The Chronicle

Q. and A.: Fredericks and Mae

For a project that simply began "in our living room as a way to hang out," Fredericks & Mae has made its way into quite a few living rooms around the world. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Oberlin design studio of Jolie Mae Signorile and Gabriel Fredericks Cohen first drew notice for its iconic arrows, and has since reinvented objects from the ping-pong table to the humble broom through unorthodox use of color, pattern, and material.

Now, debuting exclusively on Tetra, the duo has created their first pipe, a marble obelisk so strikingly sculptural, it's almost impossible to tell it's a smoking device. To kick off the release of the Marble Pipe, we sat down with the duo in the midst of New York Design Week to find out what makes them tick.

How did you first start working together?
The first product we made together were these reconstructed parrot wings, made of molted Macaw feathers. Arrows were a natural extension of that project because we had all these feathers around and were trying to think of what else we could make using them. Many of our products work like that: what materials do we have on hand, and use that as a jumping off point.  

How would you describe your aesthetic?
Stunning and humble.

You've described what you do as "material anthropology." What does this mean?
A lot of our work involves research into the history of objects, and how materials (feathers, hair, thread, wood) and objects (arrows, games, pipes, etc.) change as they migrate. We are attracted to objects that have long and complicated histories to draw from.  

What are your biggest influences?
The beach, Martha Stewart, the sky, justice, Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, the sea, Wikipedia. 

How does Brooklyn influence your perspective?
We live across the hall from each other in Bed-Stuy, and our studio is on the other side of the same neighborhood.  I'm not sure how the neighborhood influences our aesthetic perspective, but I can tell that living where we do encourages a certain drive to work hard.
What's a typical day like in the studio? 
It's an equal amount of music and silence, work and play, with a little bit of NPR sprinkled throughout.  
What's your smoking ritual? 
We don't know, but it's on the regular. 
Fredericks and Mae Marble Pipe, $95.