New Chicago-based design firm Refractory launches

Art and design industry veterans Angie West and Alberto Vélez present Refractory, a new American design brand offering exquisitely crafted furniture, lighting and objects

Side tables with irregularly shaped thick glass tops in light brown, dark brown, and clear
‘Tributary’ occasional tables by newly launched brand Refractory, from $8,500
(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

Refractory, a new Chicago design firm, launches with a 40-piece collection of furniture, lighting and objects, concepted ‘in the space between functional art and collectible design’, say the co-founders, Angie West and Alberto Vélez.

West and Vélez have worked together in various ways for over a decade, having met in 2010 when West left home furnishings company Holly Hunt, and Vélez arrived to take over the design reins. West was leaving to purchase a foundry that would become West Supply, now Refractory’s sister company. 

Group shot of small side tables

‘Tallow’ tables, from $6,500

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

‘West Supply had built a strong and durable business creating high-quality custom works for the most prestigious clients in art and design, but I began to realise that through the course of a decade in business, the capabilities of the workshop had developed beyond what was being asked, and that these capabilities and passions were somewhat untapped,’ says West.

Indeed, she and Vélez both have a sensibility for robust functionality seen through an artist’s lens; their respective back catalogues include fabricating works for artists such as Theaster Gates and Steven Haulenbeek, and work for firms including Tom Ford and Studio Sofield.

Refractory: a new American design brand

Detail of a metal bench

‘Scimitar Bench No. 1’, from $18,500

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

Refractory came to life quickly, in just ten months over the pandemic. West and Vélez say Refractory reflects a distinctly contemporary American design approach; one that holds in reverence the grand forces of nature as well as a rigorous design discipline.

Cast bronze, cast glass, solid black walnut, white oak, and cast resin are the key materials of the studio’s debut collection. Names are inspired by a ‘reverence for the terrain and geology of the frontier’, say the co-founders, such as their ‘Scimitar’ bench (named after ‘the hard-worn artifacts of the frontier’ with a time-worn patina) and the bronze and kiln-cast glass ‘Isthmus’ hanging light (named after a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across a body of water).

Lamp made of five hanging lights with glass cylinders

‘Isthmus’ hanging light, $49,400

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

Situated in America’s Midwest, Refractory’s co-founders have a distinct point of view on the industry: ‘We both came [to Chicago] to work for Holly Hunt, and through that experience discovered and engaged with the fascinating talent pool that exists here for the high-quality industrial arts and manufacturing,’ says Vélez, noting the city’s extensive art and design programmes that attract and nurture graduate talent.

‘Refractory hopes to participate in an open-ended renaissance of American artisanship and small-scale urban manufacturing in the Midwest,’ West adds.

Thick grey glass bowl

‘Okenite’ bowl, $3,200

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

Three metal trays with oblong forms

‘Okenite Vessels No. 2’, $4,650

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

A floor lamp in an industrial space

‘Promontory’ standing lamp, from $17,500

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

A metal bench

‘Scimitar Bench No. 1’, from $18,500

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

Three candle holders made of metal, each holding several candles

‘Sloop’ candle holders, from $3,600

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

View from above of colourful round bowls

‘Synth Bowl No. 3’, price on request

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)

Large dining table in an industrial space

‘Tributary’ dining table, $44,800

(Image credit: Jonathan Allen)


Tilly is a British writer, editor and digital consultant based in New York, covering luxury fashion, jewellery, design, culture, art, travel, wellness and more. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, she is Contributing Editor for Wallpaper* and has interviewed a cross section of design legends including Sir David Adjaye, Samuel Ross, Pamela Shamshiri and Piet Oudolf for the magazine.

With contributions from