How Akron Street Addresses the Needs of Everyday Living

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We’ve all heard the stories of the bootstrapped garage startup, well-tread ground within the annals of technology. Brooklyn-based furniture company Akron Street shares a similar origin story involving a “garage full of tools and a basement stocked with spare parts”, but the brand’s ethos is more akin to a family business than a traditional startup. Akron Street stands for the values of the home: warmth, familiarity and quiet reflection. In short time, Akron Street’s considered approach has garnered a grassroots following and critical attention in the highly competitive direct-to-consumer furniture space.

The path to paving Akron Street began after company co-founder Lulu Li, a Harvard Graduate School of Design and Yale College graduate, and her partner and fellow Harvard grad Hansley Yunez moved into their first Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment together.

“We met in graduate school while studying architecture. Hans came to design with a background in entrepreneurship, while I was a second-generation furniture maker who grew up around my father’s cabinet business,” says Li, “The ruminations on how to make the things that make the home first came to the fore when we moved into our first apartment together, and these early thoughts on materials, familiarity, and the affordances that enable daily life are the foundation of Akron Street.”

Akron Street’s founders emphasize every piece of their catalog is imagined as adaptive furniture without prescribed usage. For example the raised lip of the Ko Desk operates as both an aesthetic and functional detail, imparting character and also utility.

Apartment living would not only inspire a name, but more importantly inform Li and Yunez to design contemporary bed frames, desks, tables, seating and storage envisioned to give people like themselves an affordable alternative to the furniture so often treated as a seasonal purchase to discard with every move. Along with designs exhibiting an aesthetic guided by purpose, the classic character, warmth and enduring quality of wood, specifically American white oak, would become their hallmark material – the antithesis of seasonally discarded furniture typically expected of buyers turning the proverbial corner – lasting pieces that could become a common thread across numerous chapters of their owner’s life.

Additionally, Li and Yunez wanted to avoid branding and designing prescriptively. Instead of a specific itinerary of style, their designs proffer a map for living. “Our furniture is made to accommodate the practicalities of everyday living, with considered design, thoughtful detail, and always with a sense of familiarity,” explains Li, “Rather than being regarded as art objects, we want our pieces to serve as the backdrop for everyday life.”

The Morse Coat Rack exhibits the same level of subtle detail as its larger furniture counterparts.

When asked how Akron Street stands out from an ever-crowding market of direct-to-consumer furnishings, the pair return to their favored material. “We focus on furniture made of quality hardwoods, particularly white oak,” explains Yunez, “White oak lends a warmth and familiarity that stems from its long history in woodworking in America, Europe, and Asia. We work with manufacturing partners in Turkey and Vietnam that specialize in this material and are able to do specialized joinery.”

The company’s latest offering, the Tenon table, exhibits many of the recognizable details of traditionally crafted furniture, one imparted with an element of DIY that somehow steers clear of the disposable and cheap reputation often associated with furniture requiring assembly.

“The Tenon Table was inspired by our time spent learning traditional woodworking in Shanghai,” notes Yunez, “We wanted to bring some that experience to customers’ homes – the feeling of inserting a precisely carved tenon into a mortise, the percussive strike of a mallet, the satisfaction of making something with your hands.”

The Tenon Table carves a playful outline that evokes something familiar. It feels incidental and found, but it belies a deliberate intent in the arrangement of its parts.

Akron Street would invest two years to both sourcing and development before settling on a specialty wood factory in Turkey to realize their design. “We made many dozens of prototypes and relied on CNC manufacturing to deliver an assembly process that can be done by anyone without any special skills.”

Looking ahead, both Akron Street founders declare they’ll continue to “further explore the woodworking traditions and wood joinery with a fresh aesthetic” with new beds, dining tables and desks designs forthcoming this year and beyond.

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