Craft: Kyle Minor Design
For this installment of our CRAFT series, we spoke with Kyle Minor, founder of Kyle Minor Design. Our team recently toured their SF workshop, learning about their processes, design ethos, and taking a closer look at some impressive recent work. Read the full interview below – and as Kyle says – “Build custom, Build once.”
How did you initially become interested in metal and woodwork?
My exposure to building began in art school where I voraciously consumed every discipline I could, exploring photography, jewelry, fiber, ceramics, painting, and drawing. Ultimately, sculpture is what exposed me to wood and metal at a human scale. It wasn’t until I discovered and eventually joined Survival Research Laboratories that I became interested in machining and robotics; that’s when I began developing a more sophisticated vocabulary with metal. With wood, I’ve always been somewhat of a hippy at heart. I was fortunate to have worked with artists like David Nash that have a spiritual approach to woodworking. I’ve always thought of our metalwork as an elegant structural element that displays and allows the wood to speak for itself.
What was your introduction to the design build world?
I fell into design by accident. I spent a few years building sculpture for a Finnish designer Stefan Lindfors, the design department chair of my art school. Observing him work with major European furniture manufacturers was an enlightening introduction to the iterative process of developing from concept to product. Working with Stefan and other artists and designers made me realize how much I enjoyed helping others bring vision to form. As I developed more sophistication as a builder, I collaborated more frequently with architects leading to the formation of KMD design + build in 1996.
Our team recently visited and toured your workshop. Tell us about the space and your team.
After 18 years of renting raw space on scenic Pier 33, we saved enough to buy a warehouse in the Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. After decades of working in compromised spaces, we dug deep roots knowing we weren't going to lose our space, a constant fear for San Francisco builders. This also gave us the confidence to invest heavily in new equipment and continue developing relationships with our vendors.
Our space is wonderful, but KMD is nothing without its talented employees. It’s been incredibly rewarding to work with a diverse group of people capable of taking on projects of any scale, material, or level of detailing. A lot of effort and communication have gone into integrating our design, project management, fabrication, and installation team seamlessly. When starting a fabrication company, I couldn’t have imagined how satisfying it would be to cultivate these relationships. Now we're married to the game.
Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with clients? Describe your relationship with the architect and contractor. Is collaboration important to your process?
Collaboration is one of the most frequently used words at KMD. We hold it in the highest regard as one of the company’s core principles. At every level of design development and fabrication strategy, we seek to consider all voices to clarify the vision.
Our favorite projects are those where we get to partner early in the design process with all the players, identify options, and develop an exciting way to move forward that represents more than we could achieve individually. Often this means meeting with the projects’ architect, engineer, and GC, sometimes years before fabrication begins.
We loved learning about the wood spiral stair you prototyped and developed in your workshop. Can you describe that project?
When FA visited our space, one of the prominent projects under construction was a custom circular stair. It’s a big one: the stair spans multiple floors and has a unique geometry requiring an intricate 20’ high lamination form.
The design prompt was to replicate an existing stair, but rebuild it stronger, without any support walls, and bring it up to code. This desire to match the existing stair geometry required the need for extensive surveying work on site, followed by creating full-scale guides to coordinate work in the shop with what’s happening on site.
What your team saw was a great example of how much effort is required in the shop to create the end product that ends up on site.
Tell me what it's like to run a small business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
The challenges of running a small business are what make it the most rewarding.
Running a small business requires a high level of dedication to developing deep personal relationships with our clients, team members, and design partners for each project to succeed. As we’ve grown it has become increasingly obvious that nothing matters more than the experience our clients have working with our team.
Which new technologies have influenced your work as of late? How do you think they will change the industry going forward?
New technologies have incredible capabilities and benefits; however, I’ve learned that you can’t rely on technology to solve every problem. We find that the attention to detail required of our projects does not always align with the output from newer technological processes. And when building custom components, it’s often more effective to utilize traditional techniques. We utilize new technologies when it’s right for the project - CNC cutting - laser, waterjet, CNC routing, CNC machining, and CNC forming are all processes that we’re happy to utilize when the circumstances dictate. We enjoy using both old-world handcraft as well as new fabrication practices to create a unique one-of-a-kind fabrication process.
Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about high-quality, custom goods?
High-quality, custom goods are special because they’re built with intention, care, and a focus on what matters. When you buy something custom, you are investing in creating a product that is exactly as you want it - the dimensions, materials, precision, durability, and aesthetics can all be catered to exactly what the client is looking for.
We appreciate the entire process - the opportunity to identify exactly what the end result should be, figuring out how to execute the vision, and then building something new from scratch. Building anything custom is incredibly labor intensive, but it’s equally rewarding. It’s no accident our tagline is “Build custom, build once”!
We’re very fortunate to have clients that appreciate making high quality products locally that will last a lifetime.