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Finding a Natural Rhythm

07/28/2016

Designer Miles Endo 10 ID finds great satisfaction in making drums, furniture and lighting by hand. | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

Furniture designer Miles Endo 10 ID had been thinking about introducing a line of lighting fixtures for some time when a fortuitous moment in his Providence studio inspired him to act on the idea. As he was building a Japanese Taiko drum late one night, he noticed how the light caught its carved interior and realized that the interwoven texture inside the drum would be perfect for a new lighting collection. Introduced earlier this year, his Hira fixtures feature large, hand-patterned copper shades fitted with a ring of LEDs to produce a warm ambient light.

“My furniture and drum designs have informed each other in the past,” says Endo, “but until now it was always the techniques I used to build furniture – like CNC technology and 3D printing – that influenced the drums. Now the influences have come full circle.”

The son of two musicians, Endo was born in Japan and raised in Hawaii, where he learned to play Taiko drums from his parents. Though he originally planned to pursue architecture or automobile design in school, he says he “was turned off by the lack of control you have over large-scale projects.” So he opted to major in Industrial Design and notes that “building smaller objects like furniture gives you more control.”

After graduating from RISD, Endo worked for a commercial furniture maker in NYC and then returned to Providence in 2012 to establish his own studio. He has been designing and building custom furniture and Taiko drums ever since and is happy to “touch every single object that comes out of [his] studio. My stuff is the product of a dialogue between me and the client,” he notes. “We shape the design together.”

In 2015 Endo decided to apply for and then appear on Ellen’s Design Challenge, the elimination-style reality TV series that aired from January through March 2016 on HGTV. “I wasn’t sure it would be a good career move,” he recalls now with a quiet laugh, “but I wanted to take advantage of the skills I’d learned at RISD: working under pressure and being driven by a deadline.”

Endo did well in the national spotlight, remaining calm and focused, and responding to each new challenge on the show with competence and creativity. He also managed to keep in the running week after week until one of the final challenges of the season. And it turns out that taking the risk of competing on a mainstream reality show was worth it since it helped raise his profile as a designer and maker.

“I had an advantage,” Endo says, “because I design as well as build. Other design schools draw a line between design and manufacture. At RISD there’s a lot more focus on making objects by hand, so I learned to think through how things are built.”

Endo recently moved to a larger studio space in Providence and, as in previous years, has been mentoring RISD student interns this summer. In fact, by tapping into a grant from the state that helps small businesses with 50% of the cost of hiring interns, he’s able to provide Alexia Delhoume 17 ID, Taylor Gray 18 FD and Makoto Kumasaka 18 ID valuable hands-on learning experiences working in his studio as a marketing and branding specialist, production assistant and apprentice, respectively.

Now that he has a few assistants in the studio, Endo has been able to launch a new site this summer and focus more on building out his Hira collection. “I like time-tested materials,” he says. “I’m generally trying to innovate on the design side, not on the materials side.” He’s drawn to simple forms and gentle curves and says that he looks to mid-century modern design for inspiration, noting that “there’s a Japanese aesthetic as well as some Scandinavian influences in my work.

“One way to maintain your originality as a designer,” Endo adds, “is to incorporate some element of handwork that can’t be replicated by anyone else. I use a press to put the texture into the sheet metal I’m working with, and then I fold the edge over by hand. The irregularity in the edge is evidence that the piece was handmade.”

That commitment to the personal touch continues to attract customers and rewards Endo with the satisfaction of making distinctive contemporary work using age-old methods.

Simone Solondz

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tags: alumni, entrepreneurship, global, Industrial Design

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The façade of the Chace Center, a new multipurpose hub that opened
in 2008, offers an interesting contrast to the historic campus
buildings that surround it.