Member Since 2010
Name: Colleen and Eric Whiteley
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Product: Flock of Birds wall decals
Since meeting at Pratt Institute while both studying industrial design, Brooklyn, New York-based design due Colleen & Eric have gone on to create smart and sustainable home items that we love. Here, the pair talk about their creative process behind and commitment to local design and manufacturing.
What inspired you to create the Flock of Birds?
CW: A few years back, I was making homemade vinyl wall decals for friends, and they were great, but when it came time to move, which is a frequent occurrence in NYC, they would have to be thrown away. This prompted me to think, wouldn’t it be great to have a set you could take with you?
How are they made?
EW: All of our products are handmade by us. To give the birds all the properties we want, we laminate our own plywood with birch veneer on one side and walnut on the other. Making our own plywood allows them to be reversible, it’s very strong, and is still 100% wood. The panels are hand finished with water based stain and coats of pure shellac. The shellac brings out the wood’s luster while protecting the surface. Shellac has been used for thousands of years, and is all natural and very durable. The profiles are laser-cut by an excellent craftsman in upstate New York.
What was the big aha! you had while creating this product?
CW: Our aha! was realizing we could make responsible decisions about everything that goes into manufacturing the Flock of Birds, and by extension, all of our products. From choosing North American woods, to using nontoxic glues and finishing materials, to knowing who is doing the work, and for what wage. It means we can be proud of the product, and the customer can feel good.
Can you describe your creative process?
CW: Whenever asked about our process, I liken it to a snowball rolling down a hill. Eric or I will have an idea and we send it over the edge. As it rolls, extraneous bits come flying off, and it picks up other parts we never expected. We talk, sketch and build little prototypes in an effort to shape the idea. Sometimes an idea just doesn’t hold together and flings apart before it comes to a stop. But hopefully, at the bottom of the hill (and sometimes that hill is years long!) we have a fully formed concept, made of only the best snow.
What do you love about what you do?
CW: I love going to Eric with an idea I’m excited about. I’ll explain the idea, and why I think it could be great. As we talk I’ll start to see the idea as he’s envisioning it, often very different from what I had imagined. I can tell we are about to kick that snowball down the hill. The beginning of an idea, with the myriad of possibilities, is what I love most about what we do.
EW: I love working on the final stages of an idea, making those last decisions about how to build or assemble something. During the course of developing a concept, we eat, breathe and sleep with it for months on end. So it’s really amazing to see something that was once just a conversation turn into a fully fledged object that we can finally share with others.
How would you sum up your aesthetic/design philosophy?
CW & EW: Narrative is important to us. A good product needs a good story or concept so it has meaning. Quality is important too. By making interesting, long-lasting objects, we hope to make customers think about where and how things are made, and where their money goes. When it comes to aesthetic, we try get out of the way and let the concept show through.
What are you working on next?
CW: We’ve been interested lately in forgotten crafts, like gilding, and thinking of new ways to use ancient crafts. The right combination of old and new can have wonderfully unexpected results. Flock of Birds has a little of this, combining the traditional shellac finish with laser cutting. We are really pushing this concept in the work we are developing right now.