Season 01, Episode 05

S.01 / E.05

Fred Kukelhaus & Ben Young

Watch the Video Read the Transcript

Fred Kukelhaus and Ben Young are the co-founders of Hugo & Hoby. They founded the organization with the simple mission to make beautiful, locally crafted, and sustainable furniture more widely accessible. They’ve partnered with the best fabricators, craftspeople, and artisans in the country in order to build single-source, locally-focused pieces for Patanogia, Sam Adams, Google, and many other companies. Hugo + Hoby is also a Certified B Corp and member of 1% for the Planet, planting over 25,000 new trees in at-risk domestic forests and supporting environmental non-profits.

Hugo & Hoby envisions a world in which local manufacturers, forests, and businesses thrive through their interdependence. Every day, they strive to balance meaningful work, environmental stewardship, and joyful community. They hope to inspire others to do the same.

The whole premise of what we're trying to do is make sure that when we're building something we're investing back in the community.
Frederick Kukelhaus : Founder / Hugo & Hoby

References & Social



00:00:03.720 --> 00:00:12.840

Wilma: Hi everyone and welcome back to Optimistic Design, a speaker series where we take a practical, positive look at the future of design, ethical innovation and technology.


00:00:13.110 --> 00:00:20.730

Wilma: I'm your host Wilma Lam, Director of Strategy here at Substantial.


00:00:13.110 --> 00:00:20.740

Today I'm excited to catch up with Fred Kukelhaus and Ben Young.


00:00:21.030 --> 00:00:25.530

Wilma: Co founders of Hugo and Hoby, a furniture company in which they started with a simple mission.


00:00:25.890 --> 00:00:30.330

Wilma: To make beautiful locally crafted and sustainable furniture more widely accessible.


00:00:30.630 --> 00:00:41.220

Wilma: they've partnered with the best fabricators and artisans in the country in order to build single source locally focused pieces for Patagonia Sam Adams Google and many other companies.


00:00:41.640 --> 00:00:56.700

Wilma: Hugo + Hoby is also a certified B corp and member of 1% for the planet planting over 25,000 new trees in at-risk domestic forest and supporting environmental nonprofits as part of their company mission Fred and Ben welcome, and thank you for joining me today.


00:00:58.110 --> 00:00:59.250

frederick kukelhaus: Oh thanks for having us.


00:01:00.330 --> 00:01:08.010

Wilma: yeah so just to kick things off, I know you both started your careers in other fields, could you share a little bit about how you got into furniture design.


00:01:09.750 --> 00:01:15.420

benjaminyoung: yeah sure thing Well, first of all thanks so much for having us and it's good to reconnect.


00:01:16.470 --> 00:01:20.400

benjaminyoung: yeah and kind of a long sort of meandering path to furniture.


00:01:21.420 --> 00:01:25.650

benjaminyoung: I was actually a high school math teacher for five years.


00:01:27.270 --> 00:01:38.790

benjaminyoung: After graduating from college and i've always wanted to start a business, so I love teaching, it was something that I could see myself doing sort of for the rest of my life honestly.


00:01:39.420 --> 00:01:52.530

benjaminyoung: But I always had this sort of urge in the back of my mind i've always wanted to start a company and and I eventually made the decision to to leave teaching and go to business school and.


00:01:53.610 --> 00:02:10.260

benjaminyoung: kind of learn some of the skills needed to start a business, and I think my original pitch to business school was like starting a business and education right kind of seeing a lot of opportunities and things like that, and in our welcome weekend, you know as these business schools have.


00:02:11.700 --> 00:02:25.980

benjaminyoung: We I can remember the exact event but Fred and I kind of cross paths at one of these events and I honestly think the very first thing friend, said to me sort of jokingly as us like hey want to start a company together and.


00:02:26.610 --> 00:02:32.040

benjaminyoung: joey at the time, but we kind of bonded over the fact that we both grew up in DC.


00:02:32.850 --> 00:02:43.860

benjaminyoung: And we decided to become roommates and we kind of talked about the fact that we're both interested in entrepreneurship and starting a business, certainly not in furniture and we had no kind of thought behind that.


00:02:44.490 --> 00:02:57.000

benjaminyoung: But yeah we became roommates and we were you know, naturally, moving into our Grad school apartment and we are furnishing our apartment as one does with couches and tables and things like that.


00:02:57.480 --> 00:03:08.070

benjaminyoung: And, and you know after classes and a few beers I think we got into commiserating over just kind of bad cheap unsustainable hard to put together furniture and just.


00:03:08.430 --> 00:03:18.510

benjaminyoung: Why there weren't better brands out there that we could get excited by and so kind of through that process, we found out that we both actually build furniture as a hobby.


00:03:19.530 --> 00:03:25.710

benjaminyoung: You know just for fun and again like nothing super Nice or well put together but but it's always been a hobby of ours.


00:03:26.160 --> 00:03:33.690

benjaminyoung: And you know we kind of learned that each of our grandfathers you go Google house fred's grandfather and he'll be young my grandfather.


00:03:34.140 --> 00:03:48.420

benjaminyoung: were both furniture makers and their lifetimes sort of how we gained our sort of passion for furniture and so that's kind of had the idea first hatched for Hugo, and it is just kind of one of these moments sitting in our Grad school apartment and.


00:03:49.470 --> 00:04:04.950

benjaminyoung: You know excited to build a company that we wanted to buy furniture from that was locally made and sustainable easy to put together and pieces that were actually going to last a lifetime as as our grandfathers built built for us and our families.


00:04:06.240 --> 00:04:12.180

Wilma: awesome and how about for you Fred was it just like you saw Ben that first day and you're like this is the guy.


00:04:12.240 --> 00:04:14.430

Wilma: i'm going to start a company with this guy.


00:04:15.210 --> 00:04:16.380

frederick kukelhaus: Was love, at first sight.


