Less Is More (Difficult): Blu Dot Marks 20 Years With A Book

They say that the best work springs from what you know whether that's a novel or, in the case of Minneapolis-based Blu Dot, creating a modern furniture company, now celebrating twenty years in business with a book from Rizzoli, "Less is More (Difficult): 20 Years Of Design At Blu Dot".  We sat down with them to find out a bit more about the company and how it got its start. 

Founders Maurice Blanks, John Christakos and Charlie Lazor met at Williams College and remained good friends as they set off to pursue careers. A decade later, ready to buy their first homes, they realized they were encountering a similar problem: where to buy the modern furniture they coveted at a price point they could afford. Two decades ago, before the internet had taken a firm foothold, mid-priced furniture was hard to come by. So they decided to fill a void in the marketplace and create the furniture company they couldn't find. 

"It was a focus group of three. This doesn't exist, we think it should exist," recalls Blanks, "That was the original idea. It's as simple as that."

Unlike some of their competitors - West Elm, CB2 or Design Within Reach -- who are retailers, Blu Dot is a one stop shop, not only selling furniture but designing it. "We're a little unique in that way in that we're the designers. One hundred percent of what we sell, we create," explains Christakos. It's a soup-to-nuts process. "We had to figure out financing and supply chain and warehousing and fulfillment and marketing and all these other pieces so that we can design," says Blanks. But it was necessary in order to create the products they were after, "Creating a brand was really important to us," Blanks adds. 

One of the first pieces, still a part of the collection is the Chicago eight box bookshelf. Christakos explains its origins and the thinking behind its design: "We designed things that we could basically make in our shop. We could make this with a table saw and a drill press. It's a simple box, reproduced eight times. And we're trying to make things more affordable, so there's economy in repeating the same unit multiple times and then just cleverly knitting them together on these steel poles. All this negative space is still useful storage space. And, in lot of our work we're trying, from the first sketches, to think about efficiencies and process. So this all packs flat and the components can be combined in lots of different ways, right? And they are cut out of one sheet of material so you don't have any waste. So that's sort of designing from the inside out."

As to where the name comes from? Chalk it up to a certain purple-loving musician who also hails from the Twin Cities. The trio considered a long list of names, some of which they share in the book, ranging from IronDog Design to Rivet but, as Christakos points out, "they all sounded like microbrews or snowboarding brands". The "aha" moment came when Prince forsook his name for a symbol. "So we thought, 'What if our name was just a blue dot?'". While they quickly realized the challenges of using a wordless name -- you can't list it in a phone book -- it obtained its distinctive spelling when a graphic designer decided it looked cooler without the "e". 

"When we go to design schools, the questions almost always center around 'How dd you do it?', the behind-the-scenes nitty gritty stuff," says Christakos. Adds Blanks, "That was the important thing to us [in doing this book], it wasn't just about objects, it wasn't just glossy pictures of product, that there's the story of a company which is a business story, it's a story about friends, and why we design the way we do." Twenty years and still going strong. We'd say that's #jobgoals. 

To check out Blu Dot's full line of furniture, click here

 

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