The first year we were working together, Ian and I would literally sleep in the shop three nights a week,” says Greg Buntain of his and business partner Ian Collings’s lifestyle in the early days of founding their Brooklyn-based design studio, Fort Standard. Three years later, the industrious duo’s lives are on the cusp of a better balance. “We finally started taking our nights and weekends back. Leaving the shop before dark—it does a lot for your mental state.”
So does success. That’s thanks to the outsize demand and acclaim for their clean-lined furniture, lighting, and accessories (their brass bottle openers have reached near cult status) and a series of high-profile collaborations, including store design for the likes of Warby Parker, Swedish backpack purveyor Fjällräven, and Soho haute-shave boutique Harry’s Corner Shop. Also on their client list? All-Clad, Areaware, and fashion brand Steven Alan. “We did a retail build-out for Fjällräven in late 2010, came up with a name in early 2011, and it’s been full speed ahead ever since,” says Buntain.
Buntain and Collings, close friends since they met at Pratt Institute as design students and were both part of a small group selected to study at Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, share a sensibility that is rooted in contemporaneity and simplicity with deference to traditional technique. “Classic, simple, tailored but durable,” is how Buntain describes the pieces—which range from triangular marble trivets and minimalist counterbalanced brass light fixtures to white oak tables with cylindrical legs. Add sleek, geometric stone candle holders and bone china vessels with jewel-like facets into the mix, and it becomes clear that an uncommon level of modern sophistication is inherent in anything the duo puts their minds to.
The studio that claimed so many working nights back in the company’s first days is in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, a cobblestoned enclave with piers built up around historic brick warehouses. Collings and Buntain have set up shop in one such structure, the dramatic arched windows of which offer sunlit views of the Statue of Liberty over New York Bay. A communal workspace shared by various makers, Fort Standard’s studio hums to life with the usual whirring of machines and well-dusted floors, but artful innovation is seemingly everywhere. Stacks of sharply carved wood fill the shelves, filigreed hooks are piled with brass knickknacks in various states of clever completion, even the diminutive studio signage—emblazoned with the brand’s triangular logo—has a sense of functional beauty.
A bicycle (or, more often, Honda XL600R motorcycle) ride away, Buntain’s Clinton Hill apartment shares the conceptual contents, if not the workaday buzz, of the Red Hook shop. “I’ve made most of the furniture and smaller objects here,” he says. “It’s constantly changing—I’m always making new furniture, so things come and go on a regular basis.” In the whitewashed living room alone, Buntain made the coffee table, a smattering of wooden curios that sit on the mantel, and a chair prototype that sits below the series of antler hooks. When asked if such off-hours tinkering ever advances into sellable product, Buntain references a more communal process. “Both Ian and I make personal work, and sometimes our ideas evolve into Fort Standard products, but only after we discuss and refine them together,” he says. This second-nature system of checks and balances is just one indication of the highly functioning partnership at play.
Collings, who lives in the up-and-coming Crown Heights neighborhood, shares a similar work-to-home transparency. “The studio is high paced; ideas turn over very quickly,” he says. “My home has become the place for reflection and deeper contemplation, an alternate studio nonetheless,” he adds of the two-bedroom apartment he shares with a roommate. Stocked with sculptures and light fixtures of his own making, it’s become a concept lab all its own. “It’s an active place for playing with new ideas,” Collings says of the high-ceilinged space—which, while minimalist in terms of decor, has a few infrastructural quirks of note, including what the designer calls its “cherub-floral molding.” “It’s covered in so many layers of paint that [the cherubs] now look like baby Michelin men,” he says with a laugh.
When asked to describe his style, Collings demurs. “Style” is not his favorite word—and he’d rather not fall victim to any single one. When pressed, he calls his aesthetic “reductive.” “I’m interested in the most essential components of any idea,” he says. What’s next for the brand is an ode to that sentiment—a focus on rededicating to the fundamentals of their business, a deeply collaborative endeavor with an unwavering eye for quality and, yes, style.