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June 21, 2017


Meet the Makers: Ali Sandifer


June 21, 2017

Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer can build anything. A coveted piece of furniture. A new life in a new city. Deep relationships that provide endless stimuli. No matter what they’re building, the process always begins the same way—with good, old-fashioned conversation.

That exchange of ideas, perspectives, intentions and interpretations is where everything beautiful begins for the mom-and-pop design team. It helps that they both have an open mind, a desire to understand more than they already do, and the courage to start over again and again.

When Shinola approached Abir and Andre about designing a credenza to house our new turntable, the first thing Abir and Andre did was talk about it. A lot.

“We thought about our parents and the way they listened to music. How the equipment was integrated into their furniture and living space, and how they’d have those pieces forever,” Andre said.

“We asked each other a lot of questions, like what can we learn from the past? How can we extract the essence of a turntable and express it in a new way? How do we celebrate it? What part will it play in the home, in intimate moments and in memories?” Abir asked, her mind always on the larger context of what we experience.

From there, the sketching began, and at no point were computers invited to the party. While both Abir and Andre are professionally trained architects, they find magic in dreaming on paper with a pencil. They scribble down moments, cross things out, build upon each other’s ideas, and soon, a new story unfolds—the soul of something that Andre will take into the workshop and bring to life.

It’s an old-school process—and a sacred one—and they each perfected it long before they built anything professionally.

“My grandmother was my first collaborator,” Abir said. “I come from a long line of seamstresses, and although I never quite learned to sew, I designed every dress I ever wore. I would sketch it, she’d make the pattern, then we’d lift things, tuck things and go back and forth until it was just right.  Making things is not just about the ‘making’ part. It’s just as much about imagining and experimenting.”

As a kid, Andre was interested in taking things apart and putting them back together. His mother still remembers finding her son underneath her brand-new dining table on the day it arrived, with a wrench and a few loose screws.

“I guess I thought I could improve upon the design,” Andre said, with a childlike smile.

Prototyping is fundamental to Abir’s and Andre’s design process. When the power tools are switched off and the dust has settled, that’s when the two get to play.

“Seeing something go from a sketch to a palpable, full-scale model never gets old,” Abir said. “Marking the piece up, massaging the idea and finessing the details is my favorite part of the process. Then Andre goes back in the shop to build the next prototype, and we do it all over again..”

“We’re always trying to simplify the design, remove the excess, make every element not just beautiful, but functional,” Andre said.

Because Abir and Andre dedicate so much time to prototyping, the pieces begin to take on the qualities of familiar friends. “The Ethel Credenza is the musical one in the family,” Abir said. “She’s an old soul with great depth and just the right amount of mystery. She’s deceivingly strong—her solid frame softened by her rounded edges—and commands any room with ease. Her nuances encourage you to come a little closer. Her ever-so-subtle, ever-so-groovy details remind you there’s more than meets the eye.”

The Ethel is made from domestic walnut harvested sustainably from family-owned lumber yards, with whom Abir and Andre have established a close relationship. They intentionally choose boards that have both sapwood—the younger, lighter rings of the tree trunk—and heartwood—the older, darker rings found at the innermost part of the trunk.

“We believe in celebrating all parts of the tree and highlighting the natural beauty and diversity found within,” Abir said. “We never stain the wood. We use natural oils and waxes to make it come alive.”

Abir and Andre are perfectionists, and have a studio full of dust, curled wood shavings and several prototypes to prove it, but they don’t believe furniture was meant to stay perfect.

“When people invest in a piece like this, they want it to remain pristine. We don’t,” Abir said. “Our pieces are meant to be lived in, so let that scratch happen. Let that ring happen. Just keep oiling it along the way. Let it take on the mark of your family and become a vessel for your stories.”

There is no beginning or end to what Abir and Andre create. Every piece of furniture, every home, every friendship inspires the next. They continue be influenced and energized by the generations that came before them, the many cultures that helped define them and the conversations only waiting to be had.

Discover more about Ali Sandfer, here. View the custom credenza inside our new Dumbo store. 

Get Directions to our Dumbo Store

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