00:04:18.090 --> 00:04:18.870

frederick kukelhaus: As still as.


00:04:19.950 --> 00:04:32.070

frederick kukelhaus: yeah you know I think I was, I was a management consultant, before going back to school, so it worked out pretty well I guess what you would call normal you know kind of white collar job.


00:04:32.730 --> 00:04:46.620

frederick kukelhaus: You know behind a computer and a desk and through that, had it have always had kind of a strong interest you know, both in design, but then, also in other subjects that are, I think, are related to design look environmentalism sustainability.


00:04:47.700 --> 00:04:51.810

frederick kukelhaus: You know everything that's going honor society in terms of like social impact, and things like this.


00:04:52.830 --> 00:04:58.530

frederick kukelhaus: And so, thought that business Business School in particular business program is where Ben and I met each other.


00:04:59.040 --> 00:05:07.530

frederick kukelhaus: might be a good place to kind of think more deeply about those subjects and how I might combine them into a into a career.


00:05:08.280 --> 00:05:14.370

frederick kukelhaus: You know, after i'd done kind of my time as I saw it at that point and kind of do a quote unquote normal job.


00:05:14.910 --> 00:05:24.720

frederick kukelhaus: So you know when I ran into been obviously we immediately get some things in common and so yeah I do remember actually the exact moment where I half jokingly was like do you want us to be together.


00:05:25.740 --> 00:05:36.120

frederick kukelhaus: We end up becoming roommates as Ben said, and then yeah you know the pickup were more work been left off his story which is we just kind of slowly continue to talk about.


00:05:37.380 --> 00:05:42.000

frederick kukelhaus: You know what it would look like and what we were interested in really kind of getting to know each other.


00:05:43.140 --> 00:05:50.550

frederick kukelhaus: You know, over time, i'd say with for how we really started getting serious about furniture furniture design.


00:05:51.240 --> 00:05:56.880

frederick kukelhaus: Ben touched on this, but there was really kind of initial interest on our part, but secondly, you know, a need.


00:05:57.390 --> 00:06:14.010

frederick kukelhaus: Where we kind of saw and have continued to see that, obviously, there is a market desire among kind of the broader populace for well design, you know thoughtfully made things and so that's we kind of found ourselves gravitating to over time yeah.


00:06:14.580 --> 00:06:21.120

Wilma: awesome well Thank you so much for that it is really interesting to see here their background of how you guys met each other and got started.


00:06:21.570 --> 00:06:35.430

Wilma: And it's you know it's been five or six years since you're going to be started, so I love to hear you know in that time, who has been your most influential teacher or mentor as you've built your own hobby and really got into furniture design or deeply.


00:06:37.560 --> 00:06:43.050

benjaminyoung: yeah I think you know before I kind of give the the most influential answer, I will say.


00:06:44.520 --> 00:06:55.860

benjaminyoung: I think we've been really lucky to just be surrounded by sort of entrepreneurs that are either at the same stage in our company, as well as entrepreneurs that are just a few years.


00:06:56.370 --> 00:07:05.100

benjaminyoung: You know they started a few years ahead of us and they've just been amazing mentors throughout the way of kind of you know you're building these things from the ground up and figuring it all out and.


00:07:05.670 --> 00:07:12.660

benjaminyoung: So I think we've been really lucky to be surrounded by just an amazing group of entrepreneurs that have helped us, you know guide us in different ways.


00:07:13.590 --> 00:07:24.360

benjaminyoung: One one particular person that stands out for me is that, as we kind of built this company, you know it's exciting moment where you get to kind of decide.


00:07:24.870 --> 00:07:34.440

benjaminyoung: What type of company do do we want to build you know it's like you get to kind of do it from scratch and write your own rules and um for us, one of the companies that always stood out to us.


00:07:35.190 --> 00:07:47.910

benjaminyoung: As just sort of a guiding North star was Patagonia and they just felt like they always need the right decisions business and we're constantly improving.


00:07:48.750 --> 00:07:58.890

benjaminyoung: So they never and I would say, still they never feel like they're at the finish line right it's always there's always a way to be more sustainable have better employment practices, etc, so.


00:07:59.160 --> 00:08:05.100

benjaminyoung: We always kind of looked at them as a guiding star and, in particular, while we were in business school.


00:08:06.390 --> 00:08:17.130

benjaminyoung: Vincent Stanley who is part of the Center for business environment at gale he had a position there he kind of became a mentor to us from from day one, and he was the.


00:08:17.580 --> 00:08:24.540

benjaminyoung: Chief marketing officer at Patagonia and now he's the chief storyteller at Patagonia and he's just been this amazing.


00:08:25.530 --> 00:08:34.800

benjaminyoung: advisor mentor friend to us to kind of help us make these decisions about you know what type of company, do you want to have 10 years from now.


00:08:35.370 --> 00:08:41.700

benjaminyoung: or 20 years from now, or 100 years from now, you know that's sort of how Patagonia looks at it, is very far in advance.


00:08:42.540 --> 00:08:45.720

benjaminyoung: And one thing in particular that I think he really.


00:08:46.230 --> 00:09:00.000

benjaminyoung: Always came back to was this idea of pushing the boundaries of what it means to be sustainable and he's actually been one of the bugs in our Year every year is saying hey do you guys apply to become a certified B corp yet.


00:09:00.660 --> 00:09:08.280

benjaminyoung: I say oh we're going to get there, we want to apply and, finally, this year, you know about a year ago, we finally applied.


00:09:09.150 --> 00:09:14.400

benjaminyoung: To get certification and I think it's one of the greatest things we've done as a company is really.


00:09:15.270 --> 00:09:22.980

benjaminyoung: You know it's essentially doing an audit on your company to say how good, are you really at sustainability and social impact.


