Interview: T O O O L S

Tag Christof
Marleigh Culver

June 14 2015

We talk design, William Morris and working for fun with Caroline Hwang and Joel Speasmaker, the husband and wife duo behind TOOOLS. For now their line includes cheeky ceramics and magic boxes, but there’s no telling where their whimsy will lead.

Caroline Hwang

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Current location: Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA
How do you take your coffee? Black
What’s your Sunday ritual? Caroline: Hollywood Farmer’s Market followed by porridge from Porridge & Puffs and then catching up with pets and/or friends.
Describe your style in a few words: Minimal

Joel Speasmaker

Hometown: Joel: Virginia Beach, VA
Current location: Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA
How do you take your coffee? Decaf Americano with milk and sugar
What’s your Sunday ritual? Brunch, 3-hour pickup soccer game with the Domingos followed by Sunday night television. 
Describe your style in a few words: 

You describe T O O O L S as a “new company with an old ethos: form & function.”

Joel: In such an ultra-visual, graphic and quickly sharable environment, it’s nice to step back and think about things more slowly and with more purpose, taking cues from the past where technology was less important than thoughtful problem solving.

Would that curmudgeonly old Victorian, Sir. William Morris, really endorse Toools? 

Joel: It was our wordsmith friend Andy C. Jenkins who reminded us of Morris’s words, spoken all the way back in 1880, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” It seems to fit our philosophy perfectly, so I would hope Sir William Morris would approve!

Are there any objects you didn’t make yourself whose marriage of form and function makes you love them? 

Caroline: I love Donald Judd’s apartment and the furniture and objects that inhabit it, epitomizing the form and function idea. Also, Fort Standard’s objects.

Joel: Peter Nencini is such an inspiration for me, clearly his Hand Werk series of boxes were a big influence. I also recently stumbled across these beautiful “Desk Landscapes” by Yu Hun Kim.

How has your own personality shaped T O O O L S? 

Joel: I’m the neurotic perfectionist, but forming T O O O L S has started me on a very long and difficult journey of learning how to be patient in the production process. Making physical objects is such a different exercise than designing a magazine or a website, for example. It takes a lot of time and is a more permanent form of trial and error.

Caroline: I’ve never been a tree hugger but always cared about the environment and the waste we create. I love making objects and art but hate that it would be just another thing I’m adding to the world. Through T O O O L S I’m able to keep creating and hope that people utilize those creations.

Who are your design heroes? 

Joel: All of my friends in a creative field. Also, the French artist Moebius. Alongside his unparalleled art inside the comics realm, his sense of design and imaginative objects continually blow my mind no matter how much I see them.

Caroline: All of my creative friends as well. And the following are more artists than designers but they qualify as my creative heroes: Helen Frankenthaler, Sophie Tauber-Arp, Pae White, Tauba Auerbach, and too many more to list.

There’s a lot of fun and whimsy in what you make — stacked up sets of Banchan look like absurd little soldiers and Treasure Box is a nod to the special boxes we all kept as children. Do you have fun designing them?

Caroline: Yes! Absolutely. I love that there’s an organic problem-solving process that occurs for me. I start by sketching out the design and it begins to change when thrown on the wheel.

Joel: I don’t think we’d be doing this if it wasn’t fun. I constantly strive to maintain a feeling of childhood in my life.

What do you do when not working on T O O O L S?

Joel: I run my design studio, Forest.

Caroline: I’m a food stylist and write a column for Tidal Magazine about cocktails so am always researching liquors and developing cocktail recipes.

Read anything good lately? 

Caroline: Ugh, I’m too restless to sit and read. But have gotten halfway through Michael Rhulman’s Ratio and have on my bed stand Sheila Heti’s How a Person Should be.

Joel: I just finished the complete Hellboy series, and I 100% endorse it. Currently I’m in the middle of What, You Don’t Know Grapus?, which is an interesting account of the French design collective.

Why do you think Los Angeles has become such an epicenter of art and design this decade? 

Joel: I think these things are cyclical, rotating around a handful of the “major” cities around the world. There’s currently such a big interest in individual or small teams of “makers”, and the environment here is very conducive to do that.

Portrait of Joel & Caroline by Ryan Patterson.