The Chronicle

Meet the Designer Behind Tetra's Balance Pipe

Tetra's first in-house product, the Balance Pipe—just released in the shop and at Opening Ceremony in New York and L.A.—stemmed from our desire to reinvent the glass smoking device through good design. To make this concept a reality, we enlisted product designer Jamie Wolfond, who has been doing the same for everything from bowls to bookends through his Brooklyn-based housewares company Good Thing. And as it turned out, the young RISD grad also shared our lack of enthusiasm for the existing glass pipe scene. "I've been eyeing the glassware in bodegas and smoke shops for years," he says. "Pretty much everything you can find is trying much to hard to be impressive, featuring several intertwined glass tubes, tacky decals, and all-around poor decision-making." The idea behind the Balance Pipe, he says, "was simply to remove all the extra crap and make it possible to appreciate the inherent beauty in this very special material and technique."

Wolfond has been fascinated by objects for "as long as I can remember," he says. In high school, he started making his own wood furniture in his parents' garage without any outside instruction, a process that influenced how he works today. "Knowing very little about how these kinds of things are conventionally made—a craft with thousands of years of tradition behind it—I was able to figure out some pretty interesting objects through experimentation alone," he explains. I got used to designing empirically, without preconceptions about what would or would not work. This way of thinking has influenced my work a good deal. Even after studying furniture design at RISD, I've always resisted these pedantic conventions."

That much is clear from a look around the light-flooded Good Thing studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Wolfond and his team bring striking simplicity and a subtle whimsy to even the most mundane functional objects. Here, we talk with the designer about process, products, and his preferred way to puff.

How did you get started as a designer?

I graduated from RISD in 2013, and spent one year working part-time for a few different designers in New York. I did some production at Rich Brilliant Willing, and worked for Pete Oyler of Assembly for a while too. In my spare time I did a lot of messing around in my little studio in Bushwick. There was a good deal of experimentation, some designing for licensing, some custom products, etc. For that year I did tried as many different things as I could. 

What's your approach all about?

Lately, most of my work has been products for Good Thing, which are always very spare, rational, and made using as few simple manufacturing techniques as possible. I aim for these things to be simultaneously minimal and full of character (the Sticker Clock or Easy Mirror are good examples of this). I've also made much more experimental work (something I have not had the opportunity to indulge in quite as much lately). When I have the opportunity to produce something with my own hands from start to finish, I love to make things that are a little stranger. In general, my work is connected by my love of material and curiosity about manufacturing. 

What would you like to get your hands on next?

In general, not many everyday objects seem to need a design improvement. A pipe, I think, is one of very few things that has not yet been exhausted by contemporary designers (which is one reason why Tetra is so timely and exciting). My ideas usually start without a particular category or use in mind — for me, that part comes later.
Any category is worth pursuing if I have an experiment or discovery that lends itself to a particular use. In short, I stick with the application that best suits the idea. 

What's inspiring you lately? 

We've been working with borosilicate glass more and more. It has been exciting to realize how much of the world's mass-product glassware made by hand — it is still very much a skill-intensive craft. So, we've been thinking a lot about how to bring that into our products — how to make a glass object that better tells the story of its creation. 

As for general inspiration, I've been really appreciating cheap things lately. You can find some pretty amazing stuff on Amazon, and Uline if you really dig for it. It's exciting to come across an object that was designed with nothing but utility in mind, and still has an expressive or communicative character. We can't help but put ourselves into the things we make. 

What's a typical day in the studio like?

It's usually a nice vibration between designing and business-running. We're always working on a couple different ideas in the studio and simultaneously talking to outside designers about new products for Good Thing. We all sit down and have a good debate at least once a day. I've had more time lately to focus on making plans for growing Good Thing's distribution. It's not exactly designing, but creatively rewarding in its own way. 

What are you listening to right now?

The latest Parquet Courts Album, Human Performance, is blowing my mind. Other studio faves are Yo La Tengo, Pavement, and Kurt Vile. 

Any late-summer travel plans?

My girlfriend Sam and I are going on a nine-day canoe trip in Algonquin Park, Ontario. I grew up camping there every summer and and believe it to be one of the most beautiful places there is. Algonquin Park covered three thousand square miles of land stretching from Ontario to Quebec, and comprised of entirely untouched lakes and forests.

What's your smoking ritual?

Smoking and designing is always fun. Beyond that, I don't think I have much of a ritual.