00:09:23.400 --> 00:09:32.220

benjaminyoung: employment practices, etc, and it's extremely rigorous and so we kind of thought oh we're going to be a shoo in you know we work with local fabricators sustainable hardwoods.


00:09:32.610 --> 00:09:41.220

benjaminyoung: You know, we ship locally, we do all the right things, and actually it turns out there's so many areas that we were doing well, it, but we could do a lot better at, and so I think.


00:09:41.850 --> 00:09:55.500

benjaminyoung: Through his mentorship we've kind of set our goals higher, I think, then, we probably would have set ourselves and are trying to push the boundaries of what what it means to be a you know, thoughtful sustainable, socially driven company.


00:09:57.480 --> 00:10:00.030

Wilma: that's awesome and how about for you read.


00:10:01.170 --> 00:10:14.970

frederick kukelhaus: yeah I totally agree with everything you know Ben said that visit stanley's been you know kind of a foundational person in the formation of a few adobe and has been like an incredible source of all you know both inspiration and guidance.


00:10:15.990 --> 00:10:29.670

frederick kukelhaus: i'd say the second person or one of my top folks would be a guy named William brown Joe Brown, who is actually the director of the like we didn't Museum in new haven.


00:10:30.600 --> 00:10:42.960

frederick kukelhaus: And so, for those of you haven't been to the eli Whitney museum it's obviously you know, a museum that's really kind of focused on eli Whitney and the impacts of the various kind of intentions.


00:10:43.980 --> 00:10:49.260

frederick kukelhaus: You know that he created during his lifetime and also his influence really on the industrial revolution.


00:10:49.920 --> 00:10:55.830

frederick kukelhaus: The an influence, by the way, that we're still feeling today and fabrication design and so many aspects of our life.


00:10:56.790 --> 00:11:08.730

frederick kukelhaus: And so bill is not only the director of the museum, but for the past, you know I think 44 years has really been running these incredible education programs.


00:11:09.480 --> 00:11:15.300

frederick kukelhaus: for children in design and in fabrication basically teaching children.


00:11:15.840 --> 00:11:22.800

frederick kukelhaus: couldn't more non traditional learning methods, you know haptic learning methods in terms of how to use tools to learn, you know certain subjects.


00:11:23.130 --> 00:11:32.820

frederick kukelhaus: How to use literally wind and water, you know soil as learning materials and teaching materials so he is an incredibly fascinating person.


00:11:33.690 --> 00:11:38.910

frederick kukelhaus: Among other things, he's really you know kind of a philosopher and a lot of ways, and that is insights on.


00:11:39.450 --> 00:11:49.470

frederick kukelhaus: You know what it means to to build things and why you would build things, has been I think very influential for us and then more actually just technically from an operational standpoint, I mean bill.


00:11:50.040 --> 00:11:59.460

frederick kukelhaus: has probably trained, you know or knows of I don't know, maybe half of the fabricators you know in doing that, and on the east coast, at some point.


00:11:59.880 --> 00:12:08.670

frederick kukelhaus: You know, been influenced by Bill so he's the type of person who knows, everybody that he really has made a mark on a lot of the people you want to be working with anyways.


00:12:09.330 --> 00:12:18.780

frederick kukelhaus: So the way our company is set up, that we partner with local you know fabricators manufacturers and a lot of them now, obviously, not all of them can actually be tied back to bill.


00:12:19.800 --> 00:12:29.940

frederick kukelhaus: And so, and he was instrumental in introducing us really in the first place, we got started, so I think he's another person kind of invented Stanley who, from a philosophical level and also an operational level.


00:12:31.020 --> 00:12:33.750

frederick kukelhaus: has just had a tremendous impact on us yeah.


00:12:34.350 --> 00:12:43.680

Wilma: Now that's great and it's really interesting to hear from both of you that both of these mentors have really helped you to think about the mission of you going home and continue to refine it.


00:12:44.190 --> 00:12:56.400

Wilma: So with that Fred i'd love to hear a little bit about you know how, when you talk about single source locally focused furniture, you know what does that mean to you guys I keep going hobby.


00:12:57.570 --> 00:13:03.510

frederick kukelhaus: yeah absolutely so you know we talked a little bit about what kind of inspirations were for starting the company.


00:13:04.140 --> 00:13:10.350

frederick kukelhaus: Then what our inspirations and design are, and as I kind of mentioned typically there's an interest and there's a need.


00:13:11.280 --> 00:13:20.160

frederick kukelhaus: That kind of really kicks off a successful or worthwhile project, and so, when we talk about you know kind of single source inability of the same thing is true in that I think.


00:13:20.820 --> 00:13:26.460

frederick kukelhaus: there's always been a lot of interest and even now there's you know kind of this increasing interest you know around the country.


00:13:27.360 --> 00:13:34.440

frederick kukelhaus: To build things locally to build them in a way that you can feel good you know about buying something or designing something.


00:13:35.100 --> 00:13:39.150

frederick kukelhaus: And then having in your home or having in the workplace or your place of worship, or whatever it is.


00:13:39.840 --> 00:13:46.080

frederick kukelhaus: But there's not necessarily a great and clear way to do that, I mean how many of us really know.


00:13:46.620 --> 00:13:56.310

frederick kukelhaus: folks who are are like deeply familiar with how to build you know, a coffee table or a bed frame or you know, on a kind of a lower residential level, all the way to a commercial level.


00:13:56.580 --> 00:14:06.420

frederick kukelhaus: You know, some big architectural moment that is really you know huge statement piece in the Center building these folks are pretty rare and so as Ben and I were kind of investigating.


00:14:06.990 --> 00:14:14.970

frederick kukelhaus: You know what the kind of fabrication world is at this moment, the United States and the state of it is we realized that there was an opportunity to.


