The best in modern design is where you find it. And while A+R's reputation is built on new and legacy collections from around the world, sometimes it's a matter of heading down the street to discover work that gives us pause. Such is the case with De Jong & Co., a brand born and bred in LA that defies notions in this age and all in the interest of furnishing homes and tabletops for generations to come.
With the LA Design Festival, A+R is thrilled to introduce this design house, helmed by co-founder Peter De Jong, into our stable of global brands, including (socially-distanced) showcases in our window and inside the showroom.
Peter talked to The Edit about his exacting approach to craftsmanship, quality and living and working in the city of his youth and adulthood:
A+R: As we are introducing you to our A+R community during the design fest, share why you are based in Los Angeles? And DTLA, no less?
Peter De Jong: Both Ruth and I were born in Southern California but moved to Virginia as kids. Ruth has been in downtown for over 15 years. I moved out from Philadelphia to Los Angeles about eight years ago. A stark decision was made in that move—stay in Philly, or go after NYC clients, or make the jump to Los Angeles, where my sister Ruth was working in film. I love the feel and the lifestyle of Los Angeles, not to mention the weather. There’s a good community here. In my free time (pre-Covid at least), I played soccer regularly with a group of friends who are all artists and designers, including Shin Okuda of Waka Waka...who is a great footballer! We play on a team called Sativa FC.
A+R: You are very much a part of the “slow” movement in your artisanal approach to furniture and tabletop accessory making. Why is that important to you?
PDJ: I can probably get behind most of the values of The Slow Movement. Although I don’t think I would personally ascribe to a particular “movement.” I do find that way of thinking as caring, deliberate and positive and focused. Focus and positivity seem like strong tools to me.
A+R: How is that challenging in this contemporary age?
PDJ: It’s hard not to recognize that the way people spend their time in our modern culture is skewed towards over-working, over-consuming, and over-leisuring. I’ve always admired the Situationists, their creativity and use of play, and ideas of time and society and capitalism, which could lead us into talking about Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord...
A+R: Indeed! Your work is informed by traditional practices and form, both aesthetically and in the techniques applied through production. Yet, it has a very modern sensibility to it. Why was it important for you to reconcile these contrasting points?
PDJ: Well to segue from philosophy and into my background: I went to an experimental art program for school at Virginia Commonwealth University. It's consistently ranked the top sculpture program in the country because of its open-mindedness, but also because of the professors and extensive facilities. They lean heavily into the notions of “object” and “craft” and “authenticity,” more in a “a priori” sense.
After school, I did a 180-degree turn and apprenticed for a master woodworker named Evan Lee. His woodworking lineage goes all the way back to Edward Barnsley, an important teacher and furniture maker in the British Arts & Crafts movement. I gained traditional knowledge of hand tools and turning, and studio furniture. After that, I worked in production furniture. So I have this varied education ranging from experimental art to high craft studio furniture to more of a production environment, all the way from traditional forms to the formless.
For me it comes down to language. I make things, shape and form-wise, based on what was given to me to speak; but at the same time that dialogue is always changing and progressing in our current contemporary environment as well as with modern manufacturing. My furniture does feel very need- or use-driven to me. Personally, I heavily emphasize ergonomics more than some may tend to imagine at first glance versus having the pleasure of using it daily.
I hope to be able to produce objects of high quality and authenticity, objects that I feel are worth making, and do it in a way and at a scale that is sustainable. Often times, the most sustainable methods are the traditional ones.
Merton Bench and Table reflect the Scandinavian tradition of a narrow, long dining surface for more intimate exchange.
A+R: Your work is defined by wood—FSC-certified, American hardwoods. Why wood?
PDJ: Once again I think it has to do with the language that I learned. I should note that while most of my pieces are solid wood, in reality our materials run the gamut from wood to glass to stone to steel, brass and bronze. We have our own metal shop and machine shop where we produce custom hardware, and also maintain the rest of our workshop’s equipment and tooling. My language tends to be with the more “natural” materials versus plastic or aluminum, although I should bite my tongue before I get into aluminum casting very soon!
A+R: While you helm the business, it is very much a family enterprise. Why is that important to you as a designer?
PDJ: Working with my family has slowly become a relationship that’s more and more important to me personally. It’s incredibly important having someone who you know is there for you. The whole family, too—Ruth, Phil, Rachel, Alex and my parents.
A+R: Where do you go in LA for creative inspiration and why?
PDJ: My garage studio where I work on music probably every day…but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms I think we should save for a different conversation!