The Online Magazine about New York Designers


The Other Man's Treasures – or TOMT – is the name of Rodney Allen Trice's multifaceted studio. Encompassing graphic design, furniture design and sculpture, his work is definitely not Everyman's treasure. And his idea of treasure can be a table made from crutches. Yet his work, often built from or inspired by street finds, has found its way into places like the Cooper Hewitt Annual Auction and Macy's windows.

LG: Your work is hard to categorize. It's a combination of furniture and sculpture, really. Did you initially start out with the "found object" idea in mind, or did you come across something, and then get an idea?

RT: When I moved to New York in 1988, my apartment was the parlor level of a brownstone – so it had nice ceilings, and the whole deal, [but it was empty] and I just thought, "you know what? I'm tired of this. I want furniture!" And after being here for over a year, I thought that I could afford furniture. And, I immediately started running around to, like, Soho, and to all of these fabulous little shops. It was my first exposure to the Eames' and, of course, I would gravitate right to the things that were like, "oh, that's an original Eames piece and la, la, la, la, and just look at this stamp on the bottom," and it was like, three thousand dollars for this wooden chair or what have you, and it was like, "whoa, I can't afford ANY of that!" (laughter)

Luggage table

So, that's when I started thinking, I had some basic construction skills, and whatever, I started dragging home interesting things that I would find in the trash, because the city is good for that. And, then I'd go to the hardware store, and I'd pick up some plumbing, some brooms or some shovels or whatever, and the next thing you know, I'm mixing them together, and right in my apartment, furniture, for my apartment.

LG: What was the first piece you did? Do you remember?

RT: Yup. The first piece I did [happened through] my first job, at Sportswear International magazine. They had these really great offices, and a photo studio right there. It was a really nice office space. It was way on the west side. Oh my god, we would watch the prostitutes smoke crack, from out our windows. I had just moved to New York, and I was, like, "Yeah, mom, hold on a second. Can I put you on hold?" and I was watching the prostitutes smoke crack from across the street, and I thought, "oh god, what am I doing here?" But, they had [built] this bathroom and there was this extra restroom stall door, lying around. It was this amazing red color. And the editor in chief was kind of running around the hallways one night, she was going through things, throwing things out. And she gets to the door, and she starts to laugh...and she says, "Does anyone want this?" I immediately piped up, and said, "Me! Me!" So, I dragged it home in a car; a friend of mine found a piece of glass top - so I had this little bi-level coffee table, which was really large. The legs and everything, I made from copper plumbing. I did tons of copper plumbing –

DB: - Ah, yes, the copper plumbing trick.

RT: I'm sure David can attest to this, from his work – copper is such a wonderful metal. It's kind of warm, like wood, but it is metal.

LG: What do you think it is about New York that contributes to your work? Obviously, a big part of it is being able to find things on the street…

Hoover de'light' 1





Hoover de'light'  2

RT: I didn't move here to become involved in industrial design. I finished school at Penn State University, in graphic design, and was looking for [graphics] work in the Pittsburgh area, where I'm from, but there were just no openings. The market was saturated. And, New York was the next place to go. I think, had I not come to New York, I never would have started doing the furniture. Part of it is – in suburban and more rural American, Wal-Marts are taking over, and they've been for a long time. But here, there's a lot MORE of privately owned hardware stores, where you walk in, and there's stuff hanging from the ceiling, and there's just "things" everywhere to look at. It's like…wonderland!

LG: It's like a candy store! (laughter)

RT: And you walk through, and you see all of this amazing stuff, just everywhere, surrounding you, and that, plus, again, there's such amazing junk thrown out in the city. If I'd stayed in my hometown of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, and had just worked in Pittsburgh, I don't think that I would have done it. I think that I probably would have bought furniture that was Ikea…

DB: …Or Ethan Allen. (laughter)

RT: Ooh, I almost said that! (laughter) But, the truth is, I probably would have. I probably would have gone in and said, "oh, this is a lovely Ethan Allen chair," and I would have just bought it.

DB: You didn't really have exposure to modern design, before you came to New York?

RT: No, not industrial design. My background was specifically graphic design.

LG: You still work in graphics. Do you spend more time on one area than the other, or do you think it goes in stages?

RT: I spend a lot more time doing the graphic design, only because I found, earlier on, how to make the graphic design pay the bills. So, of course, because this city is expensive, and having my own studio too…almost 50 percent of my bills, my expenses, are for rent. Which just blows my mind. Every time I write out the check, it makes me gasp. I'm still working on generating larger amount of income from the furniture design.

DB: Let's talk for a minute about the DUMBO arts center, which you were vice president of. What drew you into it?

RT: Part of it was community. Early on there was the idea that we would set up a non-profit organization, which would be the DUMBO arts center. And then a profit organization, that capitalized on the fact that we had all of these skilled and talented craftspeople, designers, graphic designers, whatever, and basically, we would set up sort of a creative services agency. Like, if you had a project, a film, anything…

LG: …Like, one stop shopping?

RT: Exactly. Whatever you needed. Metal, woodwork, anything. We've got craftspeople that can do it. I had wanted it to become a collaborative kind of effort -- almost kind of a "Cheers," so to speak, of the community, where artists could bounce ideas off of each other, and say, "Oh, my god, you do that? Let's put together something…"

DB: And that hasn't happened?

garden hose table

garden hose hassock

RT: No, but that [concept] was intriguing to me.

DB: You mentioned that your work in the DUMBO arts center was to find people to collaborate with. Have you worked in collaboration with others?

RT: Not really. And, it's funny that I would be looking to collaborate, because the few collaborations that I have worked with, were kind of miserable experiences. (laughter)

LG: In what way?

RT: I guess I haven't figured out the best way to be really nice, and work happily with someone, while at the same time, very strongly voicing my opinions too. I have always found for some reason, that I get barrelled over.

DB: …You lose your voice?

RT: Yeah.

LG: It's because you're nice.

DB: Have these collaborations been with people in the same area as you, or in other fields, where you're putting together diverse talents?

RT: It's been in the same fields…

DB: …That could be harder.

RT: Maybe it's better to find somebody who is in something that is maybe a little different, so that our combined efforts become something new.

DB: One of the things that we, as Visual Seltzer, are interested in, are collaborations, and crossover fields. Where people, because of their proximity here in New York, are finding people with perhaps related interests, but different areas of specialization.

LG: David and I collaborate a lot, and it's very interesting, because David doesn't come from a graphics and fashion background, and I don't come from a product / architecture background. It's fun, because…

DB: …Because of different viewpoints and different methodologies.

LG: And we're from very different schools of design. We've had very different types of educations. It definitely is interesting and it's fun and we love it. But, I've also collaborated with other graphic designers, and have felt totally, completely steamrolled.

RT: Exactly. And I don't know how to exactly deal with that.

DB: I think it's interesting that you see the collaborations not working so much for you personally, but you want to help engender them, and use some of that cross-pollination.

LG: One of the things we talk about a lot is that, so many people who work in New York, in design, are very isolated. I agree, that is why sometimes doing a collaboration is exciting, because you get this infusion, and another perspective. And it's not always something that you agree with, but it's just this…this stimulating thing.

RT: It kind of reminds me of my first ICFF show experience....


Click to read part 2. (You're more than half way through....)


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