New Chicago-based design firm Refractory launches

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

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

‘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

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

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. §


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