This week on Creates Features, we visited Andrea Hill’s Clinton Hill studio to talk TORTUGA, sustainable design, and the importance of being flexible (and modular!).
In a basement flat in Fort Greene, between a saffron velvet couch and two copper-colored folding chairs, sits a rounded dining room table. Covered in cuts of woven raffia and wood swatches, the table is simple, sleek, and unassuming. Yet it was the start of Andrea Hill’s latest venture, TORTUGA Living.
Creatures Features: Tell us about yourself—where are you from and how did you come to NYC?
Andrea Hill: I'm a native New Yorker - born in Flushing on Utopia Parkway. It's the same street where Joseph Cornell lived and it perfectly describes how I feel about this city, which I didn't fully realize until I started living part-time in Amsterdam. I deeply missed traffic, sirens, grit, diversity, pedestrian culture and NYC's daily thrills and horrors.
CF: You previously worked in art sales and luxury marketing, eventually co-founding Paloma Powers and CultureTM. What made you want to go from examining brands and promoting them to being one?
AH: In my past work with brands, we routinely dared clients to go farther and take risks. A natural step was to take my own advice and the enormous risk of creating a brand from the ground up. I never thought of it this way before, but starting TORTUGA was analogous to taking a client case study to its extremity, but with higher stakes and consequences for me. Having steered brands at different life cycles, I value this particular moment at TORTUGA when we can play with our brand, be weird, ignore the rulebook, and fail on a small scale while learning big lessons.
CF: So in your own words, what is TORTUGA Living?
AH: Everyone's home is filled with stories, and so should the furniture we live with. TORTUGA addresses the need for thoughtfully designed furniture that contains material and designer stories. We are problem solving for the kinds of spaces we live in, for increasingly nomadic living and for price accessibility. As a consumer, I wanted all of these qualities in my furniture and didn't find that in the marketplace. We are working on giving the TORTUGA customer all of the above.
My dining room table is how TORTUGA Living began, actually. This idea of modular living. I wanted a table to fit ten, so I custom built one with a friend. It was the first piece where I was like, some people are couch people and some people are dining people and I’m definitely a dining person. I wanted that flexibility.
CF: One of your previous projects, CultureTM, examines the central role of brands in creative culture. What is the role of TORTUGA Living in creative culture?
AH: Innovating with artists is a core value of TORTUGA. While adding more physical stuff to this world is a conundrum I face and grapple with as a producer, facilitating lasting ideas from artists is something the world very much needs.
TORTUGA supports creative talent by working with designers around the globe who address how we live today. BCXSY from Amsterdam is producing a set of packable tables and stools releasing this fall. Oliver Haslegrave of Home Studios is applying self-assembly principles to a shelf. Canadian designer Shawn Maximo is developing a single piece that can fill an entire room. Madrid based studio Ciszak Dalmas is creating a family of purposeful decor objects.
We also created a series, #EnvisionTortuga, that commissions new images with artists Yoko Honda, Gabriela Del Valle, and George Stoyanov with more to come. The prompt is quite open: show us your vision of a modular future or envision a TORTUGA piece in your world.
CF: TORTUGA Living pieces have an emphasis on modular living. Can you explain this concept? Why do you think being flexible and modular is integral to modern/everyday design?
AH: The way we live is changing. We move more frequently than ever before and in that process, cheap furniture is discarded while oversized sofas are routinely dismembered and reassembled. Our furniture needs to serve us better and fit into different types of spaces, and if it can do that, then it deserves to be passed onto future generations. TORTUGA thinks of modularity as having choice and flexibility. Our pieces are designed to be additive. They can build onto existing pieces as your needs and space evolve. Other TORTUGA pieces are designed to serve more than one function - a stool that doubles as a side table or a bench that reconfigures as a shelf.
CF: Sustainable sourcing is a tenet of TORTUGA Living. In what ways does the brand incorporate sustainability?
AH: As a society, we've surpassed the saturation point of consumption. I take my responsibility as a producer seriously - to only make what I believe is needed. For example, I love the versatility of shelf brackets but couldn't find any that weren't cheap or disposable. So our first product was the Pyramid Bracket which uses stainless and aluminum finishes that recall sculpture or jewelry.
Before making anything, we first research our materials obsessively to understand the ripple effect that our choices have on the supply chain. We chose stainless steel made from recycled metals and hardwoods that were either local or FSC compliant. But it's also the responsibility of the conscious consumer to demand sustainable production from their brands and being willing to pay a higher price for it.
CF: What would your ideal interior look like? Please describe your dream living room.
AH: My personal inspiration is more Liberace than Donald Judd. My husband and I are currently renovating a Brownstone to include arched details, a vaulted passageway, and plenty of rounded edges. Instead of tiles, we're choosing slabs of raw material and Venetian plaster work for various surfaces. We're going a bit overboard with sconces, but I love wall-mounted lighting. And there's miles of shelving for our collection of books, art, and treasures. My husband is a minimalist, so I'm winning the battle.
CF: Artist you would love to get drinks with?
AH: Agnes Varda
CF: Art or fashion?
AH: If we're speaking categorically, art because I can't keep up with the relentless cycles of fashion. But great art touches other disciplines like fashion and the best of fashion is abstract and perennial like art.
CF: Puzzles or board games?
AH: This is somehow a really difficult question. Pass.
CF: Bagels or toast?
AH: Bagels, duh (says the New Yorker).
CF: Leo Jean or Maison Pant?
AH: Leo Jean in every color!