Chris Stuart of Luur Design here in Indiana was recently named as one of America’s Top 25 designers. His book, DIY Furniture 2, was also recognized as one of the Top Design Books of 2014 by Fast Company magazine. You might know his work first-hand from the recent design that he accomplished for the Pattern Store right here on Mass Ave. Pattern was lucky enough to sit down and pick his thoughts about design.
1.) So you and Jonathan Nesci (Columbus, IN) both recently made Sight Unseens’s American Design Hot List as two of the top 25 American designers to watch. If you extrapolate the math, that means 8% of the top American designers live in Central Indiana. You must think it’s a good time to be a Hoosier?
Yeah, not bad numbers. Definitely higher than people might expect. Design isn’t something we’re known for in Indiana, is it? Compared to those from LA and NY, 8% is still pretty low. Social media has really opened doors for people, allowing you to reach bigger audiences in other cities regardless of where you are located. So, maybe it’s more accurate to say it’s a good time to be a designer.
2.) In all seriousness, what are some the advantages and difficulties of living in the middle west as opposed to Los Angeles or New York?
LA and New York have much bigger audiences for design. I’m learning how important that is. Audience means opportunity. I think our audience is growing here; slowly, but we are getting there. Since most people don’t associate Indiana with design, I’m finding that when there are big design opportunities here, we import talent from bigger cities. That’s a problem. If we don’t think the talent exists in our city, why should others?
3.) You’ve talked in the past about how your work bounces between client-driven and self-initiated. Is that more possible here?
That’s a difficult question to answer because I haven’t tried it elsewhere. I can only speculate. I had dinner with Kristian Andersen, owner of KA+A and he said something to me that has really stuck and helped me a lot. He said “You are famous for what you do, not what you want to do.” What I took from that was every job we take has to be in line with what we want to put out. We can control that on the self-initiated side as well in Indiana as anywhere else. Now, we go back to the audience thing again for finding interested people. The client side is another story. Our client work is only as good as our clients’ intentions. So far, we haven’t found many Indiana based clients that match our intentions. As our city continues to grow, I hope to see more companies that value design base themselves here.
4.) I’m part of a small school of people who want to stop saying Midwest and start calling it the Center, but in actuality there is a legacy of really great design here in the middle. We of course think of institutions like Cranbrook and your alma mater Herron School of Art and Design, the Architecture Program by the Cummins Foundation in Columbus, IN, and the Modernist Mecca of Chicago which will be launching an Architecture Biennial next year. Do you think it’s possible that we could soon be mentioned in the same breath as New York and London?
Soon might be ambitious, but in order for it to happen, we can’t just produce talent or import talent. It’s imperative that we create opportunity to keep talent. Having institutions that produce does increase our chances of having more talent here. Exhibitions and what Cummins has done helps bring awareness to design, which is also vital, but if a designer can’t find work in this city, they simply can’t afford to their best work. Many big names in design were produced in the Midwest, but they had to leave and become famous before getting an opportunity in the Midwest. So, to answer your question, in order for that to happen we have to solve the “what did they gain by leaving” question.
5.) Two part question: What do you think is the most important project you’ve completed in the past? And what are you working on now that has you most excited?
The MDF Whole Side Table Series was a milestone moment for me. It was the first viable production design that we were able to manufacture in house and reach a retail price that my friends and family could afford. I love high design and enjoy creating “impossible” furniture, but I also want my work to be attainable.
A few things have my interest, actually. My wife and I just bought a house in Nora. The house is practically a tear down, but the wooded lot and neighborhood is great. I’m currently working on the redesign, where we will be taking the house down to the bones and building our modern retreat. I’m excited to be closer to the action of Indy, and also excited to use this as an opportunity to explore architecture as connecting object and space is a growing interest at my studio, Luur.
We also just added a ceramics studio and have been experimenting with old and new techniques, which have spawned some new prototypes. I’m excited to get these into production.