Design duo Hellman-Chang build a Brooklyn brand
- Last Updated: 8:05 PM, June 7, 2012
- Posted: 11:08 PM, June 6, 2012
Furniture designers Dan Hellman and Eric Chang of Hellman-Chang figured they would get some orders for their Z Pedestal table after it won Interior Design magazine’s Best of Year award in 2006. But they weren’t prepared for so much interest so quickly.
“The Z gets published in the magazine and a week later, we get a call from designers at the Four Seasons [hotels],” Chang says. “They needed a bar table for their Seattle property. And they needed 15 or 16 pieces. And they wanted a coffee table they saw on our Web site for the presidential suite.”
At that point, Hellman and Chang realized their passion for woodworking was no longer just a hobby.
“It was a defining moment for us,” Chang says. “We now had a viable product and brand, and that gave us tremendous confidence.”
What the Four Seasons folks didn’t know? That Hellman-Chang was two 24-year-old guys working out of a 5-by-10-foot rented space in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, woodshop. And that it took them about a month to turn out a single table.
“We really had to up our game,” Hellman says. “We got two interns and we finally got our first full-time employee. And we had a lot of long days.”
But the duo was used to working together in small spaces for long hours. In fact, they’d been doing it since they were 10 years old, in Hellman’s garage in suburban Maryland.
“Dan’s dad had lots of tools,” Chang recalls. “So we bought wood and woodworking books and taught ourselves how. We had a mutual interest in furniture, design and art.”
When they went off to college, neither chose to study design (Hellman majored in classical guitar, Chang in business). But when they reconnected in New York after graduation, they fell into their old routine.
“We started hanging out again,” Chang says. “And we missed woodworking. We did research and found there were co-op workshops in Williamsburg where a dozen craftspeople would share a space. There was a really creative, social vibe. And it invigorated us.”
The first piece they produced, the Z Pedestal, was “something we knew we could build and photograph quickly,” Hellman says. “We’d done some sketching, but it wasn’t until we started building the piece, turning it into a three-dimensional sculptural piece and hand-shaping the wood, that the design took shape.”
With the success of that initial creation, the self-taught duo expanded the Z line, creating a dining table and bedside table that caught the eye of hoteliers and set designers who craved a rich, refined look.
“For Elizabeth Hurley’s character on ‘Gossip Girl,’ they wanted the Z dining table,” Chang says. “And we still get calls about Carrie and Big’s bedroom end tables from ‘Sex and the City 2.’ ”
Hellman-Chang’s furniture, which is sold to the trade, is on the pricey side (a Z dining-room table goes for about $20,000; bespoke pieces can be more), but producing each handcrafted item can take months.
“We select hardwoods and let them acclimate in our warehouse awhile before we even begin the milling process,” Hellman explains. “From there, the wood gets a lot of surface detailing and hand-shaping.”
Their newest piece, the Avery chair, was unveiled at last month’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
“The chair was designed four years ago, and it’s finally come to fruition,” Chang says. “This year will also be the first introduction to lighting for us.”
The business has taken off, but the two haven’t forgotten their humble beginnings. When they outgrew their original woodworking co-op and moved into an 11,000-square-foot warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, they set aside space for several artisans with whom they had worked with side-by-side.
“That creative co-op vibe, we really want to bring that with us,” Hellman says. “Creative Brooklyn types are who we want to surround ourselves with.”
“I can’t imagine anywhere else in the world that pushes us to be better the way Brooklyn and New York do,” Chang adds. “That’s why we’re here.”
Hellman-Chang is sold at A. Rudin Showroom, D&D Building, 979 Third Ave., Suite 1201; hellman-chang.com.