INTERVIEW: David Pierce of Ohio Design
SR: How did you get started personally, and how did you get OHIO started?
DP: It was a pretty simple start. I worked as a landscape architect in London; I won a fellowship after I’d gone to school for architecture and landscape architecture at Berkeley. I stayed there after the fellowship and worked for a landscape architect and I just realized that I wanted to come back to the Bay Area, that this is where my career was going to be.
So I came back, worked as a landscape architect, and that was somewhat rewarding financially, but not so much aesthetically or creatively. I started working with this architect named Jim Zack; he had a furniture component to his company. So I was doing my landscape thing three days a week, and doing the Jim Zack thing three days a week, and then just knew I wanted to be in business for myself.
I bought a welder and a saw, and I decided to start a little furniture company. I started it doing outdoor furniture; that was kind of a mix of landscape architecture and furniture manufacturing.
SR: What year was that?
DP: That was in ’97 or ’98. Jim threw me a couple of jobs and it was off to the races. It was by word of mouth for years. The first part of the business was really about learning manufacturing, because I had just learned welding when I started. So I really kind of delved into furniture manufacturing, history of furniture, looking at all the manufacturers that are out there, all the designers. And then started this store, I guess in the first iteration about a year and three months ago. Then about four months ago, I teamed up with Lian of Publique Living, to do One36, and we kind of rebranded it.
SR: And was it in this space the whole time? (136 Fillmore st., SF)
DP: Yeah, it was in this space the whole time. Lian and I had worked together before; we?d initially shared a booth at the furniture fair in New York two years ago. So that?s kind of how I got into it.
Now it’s really about the business; it’s not so much designing. All the things that we’ve done to this point have been very simple, kind of reference the history of furniture, minimal, simple modern kind of thing, Donald Judd-inspired. And now it’s about adding value to that furniture, so whether it’s print furniture, or we’re starting to do some powder-coating of types of woods, natural shade powder-coating; we’re doing some more intricate folds for the sheet metal lines’still working on those, we’re going to probably release those in our fall collection. So that’s kind of where we are now. It’s less about design, in some regards, and more about business, which is interesting, it’s a whole other level, how to make a business flourish. Certainly I could keep it going as a small shop, but we want to grow it somehow. The store is one obvious direction. We will also be releasing six wholesale products for our Spring/Summer 2006 line.
SR: So you and Lian don’t design the same things, right?
DP: That’s correct. I do all the furniture that’s here, and Lian designs more tabletop items: placemats, trays bowls, he does some artwork. We do represent some other people here: Citizen, Adrift Mobiles, EIEIO, which is the wrapping paper. But my stuff is only sold in this store.
SR: Why do you call it OHIO?
DP: Well, I was trying to figure out a name for the company. I didn’t want to name it David Pierce Studios, though now there’s an element to people wanting to connect with a name, so I’m trying to think if David Pierce should be back in the title somehow, just because people connect with it. I don’t like the egocentrism of naming your company after yourself, and there’s a level that, you know, if it does grow to a certain point, you have to sell your name, essentially, and your name goes away. Jill Sanders, a perfect example; Martha Stewart went to prison. I’m not Martha Stewart, but, Martha Stewart went to prison, and her company took a big hit, now she’s back on track for sure, but?
OHIO was simple; it’s where I’m from, basically, and I don’t know if you’ve seen the logo, but there’s also kind of a graphic element to OHIO it’s very simple in form: two round things, two square things, and then it has an added element in that it spells OHIO in all directions, and backwards. So it has an element of flexibility to it, which is something that kind of works with my furniture, too. That’s the basic explanation for OHIO. I wanted it to be something more than me.
SR: So you told me you started with outdoor furniture; what were some of your first pieces like?
DP: Well, really simple, kind of like the Brooks chair, which you can see online, very simple tube steel type things; and you know, now the market is flooded with that kind of stuff, but when I started doing it, it wasn’t out there as much. Certainly it had happened in the 50s, but it wasn’t in the modern market. Now it’s everywhere, which is fine, but that was also a good kind of technique to learn welding. It’s a good technique to perfect, essentially.
SR: Where did you learn to weld?
DP: Well, much of it was self-taught, after I started the company. But, I first started learning at Jim Zack. I had the entr?e into the shop, so I spent nights and weekends just making furniture. It’s so amazing, I mean really steel is absolutely amazing. It’s the most recycled material in the world. You could chew on a piece of steel or pound on it all year, and you could never do the same thing as I could do in two seconds, and then you weld it back together and make it look seamless again. It’s absolutely brilliant, I mean there’s not many materials you can do that to. And it’s super strong, it comes in sheet form, bar stock, tube, round tube, square tube, rectangular tube, I mean, it’s incredible. And aluminum is a close second, for sure, just because it’s a little bit lighter, I like the lightness of it. But, yeah, I fell in love with steel, just fell in love with the material.
And, you know now, I know people love wood and I love the richness of wood, but I use it less, I use it relatively sparingly. Especially when you can do a base from steel, I’d rather use steel ? a little bit lighter.
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