Located in the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, Colorado, Black Hound Design Company creates eye-catching custom furniture. Self-described as, “a bunch of guys who like to build cool stuff” the company was started by James Hixson and his wife Kate and has since grown to include thirteen team members who all work to hand-make custom products and decors for clients. Black Hound Design gets its name from James and Kate’s dog Murphy, who often hangs out in the workshop. With a background in both art and construction it’s no surprise that James is able to come up with such stunning designs. Recently we reached out to James to find out more about his company and his design process.
Were you always interested in design?
Even at a young age, I was interested in design and builds. From designing new toy cars, to retrofitting model airplanes, I was always fascinated by how things worked and how they were designed. I used this inherent curiosity as a catalyst in college, studying Art and Sculpture, which allowed me to grow my design thinking. Concurrently, I also worked in the construction industry throughout my late teens and early twenties, which gave me the foundation of raw skills for building. This combination of design skills, with building expertise, has formed the base of our business.
What first drew you to creating furniture?
I studied Sculpture in college, and have a deep appreciation for the Arts. However, due to my background in construction, I also love industries that are rooted in functionality. Custom furniture is the perfect combination of sculpture and art, alongside utility. Additionally, I am very drawn to the handmade movement, and value heritage craftsmanship. There is something incredibly compelling about creating a piece of furniture and knowing that it will be used day after day in someone’s home.
What drew you to woodworking as a medium?
Wood is an incredibly adaptable medium; it can be formed into nearly limitless options. Likewise, each piece of wood is inherently different; the various grains, colors and textures all hold unique character. However, it is also durable and strong, and can be built to last for generations. All of these characteristics make wood a very appealing medium. Not to mention, of course, sawdust smells amazing!
Clearly pets play a role in your life since the company is named after your dog. Would you ever consider putting together a line of pet products, like dog beds or houses?
We’ve definitely tossed around the idea of a line for dogs! All of our guys here have dogs, and bring them to the shop to hang out in the office. So, we already have on-site product testers!
How much of an influence does living in Colorado have on your designs?
Colorado plays a huge role in our designs, as well as the West in general. We are all very active out in the mountains, camping, hiking, fishing and what not. Each time we go out into the backcountry, we are inspired by the colors, textures and general vibes. We try to incorporate these natural aspects in each of our pieces, regardless of style. Whether it’s an ultra modern piece, or rustic, or mid-century, we try to add a hint of the American west.
What’s your favorite piece that you’ve designed?
I really love a dining table that I made for my wife’s birthday this year. It is a big, beautiful live-edge Oak slab, with a very modern steel base painted turquoise. The juxtaposition of the rustic live-edge with a sleek, bright base really resonates.
Who are some of your biggest influences, in terms of design?
I’ve always been drawn to the work of George Nakashima; his fusion of Japanese craftsmanship with American modernism and unfinished wood slabs is elegant and yet, rustic. It can be very challenging to take a rustic, heavy look, but modernize it. I try to accomplish this coupling in our pieces, and often think of Nakashima as inspiration.
How long does it take you to come up with a design?
Sometimes I come up with a design in just a few moments. When you’re really in the groove and jamming it out, design thinking can be very fast and spontaneous. However, other times, it can takes days or even weeks. We do a lot of custom pieces, which call for unique design based upon location, client needs, and general vibe. This consideration of multiple factors can make the design process very challenging, but also very rewarding.
How important is sustainability to you as a designer and company?
Sustainability is tremendously important to me as a designer, and as the founder of a company. I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and spent countless days running around in the woods. Now, living in Colorado, I am passionate about the environment and being a good steward of this planet. Many people assume that woodworking and furniture making is detrimental to the environment. It certainly can be, but with thoughtful business practices in place, we can actually help the environment. For example, I design and build with a lot of Blue Stain Pine; this pine is caused by the destruction of the mountain pine beetle, which kills the trees and has wiped out thousands of acres of forests across the Rocky Mountains. By removing this tree from the mountainsides, we are helping with forest fire mitigation, and allowing healthy growth to occur in its place. This is one small example of how we are committed to sustainable business practices.
What have you learned about design through working with clients?
Through years of working with diverse clients across the country, I have learned that design can be very subjective. While there are certainly some accepted baseline standards of design, it can still be a bit of a moving target to agree upon what is truly “right” or “good.” However, that’s also the fun in it, right? Having multiple points of view and conflicting perspectives is what moves design forward and drives innovation.
Which types of projects are more fun – residential or commercial ones?
Residential pieces are very rewarding to design and build, as you are allowed a glimpse into someone’s life, and you know that you are making a tangible impact on their home. The sense of permanency is profound. But, commercial pieces for restaurants, breweries, boutique hotels, etc. tend to be high- concept and big design. Generally, the creativity is greater for the commercial space. As such, both areas are a ton of fun!
Who is your dream client?
My dream client is someone who truly appreciates design and construction. Someone who views furniture as a functional work of art, as opposed to just a commodity. I love working with people who are willing to think outside the box and push creativity to its limits.
What’s the most difficult part of the design process?
The hardest part of the design process for me is figuring out how to actually build the piece. It can be somewhat easy to think of killer ideas and push the boundaries of design, but the construction has to be completely on-point too. If isn’t easily feasible to build, or if it won’t be perfect in quality on the back- end, then we can’t move forward.
Any advice for people who want to get into design or woodworking?
Stoke the fires of your creativity, and enhance your skills in any way you can, whether through formal training, or hands-on experience. Be the absolute best at your craft as you can be. But then also know that you never stop learning. Always challenge yourself to do more, and push yourself in new directions.
What’s one thing you want people to know about your work?
I love when people recognize the value of American-made, handcrafted works. There’s been such a push over the last several years towards the makers movement, and people really seeking out handmade items with a story behind it. I believe that this drive towards more of an experience for purchasing goods, as opposed to just grabbing something off the shelf, is only going to continue. We celebrate crafters, artisans, makers and fabricators of all varieties.
Thanks again James, for taking the time to answer our questions. Your passion for design and your work is so apparent and very inspiring. We can’t wait to see more of your beautiful creations! To see more of Black Hound Design Company’s work and some behind the scenes videos and images follow them on Facebookand Instagram.