00:14:15.660 --> 00:14:29.250

frederick kukelhaus: Basically connect all the super high quality really wonderful local fabricators who are really kind of all over the country and, obviously, being in on the east coast that's where we started that's where our focus is.


00:14:29.970 --> 00:14:36.600

frederick kukelhaus: But kind of connecting them and homeless forming these kind of partnerships that we can act.


00:14:36.930 --> 00:14:45.780

frederick kukelhaus: As a much bigger company that can take you know that can work with the pollster who's like amazing but maybe not that well known as a woodworker.


00:14:46.260 --> 00:14:55.020

frederick kukelhaus: You know who's literally let's say, like the woods of maine you know kind of in a bar and doing their own thing, but when it will work and connecting them in such a way that we can act.


00:14:55.590 --> 00:15:07.140

frederick kukelhaus: As one group that can you know, provide a seamless service to a customer that wants to once that level of work that level of quality wants to invest.


00:15:07.710 --> 00:15:21.540

frederick kukelhaus: In what they're purchasing or they're designing kind of in their local communities, then do it in a way that is not too onerous by having to actually go and you know, have all these conversations themselves, and so, at this point that's how the idea started it's at this point.


00:15:22.650 --> 00:15:33.720

frederick kukelhaus: We you know really know enough folks and our network is deep enough that well we try to do, whenever we're building something is trying to build it as closely to the source of where it's going to end up.


00:15:34.290 --> 00:15:42.210

frederick kukelhaus: As possible that's both for sustainability, you know kind of objectives or aims, but then, also because.


00:15:42.690 --> 00:15:49.290

frederick kukelhaus: The whole premise of what we're trying to do is make sure that when we're building something we're investing back in the Community.


00:15:49.830 --> 00:16:01.440

frederick kukelhaus: So that's really what we mean by that kind of single sourcing you know the the the wider range of local capabilities and sustainability, obviously, you know those plays into that it's really kind of at the heart of that.


00:16:02.160 --> 00:16:17.130

frederick kukelhaus: it's not just about picking you know, although certainly a large part of it the right kinds of materials, but a lot of it is just building it, you know, in the place where it's going to end up if you can see that it's um it's really kind of becomes part of that communities yeah.


00:16:17.490 --> 00:16:23.040

Wilma: That really makes a lot of sense, but on the sourcing side i'd love to hear a little bit more about you know.


00:16:23.640 --> 00:16:32.310

Wilma: When you're going through the process of designing furniture, how do you actually select the wood that that you'll ultimately use or other materials that are going to be a part of that project.


00:16:34.080 --> 00:16:40.500

frederick kukelhaus: So I think it's you know I think the first thing we do in design is we really kind of listen to what the need is.


00:16:41.160 --> 00:16:49.140

frederick kukelhaus: A lot of the material that would work with probably primarily as his word, although we were cross you know, obviously medal in class and stone.


00:16:49.710 --> 00:16:56.490

frederick kukelhaus: of Austrian and there's all sorts of kind of interesting new materials that are coming up all the time that we're very happy to look at and.


00:16:57.120 --> 00:17:05.070

frederick kukelhaus: wise and see if it should be part of our of our bailiwick, so to speak, but what is really kind of at the core in the heart of what we do and it's it's how we started.


00:17:05.910 --> 00:17:14.490

frederick kukelhaus: So when we're working on a project or working on a design I think we're balancing a couple things we're balancing what the customers needs are and what their vision is.


00:17:15.210 --> 00:17:26.520

frederick kukelhaus: that's really the first thing you do you kind of listen actively to apple, how do you want to feel with about this piece when it's completed, you know what is it what should it look like, which I feel like.


00:17:27.150 --> 00:17:32.280

frederick kukelhaus: Different woods in different materials ours have like different textures different sounds even different smells.


00:17:32.730 --> 00:17:40.140

frederick kukelhaus: So that all comes into play, and then very early on, if we think there's an opportunity we start to introduce the idea of sustainability, again, which is.


00:17:40.650 --> 00:17:51.570

frederick kukelhaus: hey I know you may want this, for example, you know this team that comes from overseas, and obviously it's a very beautiful material but Have you considered like a local cedar.


00:17:52.290 --> 00:18:01.800

frederick kukelhaus: That is domestic and isn't going to have to travel as far can be farmed sustainably, maybe he can cost a little bit less but has a lot of the same properties.


00:18:02.460 --> 00:18:10.380

frederick kukelhaus: And so that's where we try to be helpful in terms of you know honoring the intent of what is being requested, but at the same time, recommending.


00:18:10.920 --> 00:18:20.670

frederick kukelhaus: Where we can where it's appropriate along the you know the different impacts that can have with your choices in terms of the price and the environmentalism and the in fact just the local community.


00:18:22.470 --> 00:18:29.910

Wilma: Know that's a really thoughtful way in which to kind of talk to clients about their original intent and also what you know start to influence what's ultimately.


00:18:30.270 --> 00:18:35.130

Wilma: produce so kind of following along on this line is thinking Ben i'd love to hear from you.


00:18:35.460 --> 00:18:46.890

Wilma: You know what what is that process like when you first engage with with clients like what is that first asked from from them and then, how do you actually work with clients through the process hoagie.


00:18:48.510 --> 00:19:07.410

benjaminyoung: yeah absolutely I think you know, one of the first things we always do when talking to a new client or an existing client about a project is you know it's been harder, obviously with the coronavirus but um it's just this idea of walking the space seemed building.


00:19:08.460 --> 00:19:18.900

benjaminyoung: kind of understanding the context that the building lies in, you know as Fred was kind of touching upon you know there's particular needs to that.


00:19:19.860 --> 00:19:27.930

benjaminyoung: To that client about how they're going to use the space, how many people are going to be there, how they envision those people interacting with each other.


00:19:28.260 --> 00:19:38.220

benjaminyoung: That all sort of dictates a little bit you know about what a table might look like how big it might be, is it going to be round as it could be rectangular is it going to be live edge.


