Designer Profile: Aaron Bladon
We had a visit with furniture design duo extraordinaire, Aaron Bladon, in their Chicago studio located in Pilsen. You may be quick to assume that it is one individual, but they are in fact two people, Aaron Pahmier and Bladon Conner. When we walked in, we were greeted by Conner, who was working in the team’s white brick walled office, while Pahmier was just a door away in their workshop working on one of their custom furniture pieces. You could sense a harmonious balance of responsibilities in the partnership.
Aaron Bladon came to be in 2011 when they both realized their business and talent could be maximized if they took it further than collaboration and became one entity. Walking through their space, you move from concept and design in their office to fabrication in their workshop utilizing locally sourced materials. The low carbon footprint is one that can be appreciated by clients that strive for special, bespoke furniture that is ethically and responsibly sourced.
Thank you Aaron and Bladon for sharing your story with us. From their morning ritual to their favorite independent magazines for inspiration, you’ll learn a more personal side to this dynamic design talent. Keep up with their latest projects on Instagram.
Describe your typical design process, from the client meeting to installation.
Most often, designers and architects come to us with a particular look already in mind. They’ll either share their mood boards or concept images, which helps guide us in making recommendations from our rather broad portfolio. Typically we already have a solution that just needs tailoring to a specific size and set of finishes.
On occasion, we take on the extra challenge of designing a new piece to solve for a specific setting. We secretly love these opportunities because they help us push into new territory and come up with designs that we might not otherwise have had reason to explore.
We start with some hand sketches but move pretty quickly into the computer to get the model shaped up. It helps enormously to be able to share 3d images of the furniture with our clients, especially at the desired proportions and finishes. Once we have approval we create shop drawings and get production underway.
How did you join forces? Could you share how Aaron Bladon came to be?
We had started our independent furniture businesses within a month of each other in Fall of 2006. We knew each other through mutual friends and started talking early on about finding and maybe sharing studio space. For many years we would make moves in tandem, working out of the same warehouses and sharing resources. But it wasn’t until 2011, when we were both renting studios in the same building in Pilsen, that we decided to take a leap and join forces. We had the same clientele and aesthetic, and were both overloaded with projects. Growth looked (and has been) smartest together.
How would you describe the Aaron Bladon aesthetic? What is your design philosophy?
Our style has its foundation in a classic modern aesthetic and approach, but is often pushed further with some other stylistic element. Sometimes it’s simply an organic twist, taking inspiration from tree trunks and roots (for instance). Other times, the design calls for a bit of whimsy, or geometry, or other layers that break the crisp design solutions that seem already complete but maybe too pure, adding a slight touch of “unnecessary” form in order to give a design its own identity.
The design should solve the problem — simply and with grace — but still have a point of view.
Aaron, I read that you were once an artisan baker. How did you go from working in the culinary arts to becoming a furniture maker? Could you tell us this story?
Bread, and especially old European style techniques for baking, are rich in tradition but also have modern technique and practices that allow the convergence of the two, the old world recipes with modern techniques. I worked in a small bakery, I was one of five handling the bread line. I would often have many discussions over the details of the practice, how to improve, what’s really bringing out the flavor profiles more strongly and so on.
When I find myself talking about furniture, its in the same way. Bladon and I talk about the details of each piece, making sure it’s application and manufacturing process holds up and what design element we want to spotlight in each piece. So I think, as it is for bread, it is for furniture in many ways. You take a pretty simple set of ingredients or materials, and the old time-tested practice along with some innovate thought and you can produce and create a loved and well-appreciated art from.
Bladon, we had talked about the driftwood hanging in your office, which led to a discussion about your family and their artistic roots. Could you expand on this?
I grew up as a child of makers. My father is a sculptor, ceramicist, musician, inventor, and teacher of art history. My mother is also an artist, and earlier in her career an interior designer. We were encouraged to make our own fun, through building life sized forts and “weapons” and also making our own toys and playscapes for them. I honestly cannot remember a time that I wasn’t creating something, and I have so much appreciation for my parents for instilling that in us.
Besides your beautiful constructed designs, we’d like to know more about you.
What do you enjoy doing on your free time?
Bladon: My interests out of work have a lot of competition, but the one that often wins out is gardening. There’s nothing better than losing myself in a weekend of work in the sun, shaping and caring for nature. The reward is immeasurable.
Aaron: Mostly, I enjoy spending time with my family. I also love long term projects, right now I’m in the middle of a home renovation and also trying to learn the coding language Python.
What is the first thing you do when you get up?
Bladon: I’m such a person of routine that this is my every weekday morning. Let the dog out, turn on the news, make coffee, water the plants, feed the birds and dog, and then start to get ready for my day.
What can’t you live without?
Aaron: Talking about ideas with friends
Dog or cat person (or other)?
Bladon: I’ve always been a dog person and have had my rescue pup for 9 years now. Recently I’ve added parakeets and then cockatiels. They’ve turned my home into a jungle, and really help me weather these Chicago winters.
Aaron: I would definitely say a dog person. I relate more to animals that want to help versus want to hunt.
What magazines/online sites do you look at for inspiration?
Bladon: For print magazines, I go for The World of Interiors and Surface. The only internet site that I go to regularly is Pinterest, but I’m always here and there on other design sites, pinning as I go.
Aaron: I’ve been enjoying the podcast Clever to listen to other folks inspirations and creation stories. I also sometime look for old auction catalogs from Sotheby’s or Phillips. They have really good documentation on each piece.
Favorite Instagram profiles?
Favorite Social Media outlet?
Bladon: Instagram for sure.
Who is your design hero?
Bladon: The Eames. What an inspiring, dream of a life they led.
Aaron: George Nakashima