2013 by Alexandra Burr and Allen Slamic, AlexAllen Studio describes its work as a balance between austerity and adornment, richness and restraint – a place where the influences of the past and present are considered in equal measure and the practice of architecture and design become one. Partners in both life and business, Alexandra earned her Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and Art History from Middlebury College in 2004 while Allen earned his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Kent State in 2003. The pair met soon thereafter while while earning their Masters in Architecture at Yale. Upon graduation, the duo moved to New York where they gained valuable experience working for award-winning architecture firms Rafael Vinoly, Bernheimer Architecture, and Ten Arquitectos. Today, the couple applies their years of study and practice to their studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn where they turn out forward looking architecture, interior, lighting and furniture designs with a twist. Their process is grounded in a passion for intelligent, sustainable, and accessible design powered by an “insatiable study” of materials, technology, and manufacturing methods. From the debut of their 2×4 lighting line made from ordinary cuts of lumber to the launch of their traditional chandelier inspired Chord collection – AlexAllen Studio is a star on the rise and DSHOP couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome its luminous designs to our offerings.
D: Tell us a bit about your younger selves!
AA: I (Alex) am from a family of architects. My parents still have their own firm on the third floor of the home I grew up in. As a small child, I’d spend afternoons after school in their office playing with their old blueprint paper or using items from their sample library as building blocks and art supplies. Obviously, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as both my sister and I became architects, and married architects!
D: And Allen?
AA: Allen’s father was a metal worker and would enlist Allen even as a small boy to help with odd jobs. Allen knew how to weld at a young age, and under his father’s strict tutelage, his precision and craft were on point. He also claims to have had the best science fair projects in his class: a miniature sawmill, and a small distiller complete with soldered copper pipe coiled in a thoughtful and sculptural manner.
D: How did AlexAllen Studio come to be?
AA: We met in architecture school and worked for years in architecture offices. But it was always a dream to have our own architecture and product design studio. We began experimenting in the evenings, building prototypes for light fixtures and furniture. We produced a product called the Light Bracket which was a shelf bracket with an integral LED light in it. We entered it into the ICFF Studio competition and were selected to showcase it. This was our first foray into products and lighting and it really jumpstarted our career. We feel very lucky to now be doing both architecture and products. Working at these two scales has created an important dialogue in our practice and has helped to inform each design decision.
D: What’s one of your favorite pieces from the AlexAllen collection?
AA: Our newest fixture, the Chord Cluster is high up on the list. It embodies what we feel makes for good design – it is pared down yet luxurious. It is minimal yet has expressive details and a sense of tectonics. It is restrained yet evokes grandeur. It is this balance that we strive for in our products and projects.
D: Your three top resources for design inspiration?
AA: We don’t really have a top three list. But we often end up finding inspiration in manufacturing methods. Our Chord design was inspired by jewelry, but also by tube bending and laser cutting techniques that we wanted to explore. And our 2×4 collection evolved after we gained access to an old Bridgeport mill. We are currently working on a new fixture designed around a smart chip that will enable a user to control a whole bank of lights from a central computer, and ideally use our lighting in a more efficient and sustainable manner.
D: What’s one tool you can’t live without?
AA: My Rollbahn notebook. I can’t function without a daily ‘To Do’ list, and the grid paper is perfect for some precise sketching.
D: What words of wisdom would you most like to have offered your younger selves as you started out in the business of design?
AA: Gain as much experience as you can from those you admire. Don’t rush into starting your own design practice. The skills and knowledge you acquire working for others is invaluable and by no means a setback.
D: A bit of advice that informs your daily practice?
AA: It’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon and follow the latest design trends. When images are so accessible on Instagram, one is inundated with the prevailing craze (remember the Memphis revival?). And though we have fallen prey to fleeting trends, we find that to stay genuine to our core values, we must pare design down to only what is essential. Our focus must remain on craftsmanship, material exploration, and most importantly, the details. Whether that be expressing a screw or a joint in a light fixture or designing a perfect reveal in a piece of cabinetry. The craft and thought behind these subtle moves is where we find beauty. It is what shapes our designs and motivates us. Quoting Adolf Loos, “One should remember that quality materials and good workmanship do not simply make up for a lack of ornamentation; they far surpass it in luxuriousness. More than that, they make ornamentation redundant.”