The design collaborative Butter formed quite by accident, say Brooklyn, N.Y.-based design partners David Weeks and Lindsey Adelman. Weeks had already established his own lighting-design firm, David Weeks Lighting (DWL), in New York when he and Adelman were working together on “a massive chain of paper elements.” “At the end of the day, there was a sewn form on the floor that was stitched with a curve instead of a straight line by mistake,” Adelman says. “[David and I] both saw more potential in this scrap than in the ambitious project we were struggling with.”
They followed their instincts and in 1999 introduced Lunette, a glass-fiber, clip-on lamp, which earned a Design Distinction award in I.D.’s 1999 Annual Design Review. “David acknowledged that this tangent didn’t fit into his line of lighting and that it was the product of our collaboration,” Adelman says. “We founded Butter to put Lunette into production and to begin a line of affordable, simple products.” For Weeks, the partnership provided a chance to play with different kinds of design outside of his firm’s signature style.
Both Weeks and Adelman are graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Weeks earned a degree in painting, then moved to New York to work for several artists and designers before starting DWL. After receiving her BFA in industrial design, Adelman spent two years at Resolute, a lighting company in Seattle, before returning to New York to work with Weeks.
In the past three years, the design duo has kept quite busy. Butter followed up last year’s ICFF-in which it won an Editor’s Choice Award for lighting-with new products exhibited at Pure Design’s booth, including the Dumpling table light, Tong table light and Lunette as a table fixture. They’re also currently working on “Butter Editions,” a line of products in which artists and designers are commissioned to create a limited run of his or her own design-for example, Eames busts by Charlie Becker-which Butter then promotes through a party or its Web site (www.butter-ny.com). Still, the best is yet to come, Weeks assures: “I hope we make our best work 5-10 years from now.”
How did your design career begin?
What attracted you to lighting design?
Adelman: I guess I’ve always been sensitive to lighting in any space … where I’d walk into a dinner party and “helpfully” turn the dimmer down on the lights. I think it made for a better night. In school, I spent my last semester designing five rubber lights. I was attracted to the low-tech quality of it: You just have a bulb, socket and cord. There was such immediacy in evolving the forms and pushing the prototypes.
Weeks: I’ve always liked the scale of lighting, how a small object can make such a huge difference on a space.
Is there an interesting story behind your firm’s name?
Adelman: We wish we could say yes. Basically, we came up with a whole list of names and the next day, Butter was the one we still liked.
What do you bring to the table individually? Together?
Adelman: David brings an amazing sense of 3D form, proportion and fabrication skills, especially in metal. I like working with paper-folding, cutting and sewing. We both are interested in the bare requirements of a light fixture-bulb, socket, cord-and how these can be re-thought to arrive at a final form: to get away from thinking base, shade, etc. We’re also both sensitive to the quality of the light emitted. Indirect light is great, and small, multiple sources of light in one fixture is ideal. I think we’d agree that each individual idea gets so much further with two people looking at it than with one.
How would you describe your relationship to one another? How are your differences complementary?
Adelman: My downfall is being too lax about some things; David’s is probably being too protective. We keep each other in check. We’re also both teaching product design now at Parsons, which keeps us in touch with the critiquing mode. Working together keeps things in perspective; even if we’re stressed, there has to be something to make fun of.
Weeks: I think we’re a good check-and-balance for each other.
What happened after Butter won an Editor’s Award at last year’s ICFF?
Adelman: The most substantial thing to happen was finding our new distributor, Pure Design. We talked after the show, and it seemed mutually beneficial to have them oversee manufacturing and begin worldwide distribution. They’ve been great to work with.
Do you worry that you can’t top your performance from last year?
Adelman: I don’t think either of us thinks that way at all. We constantly have ideas and it’s frustrating not being able to do all of them (clothing, bowls, animation, bags). We just find ways to get a few things going.
What are your personal design philosophies? How are they evident in every project you’re involved with?
Adelman: It’s important to me that an object isn’t just put into production because it can be. I think the designer must take his responsibility seriously-to create forms with integrity, considering the environmental ramifications, as well as the value of a product. The best design is a solution to a specific problem; the constraints, whether existing or imposed, strengthen the final outcome. Butter tries to do a lot with a little. A small form can light up a whole room.
What bothers you most about the current state of design?
Adelman: I don’t like when things are too “design-y.” Some really normal-looking stuff is the best, when you hardly notice it because it works so well. It also bugs me when a designer’s goal is quantity rather than quality.
Weeks: The attention paid to designers who feel their success is based on how many products they can get into the market and not the quality or innovation they instill in their work.
What’s most exciting about the current state of design?
Adelman: Innovative materials. I just visited Material ConneXion and it’s truly amazing to see the range-something for almost every requirement. It’s also encouraging to see the general population becoming more sensitive to design (i.e., the popularity of Muji and IKEA).
Weeks: I’m also excited about how the different fields of design are crossing over each other: graphic/product/architecture/fashion.
How can Butter make the design world a better place to live in?
Adelman: People don’t live in the design world; they live in the real world! That’s also a funny thing about the state of design: So much of it is just for designers. The real challenge is to design for regular people. As David sometimes asks, “Yeah, but would my Mom like to use this?” We’ve watched people pick up the round, flat Lunette shade and put it down at a loss. That’s taught us to begin with easy pictorial instructions on the packaging and help stores display the shade clipped to a bulb, etc. So, maybe the fact that Butter offers unfussy, thought-out design at an affordable price makes the world a better place.
Weeks: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to claim Butter could make the world a better place to live in. I hope we can contribute something.
Who or what inspires you?
Adelman: The beach is always inspiring, as is music, which is good because I live with my husband and his 5,000 records.
Weeks: Nervi, Ponti, Van Severen, Otto/ Rasch, Ogawa, Miyake, Castiglioni, Torroja, Fuller, Morrison and Muehling.
What’s your dream project?
Adelman: To continue working with people I respect and can learn from. Dream people would include Ingo Maurer, Rei Kawakubo or Jorge Pardo.
Weeks: Developing a product line for Prada. Or cross-pollinating a company with a different audience, like “clothing by Nerf” or ballistic dishware.