00:19:38.520 --> 00:19:56.940

benjaminyoung: Is it going to stand out or is it going to sit back right so kind of all these pieces of sort of understanding how the actual end users who will use the space for many, many years are actually going to you know interact with the pieces and I think sometimes actually just being.


00:19:58.470 --> 00:20:11.280

benjaminyoung: on site and walking the space is just so important to I mean even a lot of times Fred and I are kind of coming into a project where you're basically looking at it like a DEMO site, you know that the construction and sort of.


00:20:11.640 --> 00:20:18.750

benjaminyoung: You know not quite started, you know you're trying to envision this space and what it's going to become and even in that kind of.


00:20:19.170 --> 00:20:30.210

benjaminyoung: existence of this sort of you know rock concrete an old word, you can really start to envision what is taking place there, and I think that really drives a lot of conversations around.


00:20:31.740 --> 00:20:44.070

benjaminyoung: You know what what species are going to use or what the base is going to look like to again either sort of draw the customer in or sit back and let the word speak for itself, for example, so I think.


00:20:45.270 --> 00:20:47.520

benjaminyoung: You know, one of the things that i've been thinking a lot about is.


00:20:48.000 --> 00:20:55.680

benjaminyoung: You know you when you travel, you know, homes and furniture, you know across the world, they look totally different, and it makes sense, you know that.


00:20:56.070 --> 00:21:01.440

benjaminyoung: there's Different materials that are used in other countries to build the structures of how.


00:21:02.040 --> 00:21:11.220

benjaminyoung: How close together, they are and how old they are, and I think that all dictates design we kind of, we think that makes sense, you know it doesn't make sense to have a you know, like.


00:21:12.000 --> 00:21:19.980

benjaminyoung: A big house that's you know, in the Caribbean, like in New England New England has its own thing and DC has its own thing, and these places.


00:21:21.120 --> 00:21:32.490

benjaminyoung: You know I think when when a piece of furniture or building fits it's because it's sometimes using those materials that actually live in those spaces, and so they kind of fit in the environments, so we try to.


00:21:33.150 --> 00:21:43.260

benjaminyoung: draw customer in and help them understand what they're trying to create and also give suggestions about how the materials that actually live in these parts of the world.


00:21:43.590 --> 00:21:54.690

benjaminyoung: can be incorporated into the design of the final product to really you know, make the spacing but also sort of live harmoniously in that space and fit within the natural environment yeah.


00:21:55.470 --> 00:22:04.710

Wilma: Now I mean it sounds like there's just so much thought that goes into every piece and thinking about the place in which it sits and that's so incredibly important.


00:22:05.040 --> 00:22:12.840

Wilma: I also love to hear a little bit about you know that moment of inspiration, where you you kind of find Oh, this is, this is actually what it could ultimately.


00:22:13.200 --> 00:22:18.780

Wilma: look like you know Ben Ben for you what where does that design actually take shape is it something that happens.


00:22:19.080 --> 00:22:24.660

Wilma: Like in your mind or in fred's mind, is it something that comes out of conversation with clients, or is it.


00:22:24.930 --> 00:22:34.620

Wilma: Like really something that sparks when you actually sit down and you start sketching, this is what the piece might look like or modeling it out, you know where does that inspiration really strike in your process.


00:22:35.970 --> 00:22:46.020

benjaminyoung: I think it's kind of a it's sort of a meandering process, I think you know it depends on the project sometimes you walk on a site, or you talk to a client and you think.


00:22:46.380 --> 00:22:53.490

benjaminyoung: i've got you know, like the idea just it POPs right away, and you, you have it, I think, more often than not it's much more of a.


00:22:55.080 --> 00:23:11.460

benjaminyoung: You know you kind of start with an idea when you're in the sight of Maybe this could work you maybe put pen to paper and are you know sketching out an initial idea you're going back through some of the photos afterwards, with that sketch, maybe you come up with another idea.


00:23:12.750 --> 00:23:25.620

benjaminyoung: You know I think all of our designs end up through you know we come up with ideas, our clients come up with our idea ideas are fabricators come up with ideas, and I think the final product is sort of this.


00:23:26.130 --> 00:23:32.460

benjaminyoung: meandering process of all of these mines sort of working together working towards this.


00:23:32.910 --> 00:23:41.070

benjaminyoung: You know final product, and I think it takes a bunch of iterations you know that that pencil sketch, you know, maybe has three or four drafts and then.


00:23:41.610 --> 00:23:47.880

benjaminyoung: Eventually, turns into a 3D rendering that helps kind of visualize so you know I thought that was going to look good.


00:23:48.300 --> 00:24:02.280

benjaminyoung: It doesn't quite work, maybe we should switch you know this to brass or this to walnut, and so I think that, as you kind of build on it and involve all the partners of the process, you sort of end up with a better final product.


00:24:03.300 --> 00:24:14.940

benjaminyoung: But I will say there are sometimes it's not sure Fred agrees, where, like you, you come into a space of like you just kind of know I think it's rare but it, but it does occasionally happen as well.


00:24:17.850 --> 00:24:28.770

Wilma: I mean so Ben just spoke a lot about the collaborative process in the present, but I also want to tie this back to a point that Fred made earlier in reference to that eli Whitney museum of.


00:24:29.070 --> 00:24:38.160

Wilma: There is a huge history of craft, especially when it comes to furniture in the United States and so much of design is anchored in inspiration from design philosophies and.


00:24:38.430 --> 00:24:48.060

Wilma: and traditions that have existed before us and Fred could you talk a little bit about how how you guys think about past and present in the work that you do now.


00:24:49.530 --> 00:24:58.710

frederick kukelhaus: yeah absolutely, so I think i'm on the more you know kind of like let's say you know from an educational standpoint, or a design theory standpoint.


