterfully, and document it beautifully. Wallah – you have an Allied Maker fixture. With that said, some fixtures are born in-house from experimentation, and others can be inspired by a location, need, or an idea.
You have a two year old son, what’s the first thing you want to teach him to build?
We really want to observe the direction he’s interested in and help him grow in that direction. While it will be interesting to see him influenced by the existing paradigm Allied Maker is, it will also be interesting to see how his interests may impact Allied Maker in the future. It’s a hard question to answer because there is the logical answer of accumulated building, starting with the “easiest” of our fabrication onward. However, the progression might be really different because in a couple of years he might be really into some kind of material that impacts our choices and we may choose teach him that process as a matter of interest.