It’s rare to find a one-man operation, or in this case, one woman. But designer and maker Kate Casey makes it look easy in her Brooklyn-based studio, Peg Woodworking. Combining intricate hand-weaving with the clean lines of woodworking, Casey creates unique furniture that provides a present-day take on the traditional. This type of contemporary work was just what West Elm – the well-known retail chain that offers housewares and modern furniture designs – was looking for when it reached out to Casey in regards to its ongoing LOCAL line.
Launched in 2013, LOCAL is a branch of West Elm that collaborates with makers who live and work near a West Elm store to create one-of-a-kind products, while also making each store a local community connector. The nationwide retailer has a goal to work with 1,000 makers across the U.S. by 2020. Casey is one of them.
“[West Elm] had the concept of the pieces they were looking for when they reached out but gave me full reign to design whatever I wanted within the category of a woven outdoor chair,” says Casey of the project. “I made several renderings of both a dining chair and a lounge chair and went in for meetings to make slight adjustments or fabrication choices. I provided them with several patterning options, and it was eventually narrowed down to the Art Deco-inspired pattern that is currently offered.” She’s referring to the Two-Tone Outdoor Lounge Chair and dining chair – the result of the collaboration.
Handwoven of water-resistant resin wicker, the Two-Tone Outdoor collection brings together intricate, Peruvian-inspired prints with the streamlined silhouettes of Scandinavian designs – two historic design styles that Casey draws inspiration from and regularly combines in her furniture.
Material Mashup: A Maker Monday Tale
“I've always loved craft and material,” she recalls when asked what drew her to these types of designs. “My mom was always buying me bead looms or weaving kits when I was young. Weaving, in rugs or tapestry, has always been interesting to me. I like how the pattern or image slowly emerges line by line. I think the most accessible version of that is through rug work. The patterning found in American Indian and Peruvian weaving has a beautiful graphic quality to it, while also telling a story. I find it really impressive.”
Casey’s works are more than made by hand as they preserve craft traditions, another quality that West Elm looks for in its handcrafted products. She hand-weaves each piece in-house with a unique array of patterns and colors. “I grew up in New England so I was exposed to a lot of shaker-style furniture, and I loved the combination of the woven seat with the simple frame,” she says. “It let the intricacy of the weaving take center stage. Scandinavian furniture shares that combination of simple shapes and forms with moments of fine detail.”
Crafting a Legacy
Because Casey’s work is entirely handmade, she has to stick to certain price points to cover the cost of material and her time-consuming labor. However, West Elm pieces are typically mass produced, so she was able to offer the Two Toned Outdoor collection at a lower cost, which in turn made the furniture more accessible to a wider audience. “It was a really great way to introduce a broader audience to my work,” she says.
The Two-Tone Outdoor Lounge and dining chairs feature a powder-coated metal frame in Antique Bronze and a handwoven, Peruvian-inspired resin wicker seat in a gray-and-white color combination. “I wanted to select a pattern that was very graphic and bold in any color and one that I had not previously used before,” says Casey. “I love black and white; I use it a lot in my work, so I wanted that to carry over into the West Elm chairs as a subtle signature. I hope people who are familiar with my work see it and recognize the aesthetic while trying something new for mass market.”
Casey adds that collaborating with West Elm and working on a broader scale was a wonderful experience, one that made her consider several aspects of selling work at higher volumes. This is likely more possible than not, as the one-woman operation recently became two – Casey hired a part-time assistant and both have been kept busy. She recently released a new line of work called Totems that are considered more sculptural than functional. “They are a really fun way to play with form without having to contend with function,” she says of its design. Casey started off her art practice as a sculptor and noted that it’s nice for her to “come full circle.”
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