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Friday
Mar112016

Local Spotlight: Luft Studio

NorthShore University HealthSystem Mammogram Event in Skokie, Illinois | Photo: Bob Coscarelli

by Andrew DeCanniere


In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of interviewing Crystal Grover (now Crystal Hodges) and Linsey Burritt (now Linsey Rosen), the extraordinarily talented duo behind INDO, a company that was located in Chicago’s West Loop that created window displays and installations made out of reclaimed materials. Last year, after eight years spent working together, the two decided to close the business and strike out on their own, with each opening their own respective business. More recently, I had the opportunity to interview one half of the duo, Crystal Hodges, about her new solo business venture, Luft Studio. Read on to see what she had to say about how she got into her line of work, how she made the decision to open her new company and what the experience has been like and much more.

NorthShore University HealthSystem Mammogram Event in Skokie, Illinois | Photo: Bob Coscarelli

UR Chicago Magazine: For those who may be unfamiliar with Luft, how would you define your new company? What is Luft and – come to think of it – how did you come up with the name?

Crystal Hodges:The name is the Swedish word for air, I spent some time there and it is where my perspective on my work and contribution to life in general shifted a bit. So the name is a reminder to me of that time in my life. I encourage the studio to remain open to new opportunities and creative ideas like seeds to the wind, while at the same time encouraging the growth of new relationships and personal development. We are a creative studio with work spanning from interior art installations to interior design to set design and it is all exciting and fun work for us!

UR: How did you get into your line of work in the first place?

CH: I got into my line of work as a happy accident. I worked in retail design for a while, and while it was very exciting, there was something authentic missing between the wastefulness of retail in general and the materials being used. While there was potential for creativity there, there wasn’t as much as I would have liked. So, one day I saw an amazing window display in Wicker Park and asked someone in the store who did it. They said they didn’t know but anyone could! And that really got me excited. That was the seed that started the collaboration with Linsey and hence INDO. Simply putting a seed of possibility into a young designer’s mind.

Chicago Community Trust Event Installation | Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Hodges

UR: Speaking of which, how did you decide to go from working together at INDO to going off on your own to form this new company?

CH: We both had different things happening in our lives. Linsey was getting married, and I had a kid, and we were just at a point where we felt like we wanted to grow in different ways. So, we both decided to close INDO and start new chapters individually, so that we could have a fresh start and a fresh perspective on what we were doing. I really enjoyed the foundation that INDO had built for me as a designer, and I wanted to take all of that beautiful knowledge and put it into a new endeavor. With Luft, I’m doing similar installations — I’m definitely building off of the installation component of what INDO had done — and I’m trying to do more events and more interiors, as well as some art direction.

I work with more commercial clients. My approach is changing, so that instead of using only recycled materials, I am trying to have a more diverse range of clients whose timelines may or may not be super long or super tight, and there isn’t always the opportunity to use recycled materials for every single project. Now my approach is more diverse, where I’m still practicing conscious consumption, but instead of using recycled materials upfront, I’m looking for partners. One of them is Creative Pitch. I donate materials to them and different organizations after the end of an installation, so that other people can have the opportunity to use those materials and have access to them. Creative Pitch sources materials and then they give them to students and organizations that are really in need of art materials for their art programs.

Then there’s this other organization, The Wasteshed, in Chicago, which focuses on receiving materials, keeping them out of the landfill and practicing reuse. I still feel very strongly about that. Then, for some of my projects I still have other sort of leftovers — things that are beyond materials, like furniture. I’m trying to do more pro bono work. We just did an installation for NorthShore University HealthSystem, where we had a whole ceiling of balloons, and then there were these butterflies in the window. There were over 1,000, and they were glued to a monofilament, and we had to take each one off of the monofilament by hand, so that they didn’t rip, and then they were donated to Creative Pitch. They’ve already been used in a kids’ art class. We received some pictures and they were adorable. Then, the furniture is pending donation to Mother’s rooms, it is something we are currently collaborating with 88 Brand Partners on, so that I could donate my design services to places that needed a little bit of a revamp and a little bit of a boost that wouldn’t get it otherwise. So, my approach is diversifying.

Rent the Runway | Photo: Stephanie Bassos

UR: And, at the same time, it sounds like the whole idea of recycling and reusing is still very much at the center of a lot of it, which I think just further proves that business can be environmentally conscious.

CH: And I believe there’s not just one solution. I don’t necessarily think there’s only one right answer to everything. For example, right now I’ve been struggling with that balloon project, because I have three trash bags of balloons sitting here and I’ve been trying to find a composting company that will take them. I haven’t found anybody yet, so my next step is to contact landfills in California that turn over the landfills to aerate them. So, I’m thinking that might be the route — where I have to send it to them — so there are definitely challenges, but my biggest goal is not to throw anything away.

UR: What has it been like going off on your own, starting a whole new business? I know that you had said that INDO sort of started off organically. What has this whole new chapter been like?

CH: It’s actually been very similar. I started up in May, and I was very busy. The amount of work has been consistent, so that’s fantastic. My website will be launching shortly. I was giving myself a bit of time to see how projects unfolded themselves. I didn’t want to have to plan everything out prematurely. I still enjoy the process of discovery and letting things kind of speak to you, of not forcing them. So, over the past six months I have learned a lot about the company and the way that I am going to be doing things in the future. Now I have the opportunity to design my website around how my business has been functioning, rather than putting it into a mold only to have to change it later. I’ve learned a lot about the company and how I am going to approach different projects, because there have been a very wide variety — commercial photography, commercial video, event installations, art installations, window displays — and each one has been a little bit different. I think that the process for me is always slightly organic, and a process of discovering what things are working well, what things aren’t, and of just having an opportunity to look at that and give that a little bit of space to develop.

DL Couch Window Display | Photo: Stephanie Bassos 

UR: So who are some of the clients you’ve had the opportunity to work with thus far? I know that you’d mentioned you were able to do some work with NorthShore University HealthSystem, for instance.

CH: With Luft I have worked with the Chicago Community Trust, JCPenney, Crate and Barrel, and 88 Brand Partners to name a few. I’m working on expanding community relationships with groups like Neighborspace and Creative Pitch as well.

UR: And what’s the whole process like? For instance, how does it work when a client comes to you?

CH: The individuals I am able to work with is key. Since this is a small business, we have a freelance network we tap into as needed. They are all extremely talented, focused individuals whom I admire. They give us the ability to stay scrappy and small, while doing thoughtful and detailed work. Our process changes per client, but it always involves material exploration, concept exploration, and a plan for what happens to the materials once the project is finished. This is where we are looking to expand our community connections, and donate things to Creative Pitch or The Wasteshed after a project is done, so each material has the longest life possible before it is recycled. It is our mission to creatively reuse materials rather than have to throw them ‘away’.

UR: Sounds like it keeps it interesting.

CH: Yeah. It’s fun. It keeps it fresh.

AD: And last, but certainly not least, is there anything coming up on the horizon?

CH: Right now we are working on getting into new areas of work. I am focusing on interior design right now, but we are hoping to do more event work, pop up shops and large scale installations this year.

Crystal Hodges is a designer and former Partner at INDO and is the Founder and Creative Director of Luft Studio in Chicago. Learn more about Luft by visiting their website (www.makeluft.com) or find them on Twitter (www.twitter.com/makeluft) or Instagram (www.instagram.com/makeluft).

This interview originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine.