For designers whose work centres on the home, Ben Bloomstein and Aaron Aujla — who make raw, sculptural furniture under the name Green River Project — don’t particularly like staying in one place.
When they founded the business in autumn 2017, the pair produced most of their pieces on Bloomstein’s family farm in Hillsdale, New York, regularly hopping in his Toyota Tacoma to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the city to deliver finished works and to take meetings. Two years in, they have become a cult favourite among discerning clients like the artist Mirabelle Marden, the curator Suzanne Demisch and the fashion brand The Row, which introduced its men’s wear line by draping it across Green River Project’s minimalist armchairs. Along the way, they have added a wood shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and a storefront on East Seventh Street in Manhattan’s East Village. “We kind of got used to this nomadic working style,” Bloomstein says.
Two mahogany stools and a coffee-stained club chair, which the designers will show at Paris Design Week in September, alongside remnants from previous projects in the studio.
This need to move, to act, is central to Bloomstein and Aujla’s working relationship, which began in 2009 when they were both new to the New York art scene. Bloomstein was working as an art handler at the Maccarone gallery and Aujla was an assistant to the painter Nate Lowman as they established art practices of their own. During an exhibition opening at 303 Gallery, they struck up a conversation about their newly signed leases. “I was talking about wanting to build a bench in my place, and Ben offered to bring over tools,” Aujla says. Soon after, they began sharing a studio in Bed-Stuy. “There wasn’t a lot of hesitation,” Bloomstein says. “We just started making things and the friendship built around it.”
Early on, they collaborated informally on furniture to serve their studio: tables, cabinets and stools made from untreated pine, white oak and cherry sourced from an upstate sawmill. Soon, friends started inquiring about custom pieces, too. Bloomstein, who had been fabricating artwork in the sculptor Robert Gober’s studio, had transitioned to working on interior projects in the artist’s domestic spaces, and by summer 2017, the possibility of focusing on furniture full time had crystallised. “We thought we could do renovations for our artist friends,” Aujla says. So they founded Green River Project, named for the waterway that runs through Bloomstein’s family property, that fall.
Over the last two years, their work has become more refined and conceptual — recent collections reference 1960s-era train car seats and Indian modernism — but the raw functionality of studio furniture still anchors Green River aesthetic. Their first design, which has appeared in different iterations across collections, was the One Pine-Board chair, designed and constructed from a single piece of wood over the course of a day. Unstained and without adornment, the angular chair is as simple and inventive as a piece of origami. “I think of that chair as the standard for the business,” Bloomstein says. “Not just in terms of form but that the actual making of it was fast and immediate.”
The ability to distil high concepts through simple execution is rooted in the artists’ backgrounds. Bloomstein, 31, spent his early years at a Waldorf School focused on craft (he studied blacksmithing and weaving, in addition to woodworking) and worked on restoring Shaker furniture. Aujla, 33, grew up in British Columbia and studied fine art and art history at the University of Toronto before starting his painting practice. Now, Bloomstein designs and prototypes each piece while Aujla focuses on the art-historical context. He will study and critique new work, and together they will refine it. “It’s almost like Ben is the writer and I’m the editor,” Aujla says.
Aujla finishes a series of black hyedua wood cabinet pulls with boiled linseed oil.
Working as artists, they resist “being put into the furniture category,” Aujla says. They also eschew digital renderings and outsourced maquettes in favour of loose experimentation. In fact, entire collections can evolve from chance encounters. Earlier this year, Bloomstein and Aujla passed an old tobacco-drying rack on the street. Tobacco had been a tonal reference — a reason they had been drawn to rich, roughly textured African mahogany — but now they decided to explore the material on its own. Back in the studio, Bloomstein built a rack and draped it with rough, brown leaves and dried hydrangea blossoms to make a chandelier. He affixed larger, furrowed leaves to electrical components and added looping tubes of neon to create simple, haunting sconces.
For now, the designers release their work on a seasonal calendar more in tune with the fashion schedule than the international design-week circuit, a model that allows Bloomstein and Aujla to research a concept in depth, execute several pieces, then keep moving. For a recent residential project in São Paulo, the design firm Studio Mellone asked them to use a version of the One Pine-Board chair as the basis for a sofa, love seat and an eight-foot dining set in African mahogany. “We’re totally down to do it,” Aujla says of such custom requests. “The pieces we make for clients extend the nature and narrative of the piece that we originally made — it’s almost like the beginning of something else.”
Subscribe to our newsletter