Very few finance and marketing graduates of New York University’s Stern School of Business know what spoke-shaves, rasps, or hand-panes are, or how they are used; but then again, few graduates have successfully transitioned from the corporate world, to the world of woodworking and furniture design. Eric Chang, along with his childhood friend, Daniel Hellman, have done exactly that. The two are unusual, self-taught designers and woodworkers, who originally worked their artisanry during nights and weekends in a Brooklyn co-op. But their determination proved successful.
Now, in its eighth year, the duo’s company, Hellman-Chang, still Brooklyn-based, is now considered to be at the forefront of the ultra-high-end furniture industry––mainly because of the popularity of their furniture with their clientele. Hellman-Chang furniture can be found in the offices of Fortune 500 CEOs, and in the interiors of high-end hotels, including The Setai, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, The Waldorf Astoria, The Ritz Carlton, The Four Seasons (their first client), The Mandarin Oriental, and The Intercontinental. Their furniture is also featured on TV and in movie productions, such as The Today Show, Sex and the City 2, and Gossip Girl.
Chang’s personal style, reflective of his design style that defines minimalist yet elegant, led to a collaboration with the men’s fashion house, Canali. He was most recently featured on a VIP panel at Miami’s Art Basel. But where you really might have seen him, away from the woodworking space, is on UBS. He is currently the face of UBS Bank’s international rebranding campaign that features business leaders in creative industries. He was selected and photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the UBS campaign and is now featured in print, online, and outdoor ads. In addition, he has been named one of Cadillac’s brand influencers.
Haute Residence spoke with Chang about his origins and furniture philosophy and Hellman-Chang’s plans for the future.
Haute Residence: Where were you educated? What were your first design projects? And what did you learn, from both a challenge and a solution perspective, about your abilities?
Eric Chang: Dan and I were self-taught in design. I studied finance and marketing at NYU Stern School of Business and Dan studied classical guitar performance at Northwestern. But we both loved woodworking and have been friends since sixth grade.
Our first design projects together were some coffee tables and bookshelves that we built over the summers during high school and college. After we graduated college, Dan and I started building furniture on nights and weekends, and shortly after, we designed our Z pedestal, the first piece introduced into our line. In the beginning, we went through quite a lot of experimenting and self-discovery to figure out our design language.
HR: On your website, this sentence appears: Recognized as an artist his entire life, his innate skills in sketching, photography and bold design define the look and emotional themes of Hellman-Chang. Can you explain what emotional themes there are and how they are translated through your interior designs?
EC: There are visceral reactions we want others to have when they see our pieces. We want them to walk around it, explore all the details and touch the lines. As such, there’s a lot of movement in our design, and a strong focus on negative space and the way lines and surfaces interact with each other and with light. While it all has fluidity and dynamic movement, there is a similar emphasis on a sense of calm and balance.
HR: We worked with a well-known interior designer, who said that if you put on your design glasses, good design and terrible design are everywhere. She also said that architects and interior designers see everything from a different perspective. Do you think you see things differently from others who are not designers?
EC: I can only speak for myself, and I do break everything I see down with a critical eye. I’m always looking at proportion, texture, color, and just thinking about how the way things are designed to make me feel. More often than not, though, I try to ask myself what the designer was trying to accomplish, or what they were feeling or thinking when they were designing. Or more importantly, who were they designing it for? I may suffer from design empathy.
HR: What are your processes in the creation of a great furniture design? I have been told by other interior designers that there is a sense of lightness and rightness when you have conceived and executed a great chair, or couch or table. Is that true for you?
EC: It’s all about how it makes me feel. I know that when Dan and I feel excited about a new design, others will feel a similar reaction, and we have something to introduce into our line. It boils down to an aha moment of feeling. At the same time, the core principals of our design still rely on proportion and timelessness to ensure it will never go out of style.
HR: Talk about what you are you are working right now and what you will be working on in the coming year.
EC: We are focusing heavily on rounding out our collection with a deeper seating collection. This is going to include a number of dining chairs, more lounge chairs, and sofas and sectionals. We will follow that up with a lighting line as well.
HR: What are your goals for the future? What do you want to do, in terms of interior design and furniture design, that you have not done yet?
EC: We eventually want Hellman-Chang to be synonymous with everything luxurious for the home. So, beyond furniture, this would include lighting and then hopefully textiles and possibly hardware and accessories. We learn tremendously by working with the best interior designers in the world who are able to reinterpret and help us understand how our clients visualize and use our pieces, and that knowledge continually improves our collection. It would certainly be fun to use what we’ve learned to create a full signature Hellman-Chang environment.
Images courtesy of Hellman-Chang