February 7, 2016
It’s a bright Saturday morning when we meet Matt of Enkle Designs.
We walk into a tiny garage that’s filled to the brim with a bunch of tools that look impressive. It looks like real man’s work; an guild-like craft only learned from generation to generation. In this case, it turns out to be pretty accurate. Matt’s father, Chris, is a master furniture and antique craftsman that studied in London and South Africa whose resume include refinishing furniture in Windsor Castle.
Matt makes custom furniture, which we like a lot because it’s clean, minimal, and beautiful. I have a particular disdain for ugly furniture. Dumpy couches with layer-on-layer of cushion, designed to mirror their owners. Cheap, faux, distressed metal designed to imbue a shitty sense of gravitas to furniture produced in China for pennies on the dollar.
But that’s not the kind of furniture Matt makes.
No, Matt makes his furniture to last. Structurally sound, beautifully crafted pieces that are the right mix of minimalism and strength. Matt’s designs are clearly inspired by Scandinavian/Danish modern furniture. But they aren’t recreations, they’re modern interpretations that feel like a good mix of new and old.
“I didn’t go to design school.”
Matt remarks that he didn’t go to design school, but he clearly has the eye for it. He talks about specific designers that he likes and my wife nods in agreement. I have no idea who they’re talking about. If you’re into minimalism, his designs are exciting. The Elv Console is one of the best examples of restraint: simple but beautiful materials, designed to be used without any pulls, and the front carved from a single piece of maple.
Matt’s designs feel honest and refreshing in a way, frankly, that people that have taste understand and appreciate. While he produces pieces of his own design, he also does custom work. For a few minutes, we all grumble a bit about our experiences about clients who don’t get it and the pain-in-the-ass personal conflict of doing work for money that you personally disagree with.
“Sometimes a client will ask for something, and I’ll say that doesn’t make sense.”
I put down in my Field Notes that he was “not full of shit” and underlined it twice.
Matt’s (only) 24, but grew up in South Africa and has lived in a few places before settling here in the Carolinas. He has a tattoo on his forearm, a silhouette of a tropical savannah with a Zulu quote that roughly translates to “Go forth, brother.” A seemingly fitting mantra for an grassroots, upstart operation like Matt’s.
We ask Matt how he ended-up working for himself. He tells us that he picked-up bits and pieces of design history along the way (and continues to study the subject), that he learned a lot of his craft from his dad, and that he ended-up doing his own thing because of the lack of balance he sees in a lot of jobs today. If he wants to take a slow morning to enjoy breakfast with his wife, he can. Family is a huge priority, and a huge driver for Matt staying out of the rat race, or at least in his own lane.
While we talk about design, the focus these days is on production. Part of the reason that he focuses on producing quality over quantity is that it lasts longer. Better built furniture is better for local economies and ecology. Every piece that he makes is one less desk that needs to be re-made somewhere else; one less tree that needs to be chopped down.
What’s Next For Enkle Designs
As Enkle Designs has become more successful there’s been a shift from design to manufacturing. Matt has plans to hire his first part-time employee this year. There’s a new focus on reducing the overall cost and time of manufacturing—to produce more pieces faster and, hopefully, retain more profit.