57st. design is a contemporary furniture design studio and manufacturer based in Chicago’s South Side with deep familial roots and substantial community impact.
In the 1980s, while teaching at the University of Chicago, professor and carpenter Chip Devenport started building bookcases out of his garage on 57th Street in Hyde Park. Relying on traditional woodworking methods, including dado joinery and natural oil finishes, the bookcases were visually simple but meant to be strong and last for a lifetime or more. Over the course of thirty years, 57th Street Bookcase developed a devoted following, expanding production and their Chicago footprint.
The family acumen for craft continued and, in 2016, Chip’s son Sam, alongside co-founder Pia Narula, set up shop with his own furniture line, 57st. design. Following his father’s ideals about furniture construction — that if you’re going to build furniture, you had better make it last — Sam Devenport carries on the design philosophy that made his father’s bookcases so beloved. Today, Sam and Pia apply this same raison d'être to other furniture categories, from nightstands to dining tables to even bookcases of his own design.
57st. believes in functional, straightforward craftsmanship. Solid hardwoods and hand-rubbed finishes are applied, not just because they’re aesthetically appealing, but because they allow for furniture that can be easily repaired and, in turn, furniture that’s more likely to last. The work of 57st. design draws from various design traditions, including American Shaker, Scandinavian modernism, and traditional Japanese woodworking.
Everyone has their own idea of “good design”, and 57st. believes that the best design considers the means by which an item is made, as much as the item itself. In this spirit, they strive to create value not just for the people who buy their furniture, but for the people who produce it as well. Case in point: many of 57st. design’s employees are formerly incarcerated individuals. Following 57st’s skills-based vocational and carpentry training, employees receive fair compensation, opportunity for advancement, and economic empowerment that allow formerly high-risk individuals to develop real talent, and thus minimize the chances for recidivism. 57st. design’s long-term success is foundationally rooted in the long-term well-being of their workforce. Simply put, good design is good business.