A young design firm without gallery representation can struggle to, well, represent. A number of key design fairs are built around signing up galleries and their rosters. No gallery, no way in. Collective Design Fair, the New York-based showcase for collectible design, is attempting to change that. It launched a programme at its fourth annual edition, starting today – 4 May – called Collective Concept, which enabled five independent and unrepresented studios to present their work.

Brooklyn-based firm Fort Standard is one of the five (the others are Lindsey Adelman, Apparatus, Calico Wallpaper and Cocobolo). Founded in 2011 by Pratt Institute graduates Gregory Buntain and Ian Collings, Fort Standard’s output is typified by a refined approach to materials, a clean aesthetic and an uncomplicated philosophy to functional objects and furniture. The firm’s Red Hook HQ comprises a wood shop, a metal shop and a design studio, where most of its pieces are conceived, designed and produced.

For Fort Standard, the opportunity to exhibit work at Collective Design Fair went far beyond making simple introductions to a collector’s market. ‘We’re very much a studio that produces its own goods,’ says Collings. ‘New York is fostering a new breed of design studio and furniture maker, and young, independent firms are trying to find their way in that community. Being a young company without representation, we have to address the question that [when] we want to produce a more experimental line, there are very few places to debut those things, or to sell them.’ Buntain adds, ‘We don’t want to turn into just a furniture company. We have our home goods collection that does well for us, but we’re interested in [shaping] our business so that we can continue to spend the majority of our time designing. Taking a step towards the collector’s market will allow us to do that.’

The duo approached Collective Design Fair founder Steven Learner to talk about their participation around a year ago, not long before the notions of Collective Concept came into being. Subsequent conversations informed the collection, entitled 'Qualities of Material', that they will unveil at the fair.

‘The thing that Steven was driving home,' Collings says, 'was to use [this collection] as a way to tell the story of the type of studio we are and how we design and make our work.’ Buntain continues, ‘Steven recognised that there is exciting work being produced by designers who aren’t represented by galleries. It was a ready opportunity for [the fair].’

Inspired by the materials that it has long held dear, Fort Standard sought to add unexpected functionalities to wood, stone and leather. Thin, quarter-inch maple planks were layered and configured to add strength but maintain lightness; panels of stone were carved out to make them light enough to produce cabinetry; and leather was rolled and coiled so that it possesses sufficient structure to sustain a person’s weight.

The results include an ‘Assemblage’ dining table, bench and hexagonal coffee table, made from maple; a single-door ‘Relief’ bedside cabinet and a larger, six-door wardrobe made from soapstone; and a ‘Stacked’ chair made from laminated leather.

These material interventions came out of years of experimentation. Collings says, ‘We kept asking: how do you make this piece of leather stronger, how do you make this piece of wood more structural, how do you make this piece of stone lighter? The thing about soapstone is that you can cut it with carbide; you don’t need diamond to cut it. So we worked it with woodworking tools and current tool set-ups, and experimented with how thin we could get it.’

Each design is made in a limited edition, with future variations to come. ‘Each of the concepts has the ability to be translated into different kinds of objects,’ says Buntain. ‘It was important for us to present the three materials together and show their strengths and possibilities. Because we knew the work would be shown in the context of Collective Design Fair, we were able to push it into this realm. If we had shown up at ICFF with our collection, people would probably have thought we were crazy.’

As originally featured in the June 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*207)