Interview with Ian and Greg from Fort Standard

Founded only three years ago by the candid duo, Ian Collings and Gregory Buntain, Fort Standard is a design studio that boasts an impressive range of products in homewares, jewelry and furniture. This thriving studio offers their clients a refreshingly sensitive approach to craft and tradition, with projects directed towards structural simplicity and allowing the honesty of the materials to speak for themselves. This is an aesthetic endeavor they term “warm contemporary.”

“Fort Standard is a name that holds the weight of a process and a mission to produce quality goods… objects that are unique enough to refresh and simple enough to live forever,” explains Ian during our recent studio visit.

Based in Brooklyn, NY, their woodshop window offers a pristine view of Lady Liberty, which no doubt makes long days of sanding wood pleasant. Most of their products are built in-house, which assimilates their craft and manufacturing experiences from their background in New Jersey and Virginia. It is no wonder that industrial design became a natural progression to fabricating their own ideas and the start of the studio.

We interrupt their two-man production line and assembly of their ‘Grade Stool’ to ask them how they first joined forces and what inspires them.

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Gregory Buntain (left) and Ian Collings (right) working at their studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Tell me a bit about your backgrounds?

IC: I grew up in Virginia Beach, VA. … very active to say the least. I was at the beach or in the woods most of the time. From my humble beginnings as a backyard fort builder to novice surfboard shaping, making was always the constant. I started working as a production glassblower when I was 16. During this time I also learned how to weld and started fabricating my own ideas.

GB: I grew up in Westfield New Jersey, which is about 40 minutes out of the city so I always had access to NY’s museums and culture. My parents are both passionate about the arts and always supported my creativity. My father and his father were both machinists, so I was always working with my hands growing up and as my father likes to tease… “I taught him everything he knows”.  Taking machines apart to see how they worked eventually evolved into rebuilding dirt-bikes, motorcycles and a general understanding of how things work and how things are made.

What made you want to become a designer?

IC: The versatility and potential.

GB: I never had the thought to be a designer as my high school didn’t have a very good arts program and I was sort of pushed into gaining a standard liberal arts degree. I was fortunate enough to have a professor of mine at my first university tell me that I was wasting my time there and belonged in design school. I applied to Pratt and transferred into the Industrial Design program the next semester and never looked back.

How did you guys meet? Why did you guys decide to start this studio together?

IC: Greg and I met while studying at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. We also studied abroad together at the Bauhaus University in Weimar Germany. Since we were only two of four students chosen to go abroad from our school, we became quite close and began to realize a lot of common threads. After school, we continued to talk and collaborate. It was only a matter of time before we would have the opportunity to do it full time.

Design collaborations are usually very hard to achieve, but you guys seem so at ease with each other. How does your partnership work? … Who does what?

IC: All of our products are born out of an exciting and constructive conversation between two minds. As the balance shifts from side to side, the designs evolves into something neither one of us could have expected. At first it was rather unique that we were able to keep it up, now it has become our approach. Our process is an on-going conversation that we have learned to focus and refocus around each new project.

Ian attaching the legs of their latest furniture project

“All of our products are born out of an exciting and constructive conversation between two minds” – Ian Collings

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Greg carefully looking over furniture blueprints

What kind of influences plays an important role in your work?

IC: Doing more, questioning more, learning more.

GB: I think removing myself from my comfort zone often creates the most interesting ideas and design directions. I mean that in the literal sense of traveling to gain different perspectives, as well as just exploring different ways of doing things. I think asking myself questions like… “Is this the best way to make this? Is it necessary? What can I do to make it better?” …often leads to the most obvious solution or creates new opportunity.

What is the Fort Standard design signature in three words?

GB: Honest, structural, simple

Tell me about the choices you make in materials for your products? Do you have a favorite material?

IC: Materials and design directions are correlated. One always informs the other. What we concern ourselves with is the best material for the application and what are the potentials/dominate characteristics of this material – both often lead us to allowing materials to act in honest relation to each other or to the function of the object.

GB: I definitely have a serious love for wood. It’s been around forever and yet the opportunities for what you can do with it are endless. I know I will always have a strong attraction and passion for woodworking no matter how many other materials and production methods we get into.

What’s great about industrial design right now?

GB: I feel there has been a return to quality goods and that people are more conscious of what they buy and where it’s made. People are willing to pay a little more for something that’s going to last them a long time.

How do you see Fort Standard evolving into the future?

IC: One of the most enjoyable things about what we are doing is that we get to refine and define our future a bit more everyday.

GB: It’s pretty organic. We enjoy taking the opportunities as they come and sort of going with the flow but we always have a general direction of which we are steering towards. We are fortunate enough to design our lifestyles to our liking but I think if anything we would both love to travel more often with our work. I’m always up for a trip!

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Entrance to the Fort Standard woodshop

 

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Ian carefully aligning the seats of the Grade Stool

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Fort Standard’s favorite tools

Backstory Credits: Photos by Armando Rafael Photography, Words by Stevenson Aung