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This spring, Design Within Reach launched the Risom Hardy Storage Collection, a collaboration between the iconic designer Jens Risom and the much younger, Atlanta-based designer Chris Hardy. This is Hardy’s second time creating furniture for Design Within Reach—his first was the successful Helix coffee table. We spoke with Hardy about working with Risom on the new modular storage
WHITEWALL: How familiar were you with Jens Risom’s designs before Design Within Reach asked you to work with him on a new collection?
CHRIS HARDY: I was familiar with him growing up and learning about design. I would spend a lot of time going to vintage stores. He was so prolific and he was so good at manufacturing, that a lot of his work you can find quite easily when you start searching stores around town.
WW: How did you two work together? Did you spend a lot of time in his studio in Connecticut?
CH: When we first started working together, it was just me trying to learn more about him—his philosophies and what he was interested in. In the beginning I was just spending a lot of time with him, asking questions and just trying to get to know him as much as I possibly could. We started with the idea of storage and there were a couple of characteristics of his work that kind of stuck out to me and were interesting, and maybe defined who he was as a designer and why he was so successful. And those were the things that I tended to gravitate toward and make sure to introduce into this new product assortment.
WW: One of those aspects being modularity?
CH: Yes. So one of the things that made Jens so successful was that he owned his factory and he really knew how to run a business. He used modularity as a way to make sure he could capture as much of a market as possible. He would make his products easily customizable so you could order any kind of configuration of storage that you wanted, and he could put it together in the factory and then ship it out to you. I thought that was really brilliant because a lot of designers don’t have that business acumen, and that separated him from anyone else at that time period.
WW: Do you have a particular favorite in the collection?
CH: There’s one piece in particular, with a sliding door—we call it the Mixed Unit—and that was something that he didn’t have. The idea behind that piece is that it has a different compositional setup. It almost acts as an accent piece. It has movement with the sliding door, and it adds a nice touch when put in a composition with all of those other pieces.
WW: What from the collaboration will you bring back to your own studio?
CH: I learned a lot about manufacturing and things to be sensitive to. Doing a modular project, there are a lot of issues that arise—everything has to be so precise, because it comes down to the factory—so I think I kind of learned how to approach modularity in a way that makes it more feasible.
WW: You studied design in Hong Kong. Why did you want to study there, as opposed to, say, Europe or the U.S.?
CH: Well, it seems like most people for graduate school to tend to go to Europe for design, but I wanted to have a different experience. I wanted to remove myself as far away from Western culture as possible and see what I could discover in somewhere that was so different. I also wanted to learn manufacturing, get into factories and kind of explore that part of design. I think one of the good traits you can have as a designer is a broad perspective of how people live and who people are. So I just wanted to challenge my viewpoint as much as possible.
WW: After Hong Kong you moved to Atlanta, where you are still based.
CH: My family moved down here when I was in the fourth grade, so I kind of grew up around here. And then I moved back after Hong Kong, really because of a woman, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s home to me. It might not have the best design scene or the best opportunities, but it’s really where I feel the most comfortable.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s summer 2015 Design Issue.