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The heavy sun stalls over golden farmland as traffic dwindles in town. Spices are warmed in neighborhood kitchens, the smells rising up and onto the streets. In Lascassas, Tennessee, a man stands in front of his storefront, locking up for the day. An old shop for such a young fellow. Inside, there are miscellaneous objects placed on shelves: lanterns, chipped antlers, and pieces of wood to be transformed into one of HollerDesign.
“When [HollerDesign] speaks about the soul of the South we talk about resourcefulness. Historically, the people of the South had to rely on their own resourcefulness for survival. Similarly, HollerDesign relies on resourcefulness to survive as a business.”
Matthew Alexander, a young family man who grew up on the Tennessee dairy farm that now houses his design build business, is the artist and designer behind HollerDesign. He has traveled the world, even lived in Brooklyn, New York, for a bout of mentorship in the design world. “I greatly enjoyed my time in Brooklyn, and I would not trade it for anything,” he recalls. “Specifically, while in Brooklyn, I dreamt of moving back to the family farm that I grew up on and starting a design build business in my grandfather’s general store. And that is what I did.”
After working with Jason Miller, a designer whom Matt describes as one of those “people who make their ideas work regardless of limitations,” Matt moved back to Tennessee to start a furniture design business on his own terms. Always starting with the trees that’ve been rooted in his family’s land and history for centuries now, Matt cures the wood and constructs his furniture inside of his grandfather’s old general store.
Preparing for the coming month of Thanksgiving, and the coming year of 2016 when the importance of resourcefulness and mindful consumption will steadily increase, Krrb decided to catch up with this localized CEO to discuss the business of local living. Luckily for us Matt threw in a little extra, reminding us of the beauty behind slow living, the heart in art and the glory of great design.
“My advice for any creative that wants to start their own business is to get a team together – because it is going to take a team. It cannot be done alone.”
First off, I’m so happy to be in touch. I grew up in Mississippi, went to school in Nashville, TN, and now live in Brooklyn, trying to make a future for myself here but daydreaming about the South. Sounds a bit similar to your story. Can you tell me what ultimately convinced you to return home when you did?
Even though I have lived in several different cities I have always considered the South to be my home. At the time, moving back to the South just seemed like a natural progression in my life. HollerDesign couldn’t exist without its connection to local community. I couldn’t. We are very closely connected to Nashville. They have been very supportive of us over the years. Without both their cheerleading and business HD would not be possible.
You design each piece inside of your grandfather’s old general store. What’s a significant childhood memory that took place there, and does this memory influence how you run your business today?
The store was never in business when I was a kid, so unfortunately I have no memory of it being open [for business]. My grandfather did, however, use it for storage while I was growing up. I can remember spending time their with him as a child. Additionally, my strongest memory of that space is waiting on the front porch of the store for the school bus to pick me up in the mornings.
“When thinking of a name for my business I was looking for something that could potentially hold dual meaning. I liked HollerDesign because it could be read as an exclamation, “Holler, Design!” Or it could refer to design done in a hollow, with “holler” being a southern colloquialism for it.”
What does HollerDesign demand from a piece of furniture?
We try to implement common sense design. We have four core common sense requirements. Function, meaning that a piece of furniture has to make sense in terms of its function. Budget, a piece of furniture has to be made within a reasonable budget. Aesthetics, furniture has to make sense in terms of its appearance. Lastly, fabrication. A piece of furniture has to be reasonably uncomplicated to make.
As a business owner, what would you say is step one to someone who has an idea for his or her own business but doesn’t know where to start?
My advice for any creative that wants to start their own business is to get a team together – because it is going to take a team. It cannot be done alone. Business advisors, accountants, lawyers, marketing professionals all need to play some advisory role in the development of your business in order for it to be a success.
If we were to stalk you, and we just might do that, where could we find you on any given day?
When on the farm I’m typically in the wood or metal shop. Or somewhere wandering around our sawmill and lumber stacks. When in Nashville I can usually be found at one of our favorite coffee shops; Steadfast, Crema, or Barista Parlor. When it comes to food we’re huge fans of Rolf and Daughters and the pizza (and garlic knots) at 5 Points Pizza. For tacos Mas Tacos is unimaginably good. Our favorite local shops include Hey Rooster and Wilder.