Take a look at this guy, Eric Chang:
What do you think he does for a living?
Lawyer? Financier? Corporate executive?
Why don’t we call him a startup CEO, along with his best friend Daniel Hellman, whom he met back in sixth grade at Hoover Middle School in Rockville. But their current office environment is a bit different from the photo you see above.
Here’s his actual “office,” at the 7-year-old Hellman-Chang factory in Brooklyn:
And here’s Dan, also hard at work:
A little formal for woodworkers, wouldn’t you say? But just look at what they produce:
“When a lot of people think American furniture design, they think plaid shirt, scruffy beard—the wood-shop type of look,” Eric said when we caught up in DC recently, where Hines & Co. carries the Hellman-Chang line at the Washington Design Center.
Clearly, the “wood-shop look” is not what Eric and Dan are after. “The brand is so much more than furniture,” Eric says. “It has to have a sense of luxury.”
That’s why, when they developed their first major ad campaign last year, they partnered with Canali, the haute Italian men’s suit-wear company. “I’m a big suit guy myself,” Eric says, adding that he owns 56 of them. And just as bespoke suits are painstakingly tailored by hand, so are the Hellman-Chang furnishings:
Eric and Dan’s families still live in Potomac. Eric remembers taking shop class with Dan at Churchill High School, and then starting to build things in his dad’s garage.
Fast forward to today: The men have a team of 12, and oversee the production almost 800 pieces of furniture per year. Dan is the product manager, while Eric is the ambassador, traveling frequently to meet with clients and visit their 13 showrooms across the country. Their furniture has also been placed in movies (Carrie’s bedside tables in “Sex and the City 2”) and television (A conference-room table in “Gossip Girl,” and a side table on the set of the “Today” show).
At the end of the day, Eric says their designs come down to a gut feeling. “It’s been a lot about emotion, you know, about that ‘a-ha!’ moment. When I have that emotional moment, I know I have something.”
His favorite design is among his first—the Avery dining chair, which he recently snapped on the Hellman Chang Instagram account:
“I really focus on negative space and the sculptural fluidity of things. And I always think about surfaces—I want people to touch furniture when they see it,” he says of his approach to design.