A pair of Chicago design industry vets join forces to launch cutting-edge interiors studio Refractory.
Alberto Vélez and Angie West, co-founders of Refractory
Angie West and Alberto Vélez’s story begins in 2010 when Vélez was tapped to take over Holly Hunt’s design studio in Chicago, which he helmed for more than a decade. West’s foundry and glassworks studio, West Supply, fabricated most of Holly Hunt’s furnishings and lighting comprised of cast bronze and glass during that decade, but, most importantly, the pair became great friends. West shares that during the pandemic, they both had the urge to create their own designs and “to introduce fresh perspectives into the industry that celebrate character and grit.” After a whirlwind year of all-hands-on-deck work in 2020, lighting, furniture and objects brand Refractory debuted with a 40-piece collection in fall 2021. “The two of us have always been so aligned when it comes to design and share a mutual fascination with materiality, a deep respect for craft and a desire to embed objects with a distinct personality that celebrates the formations of the natural world,” West says.
From Refractory’s new Holotype chair collection, the Occasional chair features a textured cast-bronze element in the back that serves as a pull.
“Refractory was founded on the shoulders of West Supply,” Vélez says of the industrial arts workshop comprising more than 40 local artisans and makers. “This city’s grit and manufacturing culture are an inextricable part of our ethos and the day-to-day feel of the whole building, including the studio.” Through this budding brand, which now shares an industrial corridor with West Supply, just west of Logan Square, the makers constantly “seek oddness and rarity in design rather than the familiar,” as West puts it. In Refractory’s latest collection, Holotype, chairs combine exposed hardware with punctuated bronze pulls, which are cast from a woven arrangement of porcupine quills. “Our design meetings often include the specific artisans involved in each project,” Vélez says. “Their ideas and technical perspective are woven into our works from the very beginning. We can experiment, test, fail and generally play with possibilities very easily.” This process allows them access to figure out what went wrong, or what came out differently or unexpectedly during the casting process, for example, which is what Vélez says often drives their final work.
“We are exploring more work with cast glass, especially in lighting, and are looking to expand that part of our collection,” Vélez reveals, “perhaps leading to limited-edition, gallery-level works with scale.” No matter what the future holds, one thing is certain: This is just the beginning of Refractory’s story. 4201 W. Wrightwood Ave.