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Publication Date: 2011-10-28

Inspiration

Q&A with Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows of BassamFellows

The brand-strategy whiz and the thoughtful architect. The American and the Australian. They are BassamFellows, seemingly opposites—but quite like-minded. Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows are the men behind a line of chairs, tables, benches, and stools that is at once cerebral and sensuous. Spare lines, but luxurious materials. A lack of ornament, but highly tactile. Perhaps it’s their own lives that inform their work the most: The partners have collaborated on everything from Bally shoe stores to hotel rooms for The James; restored two important midcentury houses; currently live in a 1951 Philip Johnson masterpiece; and tool about Connecticut and California in vintage Mercedes-Benzes. An appreciation of craft? And how. Scott Fellows fills us in.

Q: Is there such a thing as ‘the BassamFellows aesthetic?'

A: We call our aesthetic “Craftsman Modern.” It is about the balance between the clarity and rationality of modernism with the warmth of nature and craft. We felt there was something missing from contemporary furniture when we started back in 2003. Everything had become so novelty-driven and about mass production. For our own interior projects, we were always drawn to the timelessness of the modern classics but wanted to mix those with contemporary pieces. Yet we wanted contemporary designs with the same attention to craft and detail as the modern classics. It was difficult to find, so we set out to design it ourselves.

Q: Craftsman Modern: the new less-is-more?

A: We like the reference to the original Craftsman Movement, which was a direct response to the excess and the senseless novelty of the Victorian age.

Q: So what—or who—is a big design influence for you?

A: We are really drawn to products and designs that are meant to be forever—both in their design sensibility as well as in their quality. For that reason, I really admire Hermès as a brand. While other luxury companies have downgraded their quality simultaneously with their growth, Hermès has remained true to its values and heritage. Craig Bassam: I am really drawn to Louis Kahn. His planning and clarity, his use of natural materials, his dedication to craft, and his attention to detail—they all make for truly compelling architecture that is meant to last forever. We try to bring those same values to everything we do.

Q: In your work, how do you infuse such clean-lined pieces with real warmth?

A: Modern doesn’t have to be cold. For example, for an architectural project in Connecticut, we rebuilt a glass curtain wall with a combination of butt-jointed glass and huge sliding-glass doors, custom-made by our cabinetmaker in mahogany. It’s super-rational and “high-touch” at the same time. Another example is our Leather Desk: Its starkly simple lines are enhanced by slightly rounded edges to the frame and the beauty of the natural leather top.

Q: On that note, what are three ways to warm up a large, open space?

A: One, keep the material palette natural—natural materials and natural colors. This will never date an interior. Two, keep the material palette limited and balanced with a predominant light tone, dark tone, and mid tones. We like graphic clarity in interiors: A white wall is a good backdrop for a warm, darker-toned wood furniture piece like our Mantis Side Chair in solid walnut, or our Leather Desk in rosewood with a black leather top. Three, balance smooth surfaces with warm, high-touch surfaces. We like a consistent stone floor throughout an entire space, but also like using super-thick, natural-wool area carpets to create comfortable seating islands within the space.

Q: What one design element would you never skimp on in a room?

A: A wall of glass.

Q: For people who love a mix of furniture styles and periods, what are three ways to combine BassamFellows pieces with things that are not as sleek?

A: I think that is just the point: We don’t view our pieces as sleek. They are meant to be simple and elegant and therefore can be used in any type of interior. They are not big statement pieces, but they are not bland or devoid of personality, either. Our clients have used our pieces in the most traditional environments as well as the most modern.

Q: Is there a typical BassamFellows client?

A: They all tend to be collectors. They love specific things and are buying for the long term.

Q: There are echoes of classic Danish design in your work. Who are three Danish greats you admire?

A: Poul Kjaerholm, Hans Wegner, and Kaare Klint.

Q: What design advice has always served you well?

A: From Louis Kahn: “To express is to drive. And when you want to give something presence, you have to consult nature. And there is where Design comes in.”

-Rob Brinkley

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