00:24:59.130 --> 00:25:13.890

frederick kukelhaus: I mean, I think he could definitely draw a direct line from you know, like the powerhouse to you know, through the industry or like through the distribution of like the bauhaus to what we're doing and, like all the way back right i'll never forget, when I told my.


00:25:14.910 --> 00:25:24.390

frederick kukelhaus: My former High School history teacher when seemed like you know 15 years, and when I first started humanoid ran into him on the street and I started to tell them.


00:25:24.990 --> 00:25:30.300

frederick kukelhaus: You know what what we're going to be doing, and it was like oh you're going to be a carpenter like Jesus right.


00:25:30.660 --> 00:25:37.920

frederick kukelhaus: And I was like oh yeah I hadn't actually thought of it that way, but I guess that's right and so there's really that's kind of a funny thing to say, but.


00:25:38.250 --> 00:25:45.780

frederick kukelhaus: there's really a line you know going all the way back to you know good furniture design and people have been thinking about this subject, I mean literally forever.


00:25:46.890 --> 00:25:57.900

frederick kukelhaus: So I think there's a direct connection and we have you know kind of to the tradition of people before us in that we can draw a lot from good design the best and there's definitely some designers and some.


00:25:58.440 --> 00:26:05.400

frederick kukelhaus: Some design styles that I think Ben and I have more of a fondness for kind of reflect more our personal style.


00:26:05.940 --> 00:26:10.740

frederick kukelhaus: has been set a lot of it is really in the beginning kind of listening to the customer.


00:26:11.580 --> 00:26:18.150

frederick kukelhaus: and understanding what their personal design style is going to be, I think the cool thing about what we're doing with you and obvious that.


00:26:18.540 --> 00:26:26.190

frederick kukelhaus: we're not really focused on a sort of style it's really all about you know materiality in the execution and delivery.


00:26:26.910 --> 00:26:37.020

frederick kukelhaus: And really building that Community and that that sense of space through the process so it's very flexible, or it can be you know tailored to the nth degree.


00:26:37.680 --> 00:26:48.000

frederick kukelhaus: Which is helpful I think more from an emotional standpoint, you know when we think about design, you know, one of the the inspirations to.


00:26:48.480 --> 00:26:55.260

frederick kukelhaus: Ben and I were first started the company is that i'm sure this is true for everybody if they think about it, I think all of us have.


00:26:55.650 --> 00:27:02.220

frederick kukelhaus: A few pieces of furniture or designs in our life that are extremely meaningful, whether it is.


00:27:02.850 --> 00:27:11.940

frederick kukelhaus: You know, family dining table or maybe you ate at every day as a kid with your you know your parents your siblings or is a chair literally that you just sat in that school.


00:27:12.690 --> 00:27:17.400

frederick kukelhaus: Then, that you just kind of have these strong associations with this desk or this Chair, whatever it is.


00:27:18.330 --> 00:27:27.390

frederick kukelhaus: You know, all the way to something smaller like a certain cup for us to drink out of or whatnot and so there's real kind of emotion tied to that and one of the things we think about.


00:27:28.140 --> 00:27:43.830

frederick kukelhaus: And I think as inspiration to us is that you know good design tells the story of the people in places that were involved in the creation of it and so that's something we try to keep in mind as we're building, you know what is it stories he's gonna tell yeah.


00:27:44.700 --> 00:27:53.550

Wilma: I think that's an incredible framing for these experiences that we have, I definitely have very specific memories that I associate with certain objects.


00:27:53.910 --> 00:28:10.320

Wilma: That I own and it's always incredible even like 1015 years later, like you, pick up a certain ball, or you sitting a certain chair and it takes you right back to like you know 15 years ago when you had that same experience and what you're doing and that sense of place is just so profound.


00:28:11.490 --> 00:28:28.530

Wilma: But speaking of like the influence on on products of the people that make them i'd love to hear a little bit about what it's been like to build this network of fabricators craftspeople and artisans across the country Ben could you speak a little bit to that.


00:28:30.120 --> 00:28:37.290

benjaminyoung: yeah absolutely I think it's one of the sort of most fun parts about what we get to do is.


00:28:38.580 --> 00:28:56.010

benjaminyoung: You know, we work with these amazing crafts, people who love building furniture and designs and we get to kind of enter their their worlds, to which I think is sort of a rare world to actually to get to enter even amongst our customers.


00:28:57.120 --> 00:29:05.100

benjaminyoung: You know there's this sort of design process and there's this building process, and I think unfortunately sometimes there they don't talk to each other enough.


00:29:06.270 --> 00:29:08.790

benjaminyoung: And I think you know friend and I are lucky enough that.


00:29:10.140 --> 00:29:20.880

benjaminyoung: You know, in a normal year almost every day we get to walk into our various local fabricators shops and talk about design and look at the prototype and.


00:29:21.690 --> 00:29:33.810

benjaminyoung: Look at how what pieces coming along talk about you know, an edge profile or a particular detail and I think it's just a lot of fun and I think you know both we get to work with a lot of amazing.


00:29:34.920 --> 00:29:44.790

benjaminyoung: personalities and storytellers and I would say to teachers, you know Fred Fred always talks about you know so many of our class people we work with a really great teachers as well.


00:29:45.660 --> 00:29:56.250

benjaminyoung: Such a interesting thing and it's sort of not surprising to us there's so few people left, I think this idea of passing on that craft is really important.


00:29:56.910 --> 00:30:03.990

benjaminyoung: To a lot of the folks who work with so yeah it's just an amazing opportunity to kind of get to enter this world and.


00:30:04.440 --> 00:30:11.340

benjaminyoung: and share it with others, you know I think that's really also what we're doing with Hugo and toby is me notice this disconnect of.


