Roadrunner Chair (medium-density fiberboard $185; plywood $484; wood $585; upholstered steel $550) DoubleButter.com
“Chairs have to satisfy a lot of requirements,” says David Larabee. And when you think about it, he's right: comfort and style, proportion and durability. And yet the boys of Denver-based DoubleButter—Larabee and design partner Dexter Thornton—throw predictability to the wayside and design and build furniture whose forms will surprise you. Their designs are fresh and provocative, modern and thoughtful, and behind it all, you'll find an energetic vision and a playful spirit of rebellion.
Larabee and Thornton met fortuitously while working on a project in New York in 2004. Larabee had recently left a job in communications to embark upon his first all-handmade, solid wood furniture venture in Denver, called Milkweed—buying tools and teaching himself the trade—and Thornton was finishing a design degree in New York. A year later, when Thornton brought his design education back to Denver, they joined forces and launched DoubleButter. The enterprise is named for an off-hand comment Thornton made one day about why he puts both butter and peanut butter on his English muffins: “Double butter is better.”
DoubleButter's design aesthetic is “definitely modern,” Larabee says, “but it's not just evocative of '40s, '50s and '60s design. It's a new thing.” While both visionaries are attracted to modern design, they craft new forms with clean lines. Each designer has a knack for different materials—steel, domestic hardwoods, bamboo plywood—which they transform into a host of smart furniture pieces in their Denver studio, including beds, dressers, chairs and benches.
Take the Roadrunner Chair, for example—so named because it possesses a certain kinetic quality suggestive of the bird. The chair, which took numerous iterations to perfect, is a sculptural beauty that is evidence of tremendous attention to both form and function. With its retro-chic appeal, the design brings a hip twist to standard chair anatomy. Its seamless contour and angular composition create vibrant negative spaces, and with subtle curves and offset angles that soften its geometry, it's a welcoming seat, too. (Within their repertoire, you'll find several other pieces with critter-like charm, such as the spindly Grasshopper Lounge Chair.)
When asked how long it takes to make one of their pieces, Larabee answers: “A long time. And we'll leave it at that.” The designers start with rough lumber that's been milled and hewn into semi-regular shapes; then they plane the wood, join the planks together to form 3-D carcasses, secure it all with glue and pins and refine from there. “Our hands have been all over that thing, to cut those curves, to make those tapers, to join those pieces together,” Larabee says.
Ultimately, their goal is to create designs and built pieces that will last and not look dated. The more signs of wear and tear on a piece of DoubleButter furniture, Larabee says, the more interesting it becomes.
As time goes on, we predict that living spaces throughout Colorado and beyond will be housing even more of DoubleButter's handiwork. The designers are always pushing forward. This summer brought the debut of a new line (which they capriciously refer to as the “is better” line), and with it, a new scale of production.
Yes, they still plan to sculpt some of their pieces by hand—and as they design new items, they'll produce several models in-studio first to make sure the pieces look and behave right—but for ongoing production, they're now teaming up with a number of Denver manufacturers. DoubleButter's furniture will take shape around town—a steel piece, for instance, may travel from a shop that outlines raw metal with a water jet cutter to another that folds the metal into form, then to a third that applies a powder-coat paint finish. The result? Decreased prices and faster turn-around time: Thanks to a larger inventory, buyers can order direct from DoubleButter's website and receive the pieces within about 10 days. The partners are also sensitive to the effects of taking a business bigger, and they aim to keep production local.
If DoubleButter's new streamlined approach frees up some of the designers' time, Denver might see more mischief along the lines of recent “unauthorized” installations of their Roadrunner Bench just outside the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The company later held a fundraiser for the museums to make up for the surprise additions. (For a peek at the stealth installation, visit doublebutterisbetter.com.) This bout of mischief is revealing of DoubleButter's playful ethic: The partners don't take themselves too seriously, and yet they create thoughtful work to be taken seriously as art. And they're unafraid to take risks.
Larabee and Thornton's desire to move local design forward has us excited about what they're going to do next. We think you should hold onto your seats (or better yet, buy one of theirs) because these guys are bound to take Colorado for a wild ride.