Furniture and accessory maker Brian DuBois challenges the functionality in design
The cityscape of Detroit, by Brian DuBois, rendered in epoxy resin.
Photos by Josh Scott
Brian DuBois has lots of ideas — and they often come so fast and with such punch that he has to carry around a sketchbook so he can record them before they skedaddle out of his head to make way for the next one.
The furniture designer and maker has one big idea, though, that has stayed with him. And with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, it is this idea that will bring his name into homes around the world.
“I want to challenge the functionality in design,” says DuBois, owner of the DuBois Collection in Hazel Park. “I’m trying to challenge the way we interact
One need only look at the pieces DuBois has made to understand what that means. His work has a certain sensibility far outside the usual constraints of conventional furniture design.
There’s a series of walnut coffee tables that incorporate strips of cork to function as built-in coasters, but they also give the tables an exceptionally handsome aesthetic.
DuBois designs his furniture collections in a series because, as he puts it, “I want the pieces to relate to each other. Kind of how two materials talk to each other.”
DuBois welds the legs for the CLRZ series of tables and paints the logo for the DuBois Collection in his Hazel Park studio.
He has a tendency to see his work as serving two purposes: utilitarian and artful. A series of sturdy coasters he designed can, when configured just right, double as a static sculpture. The New York Times featured the coasters in an article last year, when DuBois made his first appearance at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York City. His furniture also appeared in the 2015 show in March.
Driven by an unusually imaginative and daring design philosophy, DuBois stays true to clean, crisp lines and the striking interplay of different woods and metals. He is both poet and professor; while his furniture can be beautiful, it must also have a reason to exist.
His pieces all start with the same question: What do we need in our lives to make us happy? “At the end of the day,” he says, “I want to make sure that whatever I do lasts a long time.”
That attention to detailed craftsmanship began in high school, when DuBois started learning his trade in woodshop classes. He received a B.A. in architecture from the University of Detroit Mercy in 1999 and, for several years thereafter, he made a respectable living as a contract exhibit engineer and licensed builder. But as is often the case with those who are, at heart, artists, he wasn’t satisfied.
“I was trying to find my soul,” he says.
He found it in 2011, when he graduated with his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and started the DuBois Collection.
“I’ve always liked furniture,” DuBois says. “Architecture always seemed so big. I think that’s why I like smaller projects. I can design them, I can build them.”
Various pieces from the DuBois Collection.
Graduate school pushed him to think about design, while always questioning an object’s function in the real world.
“The furniture and products have to do more than look cool,” he says. “They have to have a function that is an everyday necessity.”
Take, for example, one of DuBois’ signature fruit “bowls.” Carved out of wood into an elegant “V” shape, it doesn’t so much hold fruit as display it.
“Bowls collect fruit; this puts fruit on a little pedestal,” DuBois says. The idea came to him when he realized that bowls often lead people to leave too much fruit out in room temperature, where it spoils quicker. The “V” bowl requires you to only take out a few pieces of fruit at a time.
Design with a little social engineering? Not quite, but DuBois does want to challenge the way we think about how design integrates into our lives.
“There’s a deeper meaning than what it really is,” he says. “I want to bring a different aspect of design into it.”
More information: duboiscollection.com.