The New York design scene may today be characterised by a proliferation of home-grown lighting design studios such as Lindsey Adelman, Apparatus, Roll & Hill and several more, but back in 1996, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Celebrating 20 years in business this year, the New York designer David Weeks is refreshingly humble about his achievements. Renowned for his lighting and furniture designs, menagerie of wooden toy animals and, most popularly, his posable 'Cubebots', Weeks’ work proves that he is certainly a maverick of sorts.
The latest expression of Weeks’ mercurial talent is a new lighting collection, 'Otto' – his first product launch in about three years. The unveiling of the collection coincides with Weeks leaving his original studio, in an old factory building in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and moving to a sprawling, purpose-built production facility in the borough’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. Weeks doesn’t do things by halves.
‘There was no plan when we started out, so it’s interesting to see where we are,’ reflects Weeks, who grew up in Athens, Georgia, before pursuing painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and then moving to New York. ‘Because it’s been a very personal business, the evolution hasn’t always been about business-oriented decisions; it’s been creativity-driven rather than sales-driven.’
A skilled designer and fabricator, Weeks began his career in the 1990s with an apprenticeship under jewellery designer Ted Muehling, who allowed him to explore both his artistic and manufacturing instincts. Weeks remembers, ‘Working with Ted changed the way I saw the financial side of creativity. When it comes to making art, the sky is the limit, but the value of things can get mixed up. I could be the guy who made a tiny piece of wood and gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for it, but in the end that just didn’t feel right.’
Weeks’ lighting, which is largely designed as sculpture that houses light bulbs, quickly became the designer’s calling card. And it didn’t take long before the preeminent design showroom, Ralph Pucci, came knocking, sparking a collaboration that would last for the next ten years. Together, in a ‘gallerist-artist kind of relationship’, as Weeks describes it, they explored a broader collection of lighting, upholstered furniture, side tables and sculptural objects.
In 2013, Weeks made the bold decision to leave the comforts of Pucci. ‘For whatever reason, I felt like I hadn’t finished doing what I wanted to do, and it seemed like a perfect time to just get out there,’ he explains. ‘I think it was like a mid-life creative crisis. I was 45 years old and I had plenty more to say, so I decided to try something different.’
That something was opening his own storefront – a showroom/gallery of his own in the heart of Tribeca. ‘I used to live on Canal Street, right around there, so it’s a funny kind of circular life to be back. And also to be there on that scale, and not to be in Williamsburg,’ he adds. ‘Nothing against Williamsburg, but I didn’t want to be another Brooklyn designer, I want to be international and be seen on a bigger scale.’
Although initially intended to be a space where other artists and designers could show work, it has taken a little longer than Weeks expected to work out the best way to use the showroom, after he found the wider stock wasn’t selling well. ‘At the end of the day, you put your name on the door, and people come in to buy your stuff,’ he reflects. ‘It’s a compliment. But to get people to come down and buy [other artists’] ceramics or books? That was going to take a lot longer.’ So for now, the space is mainly devoted to his own lighting.
What Weeks’ new collection offers is an opportunity to push everything in a fresh direction. While before, his lighting consisted of cantilevered, mobile-like chandeliers that evoked the fractured delicacy of objects frozen in space, 'Otto' relies heavily on the natural weight and tendencies of its materials to give shape. The slight bend of each brass rod is determined by gravity and natural mechanics. Each rod is also elegantly rooted in a refined brass ball and socket joint, which allows the light to move while suspended.
The collection also marks the first time that Weeks has worked with LEDs, which are seamlessly embedded in each shade and specially calibrated to give off a warm, ambient light that truly illuminates a space, rather than just decorates it. Available initially in eight iterations, the poetic, agile designs prove that even after 20 years, Weeks hasn’t lost his edge.
‘The next step for us is the ability to make one-of-a-kinds,’ he says. ‘Especially with this new collection. Hopefully there will be a couple of one-offs, like an artist’s proof. The hope is that the store will become more of an experimental laboratory, where we can show an evolutionary line that would end with production pieces at reasonable prices. Design and art are just three inches apart from each other at this point anyway.’
As originally featured in the April 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*205)