New York's energy allows young design studios to make their mark. We are interviewing the founders of Den of Thieves, two artists from Rome who distinguish themselves from craftsmen of New York through their improvised technique with their unique and imperfect pieces. (Leggi in italiano)
Founded in 2012 from romans Simona Regolo and Giuseppe Furcolo, Den of Thieves is a design studio based in New York that finds strength and beauty in the imperfections of the hand made. The work of the two artists is characterized by a process of uninterrupted improvisation which, thanks to an unwavering curiosity, continues to develop new languages, contaminations and experimentations. As a collaborative project always faithful to the transversal approach between art, design, graphics and technique, Den of Thieves brings together craftsmen, artists and 'junk' collectors to produce collections of objects from found materials.
The subtle boundaries between art and every-day objects are blurred when the two roman designers use their talent to produce unique pieces that are whimsical and ingeniously assembled. They are all hand made through a slow creative process of "tecnica improvvisata" which renders each object beautifully imperfect. Tables, cutting boards, knives and other accessories are made of fragments of various types of wood, placing a strong attention to reused materials often found in the streets of Greenpoint, the area of Brooklyn where the studio is located.
The research of the Den of Thieves is based on the vision of an ideal world, where quality and esthetic are inherent to anybody's ordinary experience. The result is a collection of pieces with unpredictable and organic forms that sets itself apart from the modern word, looking back to a passed epoch through an innovative eye. They quote Munari, who, throughout the course of his career, fought against the art/star myth that produces work exclusively for intellectuals, and celebrate Mari’s work and his “Autoprogettazione”, creating workshops for a series of DIY projects such as making a table with nails and a hammer. This invited people to reflect on the power of making by using design as a common grammar upon which each individual can invent his or her own language.
The background of the two Brooklyn-based artists is rich with influences from Italy of the sixties and seventies, when the country underwent a moment of creative prosperity in architecture, design, and the most important artistic movements of the last century were born. The country then was alive and opened its territory to cultural exchanges and innovate activities, a scenario very different from today: Italy of today is one that is suffering a deep crisis, where small ateliers are setting their innovative nature aside and following trends to survive.
In reaction to this, boutique design firms such as Den of Thieves are forced to leave the country and offer their know-how overseas, giving the term crisis a new meaning – that of opportunity – and bringing a new energy and conceptual basis upon which we can reflect and act. This new energy is one of design with Italian origins, a niche market that today distinguishes itself for its elegance, sobriety and inventiveness. In 2012, architect Simona Regolo and the creative director Giuseppe Furcolo decide to open Den of Thieves, a design laboratory in Brooklyn.
How is Den of Thieves born?
SR- Den of Theives is born out of chance and passion. Giuseppe arrived in New York in 2006 to work for a web design startup and soon found a space where he could cultivate his love for the handicraft. I joined in 2010, and, together we started to redesign our apartment. Right away our furniture and design solutions piqued the interest of whoever came to visit. One day, we made a cutting board for a friend's birthday and this gift, which was quite simple in our eyes, unexpectedly attracted a lot of attention and success. We realized that this object was ideal to satisfy our desire to experiment with new techniques and so we solidified our brand. Soon after that the cutting board became our staple object.
In the past couple of years you have developed a strong brand identity. How do you think the "Made in Italy" influenced your design?
GF- Having an Italian background automatically binds us to our land and we would be honored if someone identifies an Italian influence in our pieces, but it would be fully involuntary. We are not looking to express an Italian identity and we don't see our art in the 'Made in Italy'. We are a Brooklyn-based atelier and as such like to get our hands dirty and never stop. Every free moment is the right one to get back to the design lab and create something new. This energy is contagious in New York and is one that you can't find in Italy.
Italy has a long history of furniture and product design. Which designers or trends inspired you in creating this new brand?
SR- We are passionate about Italian design and continue to be inspired by the big designers of the 20th century like Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, Piero Fornasetti, Ettore Sottsass.
Using age old construction techniques, you manage to create timeless unique pieces with a modern and dynamic touch. How do you find this balance in the creative process?
SR- We don't think it's a balance and it's not intentional. We don't base our creations on machinery and the available tools, consequently everything becomes random. When we have a design, we do everything to bring it to fruition, every time reinventing our techniques. Only in this way can the creative process be in constant evolution.
GF- Sometimes we make many tests that fail miserably before understanding what the right process should be, other times we succeed in the first shot. Every piece has a serial number that defines its unique creative process. The cutting boards are a prime example of our work: as soon as we have the material, we create a new one. We have never taken any measurements or picked a pattern, they are always created from the heart and it's why every piece is different.
Living in New York certainly influenced your brand. What area is your workshop in and why?
GF- Our workshop is located in Greenpoint, an industrial area under the bridge that joins Brooklyn to Queens. Greenpoint is a vibrant neighborhood and being there adds value to our workshop. The fact that we're sharing the space with other artists allows us to interact with them too. The neighbor's door opens to an entire world different from ours and therefore fascinating. Being surrounded with such experimentation is one more reason to go to work with a big smile. Unfortunately, in Rome the concept of shared workspaces has not yet developed. People always hide behind their own small secrets to create even the most banal objects, annihilating as such any kind of creative sharing.
What is left of Rome in your baggage of experience and inspirations?
SR- Both of our grandparents were carpenters. The ability to spend hours in our grandparents' wood shop, getting our hands dirty making small objects (and sometimes even getting ourselves hurt) is at the origin of our passion and has a great value for us still today.
GF- Rome did not leave me much except for the anger that we had to abandon her.
Is the beginning of a new year. How do you see your brand evolving in the future?
GF- We're always interested in collaborations with artists and artisans that can help us to create new designs, and we are always looking to experiment with new materials and new techniques… but we don't have any desires to expand; we want to stay a small studio. If we start to fall into the trap of mass production, we would lose the spontaneity that characterizes our work.
Traduzione dall'italiano di Christine Djerrahian.