When considering colleges, Asher Rodriquez-Dunn avoided furniture design at all costs. He pursued Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School and Design (RISD) and, low and behold, the first required course was an introduction to woodworking. A stubborn Rodriquez-Dunn helplessly found himself gravitating toward furniture design for the rest of his RISD career and started his own company in 2010 under the brand name Studio DUNN.
“My Dad gives me a hard time to this day, saying I could have saved a lot of time and money if I’d only joined him in his basement woodshop sooner,” Rodriquez-Dunn says. “I think I resisted because that was his hobby. I wanted to find my own.”
Born and raised in Michigan, Rodriquez-Dunn identified as a creative from a young age. His parents noticed this as well and allowed him to explore as many afterschool, weekend, and summer programs as possible. He tried a bit of everything – ceramics, charcoal drawing, apparel design, automotive rendering, printmaking, jewelry, glasswork, and textiles – with mixed results.
“As a kid, if I didn’t pick it up right away it was frustrating to me,” he says. “Luckily, I’ve grown out of that. I thrive on learning new things and now have a thirst for it. I’m always looking to understand how things operate and wonder how I can utilize their unique processes in my own work.”
When it comes to design, Rodriquez-Dunn turns to his sketchbook and journal, which he says are one in the same. The book holds private thoughts and emotional responses, many of which are the kernels for new designs, and others that never see the light of day because they’re too impractical or outlandish, like a Rube Goldberg invention. With a design style described as Mid-Century Modern, Rodriquez-Dunn uses his journal to create pieces that are both contemporary and nostalgic in form, material, and colors.
“Mid-Century Modern is a term I associate with 1950s manufacturing techniques that made contemporary and curvilinear forms accessible to the masses,” he explains. “My grandparents owned a bit of furniture from this time period and I found the design language simply fascinating. By using the techniques of today, I feel I bring those historic forms to fruition.”
In addition to paying homage to designs of the past, Rodriquez-Dunn says his largest source of inspiration is nature, such as the biannual occurrence of the equinox when day and night are equal lengths.
“There is something beautiful about that balance and I wanted to convey it through a lighting collection,” he says. “The Equinox Collection currently comes in both dark and light finishes, representing night and day. The hand-rolled glass of the sconce has a texture which reminds me of earth’s terrain, as though it is basking in the sun or being shaded by the night.”
Rodriquez-Dunn handcrafts each piece in his Rhode Island-based studio, with sustainable practices and respect for materials to ensure they last for future generations to admire and enjoy.
“We are the stewards of our natural resources, and our actions and inactions represent our attitude towards keeping our craft alive,” he explains. “For this reason, it’s important to me to utilize responsibly. That includes being responsible with our use of ozone-harming chemicals and seeking ways to minimize consumption, which can be as simple as reusing packaging materials and operating digitally to eliminate our need to create printed waste.”
This approach connected Rodriquez-Dunn with interior designers Shannon Wollack and Brittany Zwickl of Studio Life.Style, who also believe in holistic design. Their company’s most notable projects include a recent collaboration with actress Hilary Duff on her Beverly Hills home, the Fountain Bar at The Grove in Los Angeles, and an installation at the creative office space of NBC Universal Studios.
“We have always been big on working with local artisans and small companies who share our design values,” says Shannon Wollack. “Asher has a natural approach when it comes to lighting, and his fixtures pair perfectly with our contemporary vibe.”
The group recently completed a Spanish Revival project in La Quinta, Calif., designed for a playful family with three small children.
“As elevated as the house is, there are light-hearted moments throughout the space,” says Brittany Zwickl, adding Studio DUNN’s lighting fixtures bring warmth to rooms adorned with strong patterns and contemporary marble. “The goal was to make the house feel fresh, youthful, yet still sophisticated. We did this through careful consideration of the lighting fixtures. They set the entire tone of the space and are just as – if not more – important than the furniture. We also used lots of white and steel for contrast, made all of the windows and doors electronic, and implemented comfy pieces for lounging with fresh fabrics that were kid- and dog-friendly.”
Much like Wollack and Zwickl, Rodriquez-Dunn believes lighting is the key ingredient to design.
“It has immense impact on our happiness and health,” he explains. “As humans, we’re always looking to bring the beauty of the sun, or moon, or stars into our homes depending on how we’re feeling and what we need to gain balance or tranquility.”
“In the winter, with the shorter days, I have to put more effort into staying upbeat and motivated. I put a lot of thought into the placement of our tables and lamps to help control my mood and keep me going when the sun goes down.”
As his work continues to evolve, Rodriquez-Dunn hopes to further explore this dynamic relationship.
“I’m excited to share that we’re working on several new furniture and lighting pieces, including our first standing lamps,” he says. “As skill for my craft and new technologies allow, I will continue to create innovative designs that encourage that peace and balance we’re all seeking.”