SpearTalks: DoubleButter

Posted on November 30, 2007 Under Design

David Larabee and Dexter Thornton are DoubleButter. You may remember them from a post we wrote not too long ago, in which two men bombed Denver's newest art museums with a little bit of well constructed furniture graffiti. While that antic certainly grabbed our attention, it was the rest of the pair's modern and beautiful craftsmanship that held it. Their designs made us so weak at the knees that – had those two graffiti benches not been promptly removed, and were we standing in front of either the new DAM or MCA – we would probably have needed their services to regain equilibrium. Read on to see why we think DoubleButter has all the street cred they need make it big in the wide world of furniture.

JoshSpear.com: DoubleButter is fairly new on the furniture scene, yet your pieces look like the work of experienced furniture designers. What are your personal backgrounds?

DoubleButter: We’ve both been designing and building pieces professionally for a few years now. We only started working together a little over a year ago and now we make out almost every day.

JS: Until very recently, your site referred to you as Milkweed and DoubleButter "“ what happened to Milkweed?

DB: We killed it because DoubleButter is better. The two names were never meant to go together "“ we were in transition from one name to the other for about a year and aside from a few loose ends with the state of Colorado and our bank, we’re done. It's DoubleButter from here on.

JS: I can't think of a much better way to grab attention than to nail some good-looking benches into public cement. Where did the idea for "furniture graffiti" come from?

DB: The Roadrunner bench stunt was obviously a bit of self-promotion but it wasn’t only that. The two buildings we picked are the highest-profile new buildings in Denver and they were both designed by international architects, not by any of the many talented local firms. Plus, the MCA, an institution with a mission to support and champion new art, chose 50-year-old Bertoia and Saarinen pieces for their cafe. Denver’s got plenty of local firms cranking out good design in all fields and we thought that installing some unauthorized local benches would be an interesting comment on the relative lack of Denver in the new DAM and the new MCA Denver. Plus it was seriously fun.

JS: What sort of responses, both public and political, did you receive from that stunt?

DB: The public response has been great "“ folks have been loving it. Most people get the vicarious thrill and nervousness from watching the video and think the benches fit with the buildings. The official responses from the museums have been very cordial. Within 24 hours, the DAM had cut out their bench and called us looking for a few details for their “investigation.” We haven’t heard anything else from them yet and we have no idea what happened to the bench. The MCA called a few days later and said they liked the bench but they couldn’t get their certificate of occupancy from the city with the bench out front (since it wasn’t on any plans). We cut that bench out ourselves.

JS: Denver's "the 400" is strongly associated with urban art and culture, and this was the location of your last showing. Furniture, in the context of that scene, sort of represents a foray into uncharted waters. Mix that up with the furniture graf concept, and you're on to something pretty new and exciting. Is that the plan?

DB: That’s the plan. The rogue bench idea fit with what happens at the 400 and the work we showed called out the graphic elements of our new designs. Our previous show was in a typical gallery setting and the work reflected the setting. But you’re right, this show "“ the benches in particular "“ was much more exciting.

JS: All of your furniture, firstly, feels very modern, but the next thing I would say it consistently communicates is a feeling of solidity. In other words, your designs are modern, without losing that "I AM TREE" feeling. What are you generally trying to communicate through your aesthetic?

DB: Mainly we want the work to last, both the designs and the built pieces. The designs are definitely modern and the construction is very solid. We make everything ourselves and we take the making seriously "“ a little too seriously, maybe, since we drive ourselves nuts with the details. But we try not to do much to hide the nature of the materials, the hardwoods in particular, since they are beautiful to begin with. If you cleanly machine and securely join nice pieces of wood without gooping on a plastic finish the results will probably be good for a very long time.

JS: Do you work with sustainable materials?

DB: We think so, but sometimes it's hard to know. Is bamboo sustainable? What about the container ships bringing most of it from China? Sourcing locally would be ideal but we use steel and hardwoods and Colorado isn’t a source of either and our solid gold desk hasn’t sold so well. But we did build the interior of a local glasses shop (Disrespectacles) out of beetle-killed pine "“ it looks great.

JS: Some of your latest designs incorporate cowhide in non-traditional ways. The resulting chairs are incredible – was this your first experiment in using materials other that wood and metal?

DB: We’ve experimented with lots of other materials but the hide experiment worked out. We love those chairs but most of our experiments don't make it out of the shop. We have a few promising new ideas that we'd love to make for the right client or for the right show.

JS: If you had the opportunity to furnish, in entirety, one architect's home, who would that architect be, and why?

DB: My (David’s) brother and his wife are artists and architects in Boston and I love them but the futon they stick me on when I come to visit sucks. So does their rickety coffee table. They could use a little DoubleButter.

JS: What are you currently working on… and what's next?

DB: We’re a little backed up with orders now but we have a few new things in the works. We’re building a new desk, a new credenza and a new dining table in the next two months. We’re also planning to break ground soonish on a shipping container house we designed for a lot near the Broncos’ stadium (presuming we can get it through zoning and the building department).