You know Adam Michaels. You might recognize his graphic design from the walls of the Walker Art Center, or perhaps you’re familiar with Project Projects, the New York design firm Michaels co-founded in 2004–or maybe you own one of the many books he’s designed or published via Inventory Press, a publishing company he started just last year that specializes in art, architecture, design, and a whole range of other things. As Inventory Press was preparing to launch at the L.A. Book Fair at the end of last month, Michaels and two other designers, Shannon Harvey and Levi Murphy, embraced their new digs and embarked upon yet another side project: making furniture.
Only Murphy had any real furniture design experience, but that didn’t stop them from showing off the new seating–not to mention their books–in “Way Station,” a two-month long exhibition and limited-edition book. Michaels took a break from building furniture in an L.A. warehouse to talk about the project.
We know you’re the king of side projects, but we have to ask–why furniture design?
Furniture has been an interest of mine ever since I was a design student in the at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), where we were encouraged to not overly focus on our major and to try different things, furniture design included. At that time, Levi Murphy was also an MCAD student, and we worked together, so it just felt natural to do that sort of work with him again.
You’re based in New York. How’s working in L.A. different?
There’s this expansive work environment out here that’s super refreshing. We’ve been working in a nice, large space with high ceilings and good light. We’ve met a lot of people here, some of whom came here from New York, and you get the idea that there’s more room here to have ideas and see where they take you. This is from someone who has lived in New York for 14 years and I very much love the city. I’m very much committed to it.
What roles do you, Harvey, and Murphy play?
We each definitely come to it with particular expertise, but we all have an interest in many different forms of design. Shannon makes objects based on her research into architecturally significant color, I’m a graphic designer most of the time, and Levi has a furniture design company called Communal Objects. He had the most direct expertise with, you know, how tools work. But we worked everything out together; we’ve all been in the gallery building these things everyday. Even though we have our strong points, this has been very collaborative since the beginning.
You also have a book coming out to accompany the seating.
Yeah, that’s right. Book design is what I do at Project Projects. The primary use of the book is to flip through it while sitting on the bench. The form of the book is like a set of postcards that show the bench placed in different locations. The idea is to use the book to take the mind to other locations, almost like flying through space.
You’ve gone from graphic design to publishing and now to furniture. It seems that a need to be classified in today’s design industry tends to scare people from trying new things, but your transitions seem almost organic.
It’s been a combination of many things. There have been some projects that turned out to be one-offs. A few years ago, I helped put out a music album alongside a book project. That was clearly a one-off, a strange offshoot of a serious book endeavor. So there have been things like that and then things like Inventory Press and Project Projects, things that took a ton of time, money, and infrastructure.
Last year was an intense one in terms of asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of research in to how publishing actually works. As someone who’s worked on the design side but not the business, that was pretty rigorous. What does a publisher do and how do they survive? Otherwise, with furniture design, it remains to be seen if Shannon or I will do more in the near future—Levi, of course, will continue doing this sort of work. For this kind of shared project, we’ll have to see if there’s sustained interest. But we’re also cool with saying, “Hey, we did this really funny thing in L.A. this one time.”