Nicole Whittington and James Waldron of Phoenix's Handmade Riot on Balancing Function and Beauty
Via @Handmaderiot Instagram Handmade Riot currently has its honeycomb shelves on exhibit at Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale.
Nicole Whittington and James Waldron, the duo better known as Handmade Riot, once were using their hands to roast and brew coffee at Lux on Central. Now they've shifted that attention to craft not just to coffee, but also to wooden bike shelves, toys, coffee pour-over stations, and honeycomb shelves.
They work out of their studio in their small but efficient Coronado home, which has a barn in the backyard that Nicole works out of and an enclosed patio space where James is set up. They use traditional woodworking techniques to craft handmade objects with an attention to detail so exact that even woodworkers have taken notice of their work, at craft fairs like Crafeteria 2013.
Their minimalistic and geometric aesthetic is informed by using reclaimed and salvaged wood. The couple started this project simply as a way to create things to condense space in their home and as a hobby to bond them together, but their friends quickly took notice, as did the Internet.
With The $100 Startup, a book about making a living doing what you love, the duo became motivated to take their project to a larger audience, which has been largely receptive of their products, especially in New York and San Francisco. They exhibited their bike shelves, created in collaboration with the Heavy Pedal, at Cartel Coffee Lab in Old Town Scottsdale. Currently, their honeycomb shelves are on display at that Cartel location.
Jackalope Ranch talked with Whittington and Waldron about their past, present, and future as Handmade Riot.
I read somewhere that James' grandfather used to make clocks?
James: My grandfather used to have his own little shop where he would make clocks, after he retired. When he was younger, he used to build houses, so I have that in my family roots -- building things.
When did both of you start creating together? Did someone initiate it or did both of you leap into it?
James: I was working at a design firm downtown, where they build and design interactive centers that go into libraries for kids. I started woodworking seriously there, and at the time both of us were working at Lux Coffee. We wanted to build stuff for our little house, so our first project that we built together was a bench that we still use as our TV stand.
Did you have experience in design as well, Nicole?
Nicole: I didn't have any significant experience in any sort of workplace. My experiences come from more of a DIY background.
What was it like working with your hands in this field?
Nicole: The same. If you have a vision and you're able to translate that into what you want to do with woodwork, then it's just about having a creative idea and translating that into a physical product.
James: You just have to be determined. You learn, maybe, a couple of new tricks, or new tools, but generally I like to live by the mentality of "it was built by somebody else; I can do it too."
Your style is influenced by a Midcentury Modern design aesthetic, but it also remains functional. Where did your inspiration for this process come from? You've said that your home is small, so you started out imagining products that would help condense space in your own home. Did you eventually realize this would appeal to more people?
Nicole: We started doing it for ourselves. It was a hobby, but it was also a way to bond and create together. The overall design as far as clean lines, the geometry, and the functionality of it is a direct by-product of us together. James always likes to go with what looks cool aesthetically, and we eventually hash it out together, but first and foremost, what is most important to me is the functionality of it. His number one priority is "how good does this look?" and my number one priority is does it actually function as anything? We end up with a product that does both really well, I believe.
James: It's like a Bauhaus byproduct, with the idea of art, fine art, architecture, and design, which is well made but also functional, beautiful, and pleasing to the eye. The biggest thing is that when you walk into the little house we're renting in the Coronado, and when you walk into most of these places, they've got these cabinets in the kitchen that have been repainted and repainted. They're fucking hideous and you want to, like, rip the doors off. They are disgusting, and hard to keep clean, so we created these honeycombs. Just imagine them in an entire kitchen with all your stuff, and it would be way more pleasant to walk into than the poorly hung boxes in these houses that don't even fit well in the kitchen.