Audacious. There’s really no other way to describe Hellman-Chang, the bespoke furniture maker that’s been roiling the design waters since 2006, when the company—still very much an upstart at the time—won Interior Design magazine’s “Best Of” award for its Z Pedestal table. Back then, the company could barely be called a company. It was just two friends, Daniel Hellman and Eric Chang, making stuff on weekends in a closet-sized rental booth in a Brooklyn woodworking co-op. Still, they managed to fulfill their first order: 15 custom bar tables for the Four Seasons hotel in Seattle. Their second order? Bedside tables for Carrie & Big’s bedroom in Sex and The City 2. And then there was a groundbreaking ad campaign, which featured the two young founders ripping it up in the woodshop while dressed in tailored Canali suits. Those suits said that the two young guns were serious—and that whatever came out of their woodshop would be serious, too.
But even with those early triumphs, success wasn’t always assured. What kept the pair—who were then only 24 years old and could’ve fallen back on their professional day jobs—pushing forward through late nights and exhausting weekends to build a viable business? It was the excitement of working with wood—and with each other. “Dan and I have been best friends since sixth grade,” says Chang. “We taught ourselves how to build furniture in his dad’s garage, and his mom would bring us cookies and sandwiches. It was kind of ridiculous to think that we could build an actual company offering the highest-caliber furniture, but at the core, there was always that sense of family and fun from the early days.”
The company grew substantially from those first orders, stoked by a wave of enthusiasm for high-end design with a made-in-Brooklyn ethos. So it was more than a little nervy to pull up stakes in 2019 and relocate to the small town of Dawsonville, Georgia. But rather than diminish the company’s cool factor, that counterintuitive move allowed Hellman-Chang to evolve in surprising ways. In Georgia, the Chang and Hellman discovered a deep talent pool of craftsmen with roots in custom cabinetry work; they brought with them intriguing new skills like custom glazing and white wood finishing. Meanwhile, with more space and more manpower to deploy new technology, they could finally experiment with designs they’d long wanted to pursue. Soon, they had developed a substantial new line that never would’ve been possible without that ballsy move.
“We’re really pushing the limits of our design and what we can do with solid wood,” says Chang. “There’s a strong focus on how we can manipulate surfaces while still honoring the wood. Every piece has to be timeless and built to last forever, but every piece also has to be imbued with details, with light reflecting off surfaces in a special way. When you pull away, it still looks like a table, but these subtle details collectively create something very special that the user instantly recognizes.”
It’s these details that make every Hellman-Chang table and chair and console a unique piece of art. Each is meticulously handcrafted—“perfection is table stakes when you’re dealing with work of this caliber,” says Chang—and bears the unique marks of the maker. Take, for example, the new Una Dining Table, which leans heavily on the millwork techniques and special finishing skills like hand-applied gold leafing that the new craftsmen brought to the team. “It evolves our design language in a way that’s a little bit softer, with these gorgeous gilded interior curves,” says Chang. “It’s a piece that could only be possible here, with the expertise of the people we found here.”
The move also allowed Hellman to focus on operations, and Chang to work more directly with clients. “Interior designers face so many special circumstances, and as a consequence, 90 percent of our orders end up being custom,” says Chang. “There’s magic that happens in collaboration, in finding those moments of inspiration where you can solve a problem and create something new together that elicits an emotional reaction.” Chang credits these projects with further evolving the Hellman-Chang line, which now has 11 different iterations of the Z table, and a limitless number of customizations.
Relocating, too, has enabled Hellman and Chang to focus on the thing that originally made all of this—the 32,000-square-foot woodshop that exceeds all of their boyhood dreams, their representation in the most prestigious to-the-trade showrooms in the country, their pieces playing a central role in jaw-dropping rooms around the world—possible: friendship, and a real sense of kinship.
“In the last year or two, it became very clear to us how much we want to build a family within our business and create a community that’s sustainable. We’re not making widgets here. People are building something with their blood, sweat, and tears. When they come in here feeling passionate about what they do, that ultimately shows in the end product,” says Chang. “And at this top tier of the business, it’s people who carry you through. The people who stand behind the product and the service you provide.”
So does this devotee of cutting-edge architecture, tailored suits, and the energy of city life ever yearn for Brooklyn? Not for a second. “Brooklyn will always be in our DNA, but there are fewer and fewer manufacturers in America capable of this level of production and craftsmanship, and it’s incumbent upon us to develop that heritage and that history,” says Chang. “Now we’re telling a much bigger story than just one physical location.” Audacious to the end.