When I think of people who have made their mark not only on our local arts scene but on our twin cities, Kelly Hieronymus Whiting is right up there at the top of the list. Whiting has had a hand in some of the sweetest additions to life in Chambana: Hopscotch Bakery and Market, Boneyard Arts Festival, Sunshine Design, and the Art Nerds group, just to name a few. When I heard that she was partnering with Jim Standerfer (of Lumbering Behemoth) to form a new furniture and interior design collab, I was intrigued.
Starting a new venture mid-pandemic is challenging to say the least. And it takes a mix of optimism, proven excellence, and long-term commitment to one's work and one's community. Whiting and Standerfer have these in spades. Their dedication to simplicity, quality, and eco-friendly design are a good fit for the times. And considering that most of us are spending more time at home than ever, this may just be Behemoth Durable Goods' big moment.
During the busy days leading up to their opening on August 30th, Whiting and Standerfer were kind enough to spare some time taking me through their design philosophies, their plans (short term and long) for their new venture and the story of how it all came about.
Smile Politely: Many of our readers may know you from your public art and from your Color Show at the 2019 Boneyard Arts Festival. But you also have a background in interior design, which you are revisiting with your new shop. Tell us about your approach to interior design, your passion for color, and your guiding design philosophy?
Kelly Hieronymus Whiting: My approach to interior design is simple: spaces should be livable. A space can be beautiful, but if you cant put your feet on the sofa, what's the point? With every client, my goal is to make durable, beautiful, and colorful spaces that stand the test of time. Personally, I love modern lines and simple shapes that are emphasized by outrageous color. Design philosophy? Choose things YOU love, not what's trendy. I also really believe in slow design.
SP: What inspired your return to interior design and the birth of Behemoth Durable Goods?
Whiting: I thought I had put my design career to bed before my son was born, not that I didn't love it. I just couldn't continue practicing it the way I had been. Jim gently brought me back by reminding me that we could build something that worked around our lives, and not the other way around. We laid out our ground values and built our company around that: we are a modern design company that is focused around family, sustainability, and community.
SP: Tell us about your partnership with furniture designer Jim Standerfer of Lumbering Behemoth? How did it start?
Whiting: Jim and I have been working side by side for four years now! We started working together on a simple kitchen door entryway project that involved a vintage light, reclaimed cypress cabinet and an old schoolhouse chalkboard with a custom chalk tray. It snowballed and now we have a storefront. Who knew?
SP: What can shoppers expect at Behemoth Durable Goods? What is your range of goods and services?
Whiting: The store is going to be stocked with a collection of goods that reflects the shared space in the Venn Diagram of our individual aesthetic preferences. That collection will be anchored by Behemoth originals, furniture designed and created by us, primarily using salvaged and regionally sourced woods, steel, and select salvaged and repurposed components. We're filling out the inventory with rugs, pillows, lighting, art, wallpaper, ceramics, select housewares and decor items, and furniture, all either sourced from small/smallish makers or vintage finds that we've managed to procure.
We are also happy to work with folks on custom projects: furniture and installations, color consulting, design consulting, project management. We want to help our client create a vision for their space and then help them realize that vision in three dimensions
SP: Tell us about your location and space and your choice to set up in downtown Champaign?
Whiting: Downtown Champaign just has the feeling of community that appeals to both of us. We were in the store one evening last week, discussing some details of the startup plan, and folks were walking by. On their way home or on their way to dinner, some walking their babies in strollers, looking in and waving as they passed. It may sound a little quaint, I guess, but that's what we want. When we emerge from this health crisis and downtown returns to some semblance of its pre-pandemic energy, we want to be in it. We want to get to know the folks who work in the neighborhood and visit with folks who pop in on their way to their dinner reservations, and we want to find ways to work with other downtown business owners. We didn't want to be isolated in a strip mall somewhere, with no regular pedestrian access. It's just not our scene. Regarding this location in particular, it's just a perfect blank slate for what we want to do here. Beautiful floors, clean walls, interesting lines, and that gnarly, rusty, beautiful old beam crane looming over the vestibule. We saw it. We had to have it.
SP: What does the shopping experience look like in light of COVID-19 safety guidelines?
Whiting: Well, masks are a must, of course. Aside from that, it's really all about the physical distancing. We don't have a massive amount of square footage in the store, but there is room from four to six customers to be in the space at once, depending on whether they are individuals or small groups that come in together. We don't like the idea of turning people away, of course, but we're just going to ask folks to be patient with us. We set up a scheduling app on our website, but—as a new business—it's difficult enough to get folks through the door, much less to schedule an appointment to come through the door. In an attempt to focus on the silver lining, we think our store is going to be best experienced when we can give individual customers our full attention. When it's safe for us to be crowded, though, that is a problem that we will be happy to work through.
SP: Looking ahead to life post-pandemic, will your business model change and evolve?
Whiting: Our vision for the business is pretty adaptable to post-pandemic life, as we imagine it. (I mean, who can remember?!) We're excited to host some events: pop-ups and cocktail hours and maybe some live music from time to time. We're pretty excited to get to fully engage in the downtown community once we get past this crisis.
SP: Will you be selling/showing your art (or the art of other local artists) at the store?
Whiting: Yes! Currently, Lisa Kesler is currently adorning the walls at the storefront. Lara Orr from Same Street Textile has her textiles here. We're looking forward to getting some work from Quirky Quiltress next.
SP: Jim, what defines your style and your furniture design philosophy?
Jim Standerfer: When it comes to designing and building furniture, I'm into rugged, organic and industrial textures and clean, modern lines. My designs are pretty function-forward. I'm not much into fussiness or ornament for ornament's sake. For me, visual interest is best when it is either provided by the natural characteristics of the material or created by a functional detail of the construction of the piece. I try to avoid creating pieces that read as "rustic" or "primitive," because that just isn't my style, but I also don't want the work to feel manufactured or plastic-y. There's a sweet spot where the product is refined, functional, and cleanable, but still exudes its character and tells its stories.
SP: Tell us about the "durable" in Behemoth Durable Goods? What's the message and meaning behind that?
Whiting: Well, I guess it's a bit of a one-word mission statement. At the risk of stepping up on a soap box, we are a bit exhausted and troubled by the trend-driven, disposable consumerism that has really overtaken our culture. We want to build and sell pieces that won't fall apart with use and won't lose their lustre as trends fade. We want the Behemoth-built pieces, in particular, to survive a lifetime of use and travel forward as heirlooms. Plus, it's our thought that—whenever possible—coffee tables should be ready to serve as emergency dancing platforms or karaoke stages, if needed.