A Refractory Renaissance, Pt II

refractory texture

With the desire to continue sharing the beauty & intention behind Refractory, this is part II of our interview with founders Angie West and Alberto Vélez.

RH: I would love to dig deeper into the Refractory Manifesto.

01 Draw // Inspiration from past and present.
In Refractory’s backstory, you all have mentioned “While inspired by the powerful and mysterious forces of nature, evolution, and transformation, the work also bears the mark of disciplined, classically trained designers.” Who from your past has had the greatest impact on Refractory and the designs we see today…

AW: Obviously our deep tenures with Bill Sofield and Holly Hunt have been influential, and we have also been fortunate to be surrounded by creatives in our families and youth – including designers, architects, and photographers. The designs you see today however are a pure and forward move; they are unto themselves.

02 Craft // New languages of design.
Design as is with art, can feel reductive or worse, derivative. The idea of creating a new word, much less an entire language, feels insurmountable. Where does this process of speaking a new design language start for you both? A sketch, a material, a mood, a song?

AW: It can be a sketch, a building, or an earring. It can be a leaf, a bone, or a tool. It can be an aerial view, a map, or an anomaly in nature.

refractory texture 03 Shape // Beautiful materials into meaningful objects.
We see skins cast into the bronze, how did this exploration begin and where do you see it going next?

AW: We share a love of nature and the creatures that we share the planet with. Admiring and celebrating the textures of their armor is just a state of mind for us. In new work, this will lean toward oddness and creatures that are not typically perceived as luxe. In one new work, we celebrate the geometry and magic of the inside of the armadillo’s armor.

04 Illuminate // New ways of seeing the world.
This feels deeply personal to me. We have many lenses in which to see the world. Lenses of inherent bias, personal privilege, social media, politics, etc. If you are offering Refractory as a new lens for the world around us, what do you hope we see?

AW: We hope you see an ecosystem of mind, heart, and hand. Our work is as much about our team of artisans as it is about the work or design itself. It has a purpose to further and sustain American craft under many pressures. We want the work to beg the question: “who made this?”

05 Honor // The tradition of American workmanship.
Angie, you have built and nurtured an ecosystem of artisans that by any number of indicators are endangered of going extinct. As the bronze and glass foundries are fostered, are there any other crafts people that you would like to see under the Refractory umbrella?

AW: Absolutely. We will fold in wood fabrication as well as shade-making and ceramics in time. We are also interested in working on a small scale in terms of wearable design.

refractory dining table

06 Make // The most of the time we have.
Time is fleeting yet the furniture and objects you set out to create will last decades (centuries and millennia!) beyond our short time on this earth. How do you imagine future collectors of Refractory to feel about your pieces say 100 or 200 years from now? Do you hope people find them selling at Christie’s for multiples of the original cost or as treasured finds buried deep in flea markets across the globe?

AW: We believe that both scenarios may be possible, depending on the piece, and we don’t really attach a hope of any kind toward the trajectory of the work in that way. Of course we believe the work is an investment for clients, and we savor the notion that it will be extremely rare that any of it will ever be discarded. Daydreaming about future patineurs doing restoration work on the pieces or future lighting technicians re-wiring or configuring our chandeliers hundreds of years from now is a wonderful thought.

07 Revere // The meaning of things.
I think we all agree that the meaning of things like life, love, family, relationships, and possessions change as we move through life. What felt like the end of the world in days past can feel like an insignificant blip today. Without getting too philosophical, what does Refractory mean to you today?

AW: Today Refractory is an incubating laboratory. It is a vehicle for expression and manifesting work with our crew and work family. It’s the best way we can shine a light on them and with them.