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Philadelphia-Based Designer Tyler Hays Doesn’t Think, He Just Does

Luxury design firm BDDW raises the standard of handmade objects.

By Annie Dahl with Claire Butwinick

Images courtesy BDDW

Everything Tyler Hays touches turns into art.

Based in Philadelphia, the multi-hyphenated designer and founder of the design and fabrication company BDDW (or Blick Durch Die Wirtschaft, which is German for “Looking Through the Economy”) handcrafts everything from porcelain chandeliers, to paisley culottes, and timber mounted turntables. With showrooms in New York and Milan, Hays and his crew of artists and craftspeople create a dizzying array of luxury products that exemplify the value of handmade production. 

Despite the luxurious nature of BDDW and its brilliant bespoke products, Hays doesn’t care for extravagance, fame, or fanciness. Instead, he’s obsessed with being involved in every aspect of the creation of an idea, whether it be digging his own clay for ceramic projects or making the thread and buttons for a patchwork chore jacket. And by not limiting himself to a single title, Hays creates space to follow his childlike whimsy, constantly reimagining the potential of objects and never settling for the conventional. Keep reading below to see what Hays has to say about his design ethos, obsessions, and upcoming projects.

I’ve been making turntables and audio equipment for 20 years. The turntable is such a seductive object to treat as sculpture: such a powerful symbol and such brutally simple yet poetically magical engineering. The material choices are just something I do. I make the things I want to see. I’m not formally inspired by any one thing. All of my work is the culmination of things I’ve seen and my obsession with creating the visions that come to my mind.”

“I don’t really think about anything; I look at materials. In this case, I use transparent porcelain, and I make something I see in my head. Half of the time it looks like crap, but it gives me a launch pad to see other things. Ninety percent of most good work is controlled failure guided by knowledge. These lights are all one-of-a-kind. They are as much sculpture as they are lighting.”

Sewing was the first making I ever did. My grandmother bought me an old Singer sewing machine when I was five and I fell in love. Fabric is another love. Clothing was something I was drawn to when I was really young—I was always collecting and altering. The process and materiality is always the most interesting thing to me. Making fashion is an excuse to do the process. It’s not a serious business. Making stuff this detailed is a big money loser and I have no interest in being a fashion brand or designer.”

“I dig my own clay for my ceramics projects. And my team and I do all the painting. Cobalt blue and white glaze has been around since ceramics began, in places like Iraq, China, and Europe. Mine is inspired by the early American Red Wing crockery, and we’ve gone nuts with lyrical decorations. It’s a really fun outlet and my team and I just get off on making weird little drawings together. The result is luscious and intriguing. There’s meaning and narrative, or sometimes not at all. It’s really the culmination of the whole and whatever the viewer wants to see in it. I’m too busy looking at the next one to think too much about what we’re doing.”

“I am an artist and painter first. The design work is an obsession and a job. The older I get, they both seem to merge. I am endlessly interested in everything and generally exhaust myself. I’m a bit OCD, but I’ve managed to design my life so that it’s not a disorder. Inspiring me at the moment is the scratch-made denim I’m working on and the heavy metal album we just sent off to the vinyl presser. I’m also painting a lot these days and it’s feeling very productive.”


STILL LIFE is a recurring feature that spotlights the Instagram of an emerging designer on our radar. In their own words, creatives from around the world go beyond the grid to uncover the meaning behind their most compelling posts.


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