00:30:12.300 --> 00:30:28.110

benjaminyoung: You know, we mostly do commercial work where you know, a big hotel or restaurant or offices, you know building an incredible new space and too often than not they basically bypass all these amazing local fabricators who are right there.


00:30:28.560 --> 00:30:36.570

benjaminyoung: In the city during just down the road like just at that barn justin that shop they go right past them and they you know outsource pretty much everything to.


00:30:37.290 --> 00:30:53.190

benjaminyoung: places far away people that they don't know you know in catalogues of you know, various furniture and you know it's partially because the projects are so big that they worry about working with some smaller shops and I think it's a really a shame, because I think.


00:30:54.240 --> 00:31:03.870

benjaminyoung: You know some of the best pieces and designs come from that very personal connection that both we have the.


00:31:04.350 --> 00:31:21.720

benjaminyoung: furniture maker has the client has with that space, and I really think that can only happen at a local level, where everyone can come to the site look at the space evaluated talk about it, have these conversations and so um yeah I think it's really core to what we're doing.


00:31:22.950 --> 00:31:38.550

benjaminyoung: And I think it also just kind of keeps things in the Community, too, so you know you're using local hardwoods you're working with local furniture makers those same people get to use the space that's been created, so I think when you put those all together.


00:31:39.750 --> 00:31:49.410

benjaminyoung: I think the final product is just so much better and people really invest the time and energy to make that space really great because it is to be used by their Community so.


00:31:50.520 --> 00:31:54.420

benjaminyoung: yeah I think it's just a beautiful thing yeah it's something we strive for.


00:31:54.960 --> 00:32:06.030

benjaminyoung: And every project that we're doing and like Fred said, you know, the more local we can keep it the better we can't always do that because sometimes there's very specialty designs where.


00:32:06.450 --> 00:32:17.580

benjaminyoung: You know there's just the right person for just that right piece who's a little bit further away, so we sometimes will stretch that boundary but whenever we can we keep it as local as possible and.


00:32:17.940 --> 00:32:23.250

Wilma: So in this process of finding trying to find you know the right fabricator or the right craftsperson or.


00:32:23.640 --> 00:32:33.570

Wilma: artisan I mean how you guys doing that initial reach out is it like word of mouth that you've heard of somebody and how do you actually build that relationship and and asked us to Fred.


00:32:35.340 --> 00:32:41.550

frederick kukelhaus: yeah you know it's really just kind of like any other relationship where you build it slowly over time.


00:32:42.900 --> 00:32:49.620

frederick kukelhaus: You know there's that really great quote you know we can only move with like the speed of trust right and so and that's true.


00:32:50.430 --> 00:33:00.510

frederick kukelhaus: Which is that a lot of what we do is really predicated on the values that we share with our craft people that we want to.


00:33:01.290 --> 00:33:04.950

frederick kukelhaus: You know, hundreds of customers intent, we want to honor the design.


00:33:05.280 --> 00:33:17.250

frederick kukelhaus: And that we think good design is worth investing in so that's really the first thing you're looking for when you, you know you're talking to fabricate a meeting with them, there are other considerations, of course, but you trying to get a sense of like.


00:33:17.910 --> 00:33:25.170

frederick kukelhaus: Do we have the same values, you know, do we share the same vision for what we should be doing.


00:33:25.740 --> 00:33:32.490

frederick kukelhaus: Among everything else you know, is the capability, there are the actual technical skills presidency abilities to deliver.


00:33:33.330 --> 00:33:39.000

frederick kukelhaus: You know kind of precedent and so it's a it's a feeling you get it's also.


00:33:39.660 --> 00:33:47.340

frederick kukelhaus: A little bit more rigorous than that which is like let's let's do a small project together, you know before we do a huge project, we like to joke that.


00:33:48.030 --> 00:33:55.260

frederick kukelhaus: We like to date people before we get married so let's start on something that like it's going to be a win for everybody, so we can kind of tried to route.


00:33:56.100 --> 00:34:05.790

frederick kukelhaus: Is what we do doesn't necessarily fit everybody, and you know, not every fabricators method of working is going to be suitable for us and what we're trying to accomplish.


00:34:06.390 --> 00:34:17.100

frederick kukelhaus: Which is fine and so kind of having an understanding of that making it very clear that just doing a lot of communication is kind of the baseline and then over time.


00:34:17.700 --> 00:34:28.800

frederick kukelhaus: It just you know good relationships are one of those things that over time and get better and better and better if you're investing them, you know appropriately, just like any other relationship so i'd say the same things.


00:34:29.790 --> 00:34:39.210

frederick kukelhaus: That you would do with any friend or family member, so we tried to do with our fabricators who you know, over time, you know are definitely our friends or you know at this point because we're like our family.


00:34:40.050 --> 00:34:50.160

frederick kukelhaus: A lot of cases where we have each other's best interest in mind and that's really kind of the basis of of any good working relationship, so I hope that's not too.


00:34:51.450 --> 00:34:54.360

frederick kukelhaus: busy for you, but I think that's really what it is.


00:34:54.630 --> 00:35:02.550

Wilma: yeah no that's a wonderful answer and with everything that you guys have built i'm sure you know, over the last four or five years.


00:35:02.880 --> 00:35:13.860

Wilma: With you going to hope you both the company has changed, but also the furniture industry itself probably has changed, what is top of mind for both of you as you think about the future furniture design.


00:35:16.260 --> 00:35:16.920

benjaminyoung: yeah I think.


00:35:18.060 --> 00:35:26.130

benjaminyoung: Probably the biggest shift I think that's happened in furniture design and maybe the furniture world happened this past year.


00:35:27.240 --> 00:35:29.130

benjaminyoung: With coven and.


00:35:30.180 --> 00:35:45.690

benjaminyoung: People sort of re prioritizing and you know I think one sort of obvious place that things have changed, is that all of a sudden, people were at home and they were working from home and they all of a sudden looked sort of inwards at some of the spaces.


