Ten years ago, the design world had not yet moved towards the appreciation of bespoke, small-batch production that it has today. In 2003 Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows’s concept of “craftsman modern” represented a new direction for luxury products, which had evolved in response to the super-industrial modes of production that had proliferated in the furniture design of the time.
After working together at Swiss fashion house Bally, the pair founded their firm, BassamFellows, with the idea of bringing back “the essence of craft” and creating a new concept for American luxury. (Creative director Scott is a US native, while Craig is Australian.) At the time, the notion of craft still had its DIY connotations, but the pair wanted to combine fine-grain artisanal production with selected industrial techniques. Their vision was for sleek, contemporary designs that would reveal the “soul of the craftsman and the touch of the hand” without being too rustic – enduring pieces that would be built to last, both in their materiality and style. Craig and Scott believe luxury furniture should be used rather than be ornamental, and wanted to create pieces that would be enhanced rather than destroyed by the ageing process.
With this ambitious mandate BassamFellows launched at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2003, showcasing its first design, the Tractor stool, based on the moulded form of a farm machinery seat they had found on the side of the road. The seat was recast from its traditional metal into solid, carved walnut, which gives the design a softness and warmth. The stool has since become a modern classic. Since 2003 the duo has produced a range of small and large pieces including desks, daybeds, trays and chests of drawers, using rich, natural materials such as oiled wood, oxidized brass and leather. They also work on residential, hospitality and retail architecture projects, which allow them to explore the integration of and relationship between exterior and interior design – one of the main drivers of their work.
At the 2013 Milan Furniture Fair BassamFellows launched two new products, the Spoke table and Spindle chair. A visit to Louis Kahn’s (one of the pair’s main architectural inspirations) Exeter Library inspired the design of the latter. The duo was struck by the contrast between the building’s brutalist architecture and the warmth and simple, classic forms of the interior furniture. They reinterpreted the Shaker-style chair by exaggerating the fineness of the spindles and changing them to metal, while keeping the purity of the form. Designs like this exemplify what David Sokol of The Wall Street Journal has described as a “minimal-artisanal” approach – the piece shows the duo’s skill at subtly manipulating traditional pieces to suit a modern context.
The design world may now embrace many of the qualities that originally inspired the brand, but in pioneering a new understanding of crafted luxury BassamFellows has exhibited the admirable qualities of the pieces they produce: the courage to break from the pack and stand by the fundamental elements of luxury design – comfort, longevity and warmth.
Published online: 7 Jan 2014
Words: Jill Pope
Houses, October 2013