In the late ’90s, the furniture designer’s coffee table sat in front of the recliners in Joey and Chandler’s apartment. Today, you’ll find Blu Dot’s Bonnie and Clyde sofas at the headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, Calif., and you can spot the Animal Lounge Chair at Twitter’s new San Francisco headquarters.
The Northeast-based company was founded by three college friends who wanted to make designer furniture at affordable prices.
We sat down with co-founder John Christakos to talk about the latest trends in furniture design and the most outrageous things people will offer for free furniture. The following is a sample of the conversation:
The Journal: You received national press after dropping [Blu Dot-made] Real Good Chairs on the streets of New York and tracking them with GPS systems to see where they ended up. Do you have any new promotions on the way?
Christakos: Our goal is to get modern design into the hands of as many people as we can. But we realize that while our stuff may be affordable to some, it’s not affordable to everybody.
We’re giving our loyal fans the opportunity to pick a favorite piece of Blu Dot furniture and offer up a trade of any kind. We posted this two weeks ago, and we were a little concerned that we might not get many offers, or the offers might be kind of lame. So far we’ve had 1,700 offers. Some of them are really incredible. Somebody offered up a drug-free urine sample. A songwriter in New York said she would compose four songs for us on four consecutive Mondays. She put up a sampling of her work and she has this unbelievably stunning voice.
We know our customers are creative types because of our data gathering. They’re all primarily in creative fields, like advertising or architecture or graphic design, so the collective talents and creativity of our loyal following has blossomed in this [promotion]. It’s been really cool.
What kind of trends are you seeing in the furniture industry?
One is a product of when the economy was cranking: designers trying to be artists. Selling a chair for $70,000 is not where our interest is. To make design that elitist, in our mind, is not the purpose of design. Design should be for the purpose of all, not for the very rich. Our interest is in mass production and, through design, making beautiful things that can be produced reasonably and sold fairly.
There’s also been a trend recently toward more crafty, handmade-looking things that have more rustic finishes and almost a naïve look to them, which is a good trend. It warms things up and makes things more human. I don’t know if we’re reacting to that trend, but I think we’re making an effort to make some of our pieces more earthy and warm. A lot of our work has a more slick kind of machine aesthetic.
What new pieces are you bringing to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair [in New York City] this spring?
There is a table called Branch that has a very thick, solid oak, weathered, driftwoody top. We want to have a palette encompass more earthy and warm. Our tastes evolve over time. Things we were designing when we first started we wouldn’t really like now — we might have outgrown them. We started the company when we were 30 years old, and some of the things we were designing were a little quirkier and a little more playful. We’ve mellowed with age, and we’re more sophisticated maybe, and less idiosyncratic, and a little more refined.
Where in the country is your biggest customer base?
They’re in the big cities; New York is No. 1, also L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, places like that. Minneapolis, too. If we weren’t a Minneapolis company I’m not sure Minneapolis would be one of our top clients, but they’re rooting for the hometown guys a little bit.
Blu Dot is sold in over 100 retailers, mostly in the U.S., but also internationally. [Retailers include Target, Crate and Barrel, Costco and The Container Store.] We also sell online through our web site, and we have our own store in New York.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
We design from the inside out. Because our goal is to deliver something that’s ultimately reasonably affordable, we have to be thinking about efficiency from the very beginning. We’re thinking about yields on a sheet of material, how does it pack, and how does it ship. We’re solving for a multivariable equation, and the ultimate look of a piece is often the residue of solving for all those things.
A lot of other designers — this might be kind of cynical — might have great inspiration and draw their design with a stick in the sand on the beach and then go and figure out how to make it. They discover that it’s impossible to make, and difficult to ship. We kind of go the opposite way.
The store in New York has been great because now we have people on the front lines. We have a desk that’s very popular called Desk 51, and customers wanted a smaller desk because spaces are so small in New York. There’s a new desk called the Cant Desk designed specifically from that feedback.
The Rook Lamp was a total accident. The fact that we discovered it stands on one leg was an accident. Serendipity works well sometimes.