00:35:46.380 --> 00:36:03.450

benjaminyoung: That you know, maybe they said, you know this is good enough for now, but when I spend 24 hours a day here, I really wanted to be a place that I enjoy coming to, and so I think people really started to look in words in that regard and and not surprisingly.


00:36:05.160 --> 00:36:15.000

benjaminyoung: You know the furniture industry has very much focused on the home, but I think what's really interesting to see to and and that I think is sort of where it's headed is that.


00:36:16.380 --> 00:36:27.240

benjaminyoung: Even as companies decide how am I going to bring people back to the office is it going to be, you know part, remote or fully remote or you know fully in person.


00:36:27.660 --> 00:36:32.130

benjaminyoung: I think one of the things that's going to be come clear maybe it's already clear is that.


00:36:32.640 --> 00:36:41.610

benjaminyoung: The the environments where we come together, whether it's an office or a restaurant or a hotel they really need to.


00:36:42.120 --> 00:36:52.260

benjaminyoung: capture people's imagination and sing to the person because you're asking people to come from their home to some other place and I think, even more so.


00:36:52.710 --> 00:37:06.390

benjaminyoung: A design matters so much in that space to kind of create a place that people enjoy you know coming to feel happy when they're there, so I think actually even more so there's this real focus on.


00:37:07.470 --> 00:37:13.230

benjaminyoung: Creating really beautiful spaces that are really thoughtfully designed and I think you'll see more and more of that.


00:37:13.680 --> 00:37:19.680

benjaminyoung: And I think the pandemic almost sort of pushed us into that category, more quickly than it could have.


00:37:20.460 --> 00:37:24.690

benjaminyoung: If we had just kind of gone about life form, and I think some people had kind of figured that out.


00:37:25.470 --> 00:37:39.330

benjaminyoung: But not not everyone, and I think it's become actually more clear how much space matters and how we feel and yeah just have you know whether we have a good day or not honestly as a lot of you know, based on the space that we're in.


00:37:42.150 --> 00:37:53.790

frederick kukelhaus: yeah well, I would add that I totally agree with That said, I think now is an incredible time and incredibly exciting time to either be in design or be interested in design.


00:37:54.900 --> 00:38:00.090

frederick kukelhaus: Because there's so much opportunity, you know, we have, and that and that really comes in, I love the name of.


00:38:00.810 --> 00:38:07.140

frederick kukelhaus: This podcast optimistic sign it comes from an optimistic perspective on all the challenges were faced with.


00:38:07.890 --> 00:38:14.010

frederick kukelhaus: You know design is going to be and I didn't really even something assembles furniture, I think it could be a real.


00:38:14.370 --> 00:38:25.650

frederick kukelhaus: Part of the solution to you know, this is the question of sustainability and how we progress while at the same time balance the needs of you know, the environment, social justice in terms of how are we making sure that when we're.


00:38:26.370 --> 00:38:32.370

frederick kukelhaus: All benefiting from this incredible you know system of production that we've built over the last hundred hundred 50 years that.


00:38:32.820 --> 00:38:41.670

frederick kukelhaus: People aren't being left out of that and, at the same time, have a sense of meaning in their lives, that what they're building or making they're doing their everyday is is important, and I think.


00:38:42.690 --> 00:38:44.430

frederick kukelhaus: Again, although it's just furniture.


00:38:45.450 --> 00:38:55.710

frederick kukelhaus: You know a good design is a privilege to make and gives people a sense of worth when they're doing it, so this is one of the reasons why we do have.


00:38:56.460 --> 00:39:05.430

frederick kukelhaus: Such good relationships with you know our customers are fabrication partners because it's something that can really bring people together and is inherently optimistic.


00:39:06.390 --> 00:39:17.280

frederick kukelhaus: In its in itself in that you're trying to make the best of something and make something as good as it can be, and so I think I think the future is incredibly bright I think there's tons to be excited about.


00:39:17.850 --> 00:39:25.380

frederick kukelhaus: And I agree with that or there's there's really just tons of opportunity I think we're going to see some really interesting things are next couple years but it's exciting.


00:39:26.730 --> 00:39:37.170

Wilma: Well, thank you so much to both of you it's been wonderful to have you on with me on optimistic design, but also really getting to dive deep into you know, the world of furniture design and.


00:39:37.470 --> 00:39:45.480

Wilma: The incredible mission that the two of you have at Hugo and holby and thank you to everyone out there that's watching optimistic design.


00:39:46.080 --> 00:39:58.080

Wilma: to learn more about Hugo and holby please visit he going to be calm and to follow along in here, the most recent releases had to substantial COM backslash optimistic design.


00:39:58.920 --> 00:40:08.790

Wilma: Please join us next month, as we continue to take a future focus look at design ethical innovation and technology, and thank you again Ben and Fred this has been so much fun.


00:40:10.470 --> 00:40:12.360

benjaminyoung: Thanks for my really great.


00:40:13.290 --> 00:40:14.160

Thanks everyone.

Additional Episodes


Mary Quandt

Director, Experience Strategy
Johnson & Johnson

Mary is a leader of design strategy at Johnson & Johnson, focusing on health and wellbeing, end-to-end experience design, and bringing behavioral science into the design process.


Jennifer McFadden

Associate Director of Entrepreneurship & Lecturer in the Practice of Management
Yale Som

Over the last nine years, Jennifer has played an integral part in developing and fostering entrepreneurial culture both at Yale and in the broader industry.


Todd Diemer

User Research Lead, Khan Academy

Todd Diemer is the User Research Lead at Khan Academy, the non-profit educational organization created in 2006 to provide free, world-class education for students nationally and internationally.


Digital optimism delivered straight to your inbox.

Opt in below for other updates from Substantial. We promise not to spam or sell your contact information.