“Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art” – Valerie Pettis
James Hixson, owner of Denver’s Blackhound Design Company, recently launched a gorgeous new furniture line inspired by Colorado and made of Colorado’s beetle kill pine. Hixson, and the team at Black Hound, have done some amazing work for places like Punch Bowl Social and Denver’s Vital Root. When you see his work, his creativity is immediately apparent. In addition to learning more about his new furniture line and where to buy it, I was interested to learn about his early background in the arts.
I think creativity in the arts and success in business can be tough to achieve – I’m always interested in how someone harnesses their artistic mind and makes a successful business out of it. James has some fantastic thoughts on being an artistic person and a successful entrepreneur. I’ve also got a preview of his furniture line out now!
1. I see that you have a very creative background – Art School and Set Design – when did you realize you could turn your skills into something that earned you a living?
After graduating with an Art degree, I taught Art for a few years at a high school. While it was really cool to work with kids every day and help them to develop their creative skills, I knew that teaching wasn’t the long term plan for me. As such, I started brainstorming how I could make a living off of my passion: building things. I started out with sculpture, and had some moderate success with selling pieces around Florida. However, sculptures tend to be luxury items and don’t sell consistently. I knew I needed to combine my skills + experience + interests into something that could be more consistent, and functional. I found the answer in custom furniture; this industry allows me to build creative and interesting pieces, but they are very functional and practical too, which seems to be the answer for “sale-ability.”
2. Was it hard to transition from working as a teacher into working for yourself? How did you make the leap?
It was definitely hard to transition from being a teacher to working for myself. With teaching, or any consistent job, comes a steady paycheck, benefits like insurance, retirement planning, etc., But when you start a business, none of those things are guarantees. It can be incredibly unnerving to make the leap, and go into the great unknown of entrepreneurship. It definitely takes a lot of pre-planning, strong commitment to vision, and a healthy dose of guts to make it happen. Furthermore, with a “regular” job, there tends to be a lot of structure, and fairly clear expectations around how to spend your day. When starting and running your own business, you have to figure out on your own how to spend your time, and what to focus on. It demands strong time-management skills, and a laser-like vision.
3. Do you have a favorite project you are especially proud of?
I’m especially proud of our work at the Punch Bowl Social gastropubs. We first started working with Robert Thompson, the CEO, a couple years ago, and now have grown with them as they’ve opened up restaurants all across the country. It’s been really rewarding to install our furniture in multiple states, from Chicago to Detroit to Austin and in between. The deadlines are always tight, and the work is always rigorous, but we somehow always manage to pull it off. Furthermore, it’s also very creative work; we made a 7 foot tall deer head sculpture for their Austin location, and for Minneapolis, we’re creating a huge mural made completely out of darts! We love the combination of practical pieces- like custom tables- with crazy, outside of the box items, too.
4. Congratulations on your new furniture line called The Allison Street Collection! What was the inspiration for this?
Our furniture line is inspired by the rugged simplicity of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. In particular, we’re interested in Blue Stain Pine, a type of pine that results from beetle-kill infested or fire-damaged trees. Blue Stain Pine’s naturally blue and silver streaks redefine how we see and experience classic American pine. Not only is it beautiful to use, but it also is good for the environment as these trees present increased fire damage and pose threats to land users if left in the mountains. As such, we created a sustainable, modern take on traditional wood furniture.
5. Do you have any words of inspiration for young people starting out with a lot of creativity in the Arts?
Creativity is so tremendously important, as it fuels innovation and progress, and truly makes the world a more interesting place.
Stoke the fires of your creativity, and enhance your skills in any way you can, whether through formal training, or hands-on experience. Be the absolute best at your craft as you can be. But then also know that you never stop learning. Always challenge yourself to do more, and push yourself in new directions. You never know where you’ll end up…
6. Lastly – where can people buy and see your furniture?
We are currently in talks with a few stores in NYC and California about carrying our line. In the meantime, our works can be viewed at our website: www.blackhounddesigncompany.com
Here are a few of my personal favorites from the collection. Do visit their page to see more furniture and see pricing. It’s right in there with the big name retailers in price and you get bonus points for buying local. If you’re buying from out of state, which you absolutely can do, you get the warm glow from buying American made furniture from a small, Colorado furniture company.
Laura is a Denver Interior Designer who runs an Interior Design Studio based in sunny Colorado with a strong commitment to livable and interesting interiors. She also runs The Colorado Nest, a Denver blog about Design, Art and Life in the Mountain West.
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