Designer to Know: O/D\O Lab

Designer to Know: O/D\O Lab

By Dwell
Architect Paul Lee and furniture maker Anthony Abbate celebrate the inherent beauty of wood with a humble and timeless collection of furnishings.

Years before joining forces, architect Paul Lee and furniture maker Anthony Abbate often found themselves working on the same projects, at opposite ends of the process. For both, the chasm between the two fields was an unnecessary hurdle. 

"We realized the whole design from conceptualization to execution could better serve the designers and fabricators if there was much tighter integration between the two," Lee says. In 2019 the duo started O/D\O Lab with the goal of closing that gap.

Together, Lee and Abbate build humble, timeless furniture that makes the most of available materials. "We had a desire to create a design language out of real world limitations," Lee says. Working primarily with species of wood readily accessible in the Northeast like white oak, walnut, and ash, the designers craft elegantly sturdy chairs, stools, and tables that look like modern heirlooms.

A console table by O/D\O Lab

An end grain stool by O/D\O Lab

For its Muse collection, the studio arranges small pieces of timber into a subtle checkerboard mosaic that highlights the inherent beauty of the grain. "Every time you look at these objects it’s almost like you’re looking at a new composition," Lee says.

A new coffee table as part of the Muse Collection from O/D\O Lab

Learn why Abbate treasures a table saw and Lee, a Contax II camera, in our Q&A below.

Hometowns: 

New York City —Abbate 

New York City —Lee

Describe what you make in 140 characters. 

Furniture designed with consideration of fabrication, material properties, and supply chain limitations from its earliest inception. —Abbate 

Formally refined, handmade wood furniture, that is crafted to accentuate the inherent natural features of wood and highlight its beauty. —Lee

What's the last thing you designed? 

A dining table. —Abbate 

Legs for a brass furniture base system. —Lee

Do you have a daily creative ritual? 

Not everyday, but I often view pictures and/or videos of various natural landscapes in order to envision how I'd live there. Sometimes the qualities of the natural environment and sometimes the time spent thinking about functional items needed to inhabit those environments lead me to moments of inspiration. —Lee

How do you procrastinate? 

Organizing my workspace. —Abbate 

I play the crossword or the New York Times Spelling Bee. —Lee

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? 

A bed/lap tray table, because living through the current pandemic I am realizing the workspace often travels around the living space. —Abbate 

I'd like to redesign a coat tree, shrinking it so that it becomes a rack for hanging face masks. —Lee

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? 

In design, my clients, partners, and collaborators. —Abbate 

Across all design disciplines, the person I revere the most is the architect Louis Kahn. —Lee

What skill would you most like to learn? 

Welding. —Abbate 

The process of naturally dyeing of textiles. —Lee

What is your most treasured possession? 

A table saw. —Abbate 

My late grandfather's 1950s-era Contax II rangefinder camera. After a century of annexation, the Korean War, and military coups, it's the only remaining heirloom from that generation of my family. —Lee

What’s your earliest memory of an encounter with design? 

Problem-solving with my grandfather in his garage using only the materials we had on hand. —Abbate

When I was in elementary school the King Tut exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the first mega show that I can remember. The iconographic quality of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics fascinated me. All I remember is drawing and painting everything from pictures of Egyptian gods to sarcophagi. Later, this culminated in my going to school early and staying late to paint a 9-foot by 15-foot mural outside my classroom. —Lee

What contemporary design trend do you despise? 

Oxidized wood finishes. —Abbate 

Parametric design, particularly when used to generate form in architectural design. —Lee

Finish this statement: All design should...

...be informed by user interface. —Abbate 

...be driven by the personal experience of the designer instead of driven by notions of commercial marketability. —Lee

What’s in your dream house? 

Trees. —Abbate 

An observatory with a high powered telescope for star gazing. —Lee

Did you pick up any new hobbies or learn a new skill while in quarantine? What was it? 

I essentially became a middle school-level teaching assistant. —Abbate 

I didn’t pick up any new hobbies but rather spent time on existing hobbies, including playing guitar and surfing. —Lee

How do you think the pandemic will affect residential design in the future? What about workplace or commercial design? 

Now that there's growing evidence of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, I think the pandemic will cause us to reconsider the use of centralized HVAC systems in all classes of construction. —Lee

How can the design world be more inclusive? 

Accepting feedback from non-designers, and endeavoring to educate regarding design craft to better collaborate. —Abbate 

I think the key is education. We have to expand our notion of the design canon so that the demographic appeal of design education isn't so narrow. If we do that, it will go a long ways towards recruiting a more diverse array of students into designs schools and later into the workplace. —Lee

You can learn more about O/D\O Lab by visiting their website or Instagram.

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