Smith & Fong Co.: So Joel, could you tell us how you got started?
Joel Scilley: Well, I started designing things like the aerodynamic truck in kindergarten, but I’ve been a designer/builder with wood for about 15 years now. And then about 4 years ago I built my first wooden turntable, just for fun. It was pretty popular with friends and neighbors, so I went with it, and started Audiowood.
S&F: I noticed a lot of what looks like found wood pieces, how’d you transition into using Plyboo, or simply, what drew you to the product?
J.S.:Plyboo really opens up design possibilities for me, as I’m a big fan of using solid hardwood for my designs, but have been limited by warping, expansion and other issues associated with the use of conventional lumber. Plus, sustainable production is a central concern of mine. I love being able to buy what is essentially a super-uniform sheet of “hardwood” that is ready to go.
S&F: What inspires your designs?
J.S.: Hard question to answer. I think I’m most inspired by raw materials. I suppose I’m lucky that I can actually make things out of twigs and stumps! In the case of Plyboo, I’m inclined to make things that are very modern, but that have the warmth of wood.
S&F: Do you find it simpler to get consistent designs with the Plyboo product versus wood?
J.S.: Absolutely. You’ll never catch me saying much against wood, but the consistency of Plyboo is unparalleled. It’s not that I couldn’t do similar things in solid wood, but for doing things in numbers, Plyboo seems indispensable at this point. Also, I love to integrate curves into designs at times, and having a multi-ply solid-material sheet makes this simple, with no edge-bands, grain issues, etc.
S&F: How long does it typically take you to build a system?
J.S.: Well, I wish I was plagued with this problem more often! Usually, I’m building single pieces for people. Some of my new designs, including most of the Plyboo things, are CNC machined by Woodlane Cabinet Co. in Tallahassee, and then hand-assembled and finished. This process saves a little time for some things, but the minimum for a turntable is still about 4-5 hours to get it ship-ready. On the other hand, I’ve spent 100 hours on a single piece of furniture. If I were to build a stereo system with amp, speakers, and turntable, I imagine about a week would do it.
S&F: I see that you’ve taken a bit of a departure with your new line. What directed you towards complete media centers, iPad mounts, etc.?
J.F.: I figure I’m making things the world can’t live without! I guess we’ll see about that, but I’m trying to make some things that haven’t been seen before, and make them properly, with quality, sustainable materials, and domestic production. In the case of the Aerie home theater console, I feel that there are no modern consoles out there that have integrated quality speakers, much less that wall-mount, allow for wire-free aesthetics, and are constructed out of green materials.
Similarly, with the iPad2 shelf, I don’t think there is anything out there that allows for wall and tabletop use, improves the sound of the iPad, and that doesn’t look like a Battleship “Goplastica” device.
S&F: The iPhone nest is very cute. Would you say that it’s a good holiday gift? Who do you feel responds best to it (what type of customer)?
J.S.: Hey thanks. I guess if someone doesn’t want an entire audio system, then the iPhone Nest is a great alternative! I imagine most of my things in very modern environments, where they are either integral pieces or accents. In the case of the Nest, I imagine it will appeal most to the person who wants something handmade instead of a generic piece of plastic.
S&F: Tell me more about Glow Audio. How did you come together to work on the bamboo stands?
J.S.: I’m a retailer for a few lines of audio equipment in addition to making my own stuff, and Glow is one of these lines. I’m interested in audio stuff that is fun or beautiful to look at and environmentally friendly, in addition to sounding good. Glow hits on all these points: their little tube amp sounds awesome and uses only 38 watts of power, and their Voice One speakers, made out of recycled scrap wood, are a genuinely brilliant design, inside and out.
The limitation of the Voice One orbs was that they could only be used as tabletop speakers in their stock form. So, Glow contracted me to design several stands that would allow for more flexibility. Again, with the help of Woodlane Cabinet Co. and their fantastic CNC, I was able to make desk, floor, and subwoofer stands that allow these great budget speakers to be used almost anywhere. I’m especially pleased with the floor stands that are a nice blend of organic and modern, and have a cable-hiding channel up the spine (made possible by using 3-ply Plyboo for this piece).
S&F: Do you have any upcoming plans with Plyboo products?
To be honest, I’ve expended a huge amount of energy getting together this little line of bamboo things, so I’m happy for the time being. However, I’m a tinkerer by nature, so you never know. I would love to do some variations on these pieces, but I have to see how the initial designs do and whether the marketplace will allow me to take on other things.
J.S.: Where are you sold?
I have a few small retailers, mostly in the Southeast, and Anthropologie sells a couple of my designs. I also have a Paypal webstore linked to my website which has most of my non-custom things listed, plus a few thing by other manufacturers. But much of my business is still based on people calling me up, telling me what they want, and making things to order.
S&F: Which markets would you be interested in doing retail?
J.S.: I would love to have stores that are genuine fans of what I do in the major metro areas of the US and some spots abroad. It’s a little tricky, as many of the things I do are hybrids of audio tech or just plain tech and decorative home accessory. But I hold out hope that folks in the design world will take notice of technology that is fun to look at and use, and that audio/techy folks will realize that metal and plastic black boxes are not the only way to go. Miami, Atlanta, NYC, Chicago, SF, and LA would be great starts! Today Grand Ridge, tomorrow the world!
Special thanks to Joel Scilley for making this interview possible!
*All photos by Joel Scilley