Strand Design: Making in Chicago
April 09, 2015
Written by Tracy Woodley
Strand Design: Making in Chicago
Here at Gramovox, good design is a central value that informs how we create our unique audio products. We draw inspiration from Chicago, our hometown and architecture's pioneering city, and the multitude of innovative designers living and working here. Nestled in the historic Monadnock building in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood is Strand Design, an inventive design studio founded and operated by Ted and Sharon Burdett. Started in 2009, the firm specializes in crafting products from sustainably sourced and locally manufactured materials.
“We had always wanted to work together,” said Ted. “We had talked about starting our own company.” When the economy took a downturn in 2008, the Burdetts were transitioning between jobs and saw an opportunity to begin an independent project.
“There was a nice overlap between the product design work I’d been doing and Sharon’s experience with retail design and marketing,” said Ted.
As they devised their business model, the Burdetts focused on creating a company that would rely exclusively on domestic production.
“There was this reaction that I was having to all of the overseas manufacturing that I’d been involved with at my previous job,” said Ted. “I got to see, unfortunately, that conditions are often pretty bad. So we wanted to see if there was a way to make economically viable products in the U.S.” Strand Design works with manufacturers in the United States, primarily located in the Great Lakes region.
“Domestic manufacturing is definitely at the core of our identity as a company,” said Sharon. “We act as the vendor, which is different from acting solely as the designer. We don’t just do a licensing agreement, we do a project and clients buy our finished goods.”
The Burdetts explored the market by participating in wholesale trade shows like New York Now, and they tested a wide range of outsourcing options and distribution models, working with local artisanal manufacturers to create custom design objects that are sold by retail outlets such as Urban Outfitters, Rejuvenation, Williams-Sonoma, and CB2.
In 2012, Strand Design partnered with local nonprofit Rebuilding Exchange, which aims to foster the market for reclaimed building materials. It was the perfect collaboration— Strand Design used reclaimed domestic materials to create a unique line of sustainable products that could be assembled in a compact production space, concurring with Rebuilding Exchange’s mission of supporting local manufacturers and designers.
Sustainability has been an integral component of the Burdett’s approach to design, and is a key principle in the Strand Design manufacturing model.
“We’re putting in thought about the product’s life cycle from the beginning of the design process” said Sharon. “It isn’t an add-on.”
One of the Burdett’s major sustainability initiatives has been their use of urban lumber: trees that have been downed by storms or felled due to emerald ash borer infestations.
“It’s all material that comes from the city, wood that can be turned into high-quality lumber for just about any application,” said Sharon. “We’re taking something that’s a problem and turning it into an asset and putting it to its highest use. And we aren’t contributing to any kind of deforestation.”
Being design educators, the Burdetts strive to emphasize sustainability as a core standard of the industrial design process, and they certainly practice what they preach.
“When you work as a designer, as a maker of objects, you become hyper-aware of the world of things,” said Sharon. “ Where does all this stuff come from? Where does it go? And, as designers, what can we do to minimize environmental impact? By designing things in a way that makes them durable, that can be recycled or easily repaired.”
Beyond considering environmental impact, the Burdetts equally contemplate social and cultural sustainability while creating products at Strand Design.
“We’re both interested in the idea of design being something that can promote diversity and variety,” said Ted. Staunchly against homogenization, the Burdetts prioritize creating objects that have a story. “I feel like that’s something designers need to do, especially at a design-focused company.”
Drawing on the countless design influences in the city, Strand Design products are a nod to Chicago’s structural landscape—from the lakefront to Daniel Burnham’s iconic skyscrapers to city’s the Bauhaus landmarks.
“We like to make things that feel associated with Chicago,” said Sharon. “They’re connected to this place because they’re made here.”
The latest project from Strand Design combines their passion for design with their love of food. Looking to simplify the homemade bread-making process, the Burdetts created the Fourneau Bread Oven, which was launched on Kickstarter in March 2015. The cast-iron oven allows you to easily and efficiently bread in any shape at home. The product was a huge hit, and exceeded its campaign goal by over $75,000.
“We love to eat, we love to cook,” said Sharon. “I feel like we have the same amount of passion for food as we do for design. So that’s really what motivated us to create this product for our current Kickstarter campaign.”
You can pre-order the Fourneau Bread Oven now on the product’s website.