The newly launched, design-focused branch of Seattle-based art collective Electric Coffin returns to the company’s roots, approaching creative projects through the lens of art.
By Rachel Gallaher
At T-Mobile's redesigned headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, a 45-foot-long mural by House of Sorcery incorporates the brand's signature bubblegum-pink color. Image courtesy of House of Sorcery.
You can always tell when you’ve walked into a space designed by Electric Coffin. It’s not just the in-your-face bright colors
or oversized graphic elements, although those are certainly hallmarks. There’s a subversive playfulness to the Seattle-based art collective’s work that leaves you feeling almost giddy, asking, ‘Are adults allowed to have such fun spaces?” From hidden puzzles and joy-invoking design Easter eggs, the group of artists spent years pushing the envelope, making us rethink what it means to design for hospitality, and creating some of Seattle’s most whimsical and thought-provoking spaces from the now-closed Trove to lakefront hotspot Westward.
So, in 2018 when the group decided to push pause on its design work to fully focus on producing art (founders Duffy De Armas and Stefan Hofmann both have backgrounds in fine art that include degrees in Sculpture), it was a big loss for the hospitality community and lovers of thoughtfully unique design. Over the next two years, Electric Coffin had a series of successful shows at both local and international venues (Winston Wächter Fine Art and Roq La Rue Gallery in Seattle, Dong Gallery in Taipei, Taiwan), as well as a continual stream of commissions, but according to De Armas, they started to, “miss the design side of things.”
Custom wallpaper designed by House of Sorcery for Expedia. Image courtesy of House of Sorcery.
Rather than shift Electric Coffin’s ethos once again (it will still retain its fine-art focus), Hofmann and De Armas recently launched House of Sorcery: a creative studio that applies art and installation to produce branded experiences for companies in tech, hospitality, and advertising. The duo acts as co-creative directors and adopts an interdisciplinary approach to each project. As De Armas puts it, “collaboration is key.” Using an art lens for design solutions, House of Sorcery works closely with clients to not only create unique environments and installations for commercial and workplace spaces (from graphic and spatial design to wayfinding), but also act as branding consultants. Additional services include teambuilding workshops and creative strategy sessions.
“This whole thing has been very organic just in the general way the studio has grown and the type of work we’ve done,” says De Armas. “We’ve always been evolving. We’ve had the studio for almost a decade and a lot of that was just us figuring out, as artists, how we could create the intersection between art and commerce, what that relationship would look like, and how we could talk about that relationship in a way that retains the ethereal magic of art, but also be as succinct and straightforward as contractors.”
Although De Armas and Hofmann helm the studio, they put a strong emphasis on collaboration, noting that they want to act as a platform to help bring other creatives’ work to the forefront. Everyone gets a voice in the process, which De Armas believes only makes a project stronger. He sees House of Sorcery as a resource for artists and designers that he hopes will continue even after he and Hofmann are no longer involved (don't worry, that's not in the plans at the moment). “We’d like the studio to be like a platform, a sounding board, or a launchpad—a place where people can come and learn about our ethos of creative problem-solving.”
For the in-house coffee bar at Zillow's Seattle headquarters, House of Sorcery designed a wall installation comprising carved wood figures that encapsulate all things Emerald City. Image courtesy of House of Sorcery.
So far, the group has worked on projects for T-Mobile (creating three installations inside their headquarters, including two "T" logos made from textured, CNC-cut wood that mimics a moon-like surface), Zillow (for the company’s in-house coffee bar they designed a series of custom wood-carved objects representing coffee culture and the spirit of the Pacific Northwest), and Expedia (design of custom Pacific Northwest travel-themed wallpaper, travel scene murals, and a custom tabletop). On the horizon are projects for Google, Amazon, and a developer working in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. For this last client, House of Sorcery has been signed on to help unite the visual identity through branding, art, design, and wayfinding for six residential, commercial, and retail buildings in the area.
“We’re really a shape-shifting design studio,” De Armas says, noting that before, it was easy to link all of Electric Coffin’s design projects by just looking at them. With House of Sorcery, he explains, “we take our client’s brand and narrative and really lean into it in order to push out their personality. A lot of the projects will look vastly different.” But don’t worry, there will still be those little hidden gems that De Armas and Hofmann are known for. “People will still know it’s us if they look deep enough,” De Armas continues. “I think what I’m excited for people to see is just how versatile and flexible this studio can really be. Untethering the reins allows us to be the crazy artists we really want to be.”