fathers of invention
A new design house aims to give Mom and Dad baby furniture they can live with-and even love.
Four guys making baby furniture? Philip Erdoes, the founder of a New York City company called ducduc and one of the four guys in question, isn't sure people will buy the notion. Their qualifications: Two of the guys, creative director Brady Wilcox and design director David Harris, have backgrounds in design and brand development. One of the guys, chief operating officer Rebby Gregg, is an operations whiz-he can get things to happen between the factory and the showroom floor. And then there's Erdoes, a successful venture capitalist and father. So far, Erdoes is the only father among the four.
What the four know as a group bodes well for ducduc, which recently rolled out its first lines of furniture for babies and children (textile and accessories collections are due out in the spring). What they appear not to know will help them, too, because in entering the juvenile furnishings market, they have discovered a wheel that could use some reinventing.
There are, after all, only so many ways in which discriminating new parents are willing to abandon matters of style and let their kids take over their lives. As Erdoes discovered early on in fatherhood, furniture is almost always one of them-mainly because parents don't really have much choice.
"Why is it you can't, in your own kid's room, place an aesthetic that you have throughout your house?" Erdoes asks.
To answer that question, you would have to explain the rut that the American juvenile furniture industry currently occupies. The business is dominated by old ideas of the nursery, and the presumption that consumers want nothing but fluffy, frilly, diaper-commercial decor for their babies. Following that logic, says Erdoes, because babies aren't babies forever, the furniture needn't last a lifetime, either.
In the realm of ducduc-whose office is housed in a bright SoHo loft next to Erdoes's investment company, Bear Ventures-furniture for kids is built to be as smart as if it were for adults. It's furniture first and foremost, not a toy or a game. It's just smaller. It's also not disposable. Ducduc has designed its pieces to grow with a kid and then become something an adult can live with.
That doesn't mean the pieces aren't fun. But most children's furniture companies these days sell whimsy (enough of it to make your teeth hurt), ducduc sells wit, and usually on the dry side.
Take the crib and dresser from a line called Alex: They've got pop-art personality, and in ways seem like abstractions of typical kid furnishings. The crib, made from pieces of solid lacquered plywood, has side openings cut in long ovals, as if by stencils, rather than standard issue pickets and rails. The construction-five pieces, 12 bolts-is unshakable. The mattress adjusts to four heights. When the time comes, the side panels convert to toddler-bed rails. And if your kid chews on the bright orange panels, not to worry-the lacquer is nontoxic (and a touch-up pen is included).
"It's not childlike in terms of its form," notes Wilcox, who grew up near Erdoes in Oklahoma City and trained as an architect. "Our definition of 'kid-friendly' is combining functionality, safety, and quality materials."
But then again, what kid wouldn't appreciate furniture with calm, clean lines punctuated here and there by bold graphic strokes and a functional line or two? The drawers of the Alex dresser have finger holes rather than pulls (and a removable tray on top as a staging ground for diaper changes). In a line called Austin, the ends of the credenza and crib are braced in square frames of black lacquered hardwood with a trace of white stain on top. The doors of an armoire called PJ double as a chalkboard.
The fullest expression of what ducduc promises parents can be found in a three-piece modular line called Dylan (ducduc has so far chosen collection names that are gender neutral). The white-lacquered set has a crib that converts first into a toddler bed and then to a twin bed. The changing table turns into a dresser. And all the pieces, including a bench, have drawers within their bases. The set can be ordered with bright orange cushions that pop against the cool white frames.
"We're not shying away from fun colors," says Harris. "We're just trying to use them in a whole different way." Several of the cabinet and drawer pieces open up to reveal bright orange interiors, for example, and one crib has colored, cushioned fabric panels that fit into the end frames. It all injects a note of fun instead of hitting you over the head.
Parents can expect to pay a premium for many of ducduc's products. The PJ armoire costs $1,450. The Alex crib costs $985, and there is a simple wood chair for $180. Erdoes justifies the relatively high prices by pointing out that the furniture is all made in the United States and is constructed of solid wood, not cheap particleboard, which can contain formaldehyde. Plus, each piece has been thought through with a long life cycle in mind.
"Our basic principle is versatility," Erdoes says. "Every piece has to last a long time and warrant being in other parts of the house besides the nursery."
Behind ducduc's designs lies the radical notion that parenthood is a transaction. Yes, it's also, for a change, about what a parent might want. Not bad for intuition, coming as it does from four guys.