The Haas Brothers have won worldwide acclaim for their work. Just don’t ask them to tell you what their work is.
The fraternal twins, Simon and Niki Haas, are often labeled “furniture designers,” but that doesn’t describe the mind-boggling creations that come out of their sprawling industrial studio in Los Angeles.
They’ve fashioned black polyethylene masks for Lady Gaga. They’ve made psychedelic sculptural objects in collaboration with South African artisans that blew up social media. Oh, and they’ve made some pretty fine furniture, too.
So what does Niki call himself? After a moment of thought, he settles on: a Millennial.
“Millennials don’t want to be one thing,” he says. “You can learn to weld or write songs by watching videos on YouTube. All the information you need for everything is at your fingertips, so you can be proficient at everything more easily today.”
Rooted in the Arts
That borderless philosophy is reflected in their work, which has been called “nimble cross-pollinators in creative disciplines, including fashion, film, music, art and design.” Cross-pollination is, in a sense, their birthright. Their multiple artistic influences started with their stone-carver father and opera-singing mother.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, they learned to write songs at an early age. They also helped out their father in his craft, becoming skilled stone carvers themselves. In 2003, Simon went to study painting and architecture, while Niki toured as a musician. They joined up again four years later as part of the band RRIICCEE, and launched their industrial studio in 2010 when their pal, actor Tobey Maguire, asked them to assist in the design of his offices.
“Music definitely created a mind-set for us in how we relate to our work, and in understanding how our audience relates to our work, because it’s so immediate,” Niki says.
From there, they easily transitioned into making furniture. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we're going to be artists and this is our studio,’” Niki says. “It was more like, “Let’s build cabinets!”
When they created a mesmerizing throne-like golden chair for Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace, art patrons immediately realized the brothers weren’t just carpenters. “The commission was just sort of out of the blue, and honestly, she was crazy for giving it to us,” Niki says. “It was way over our edge, but I think we nailed it regardless.”
Keeping It Edgy
The commissions kept coming, and they continued nailing it by staying on the edge. Among their notable work, the Haas Brothers designed a bar made of gold-leaf bricks for a Louis Vuitton store in Shanghai.
Arguably, their greatest triumph to date was Afreaks, a series of intricately beaded functional and sculptural objects created in partnership with South African female artisans.
The combination of indigenous beading cultures with the Haas Brothers’ unique design aesthetic resulted in unusual pieces that include a sitting bench with an upright tail and an eight-foot sculpture of a psychedelic mushroom.
Art critics instantly compared the work to iconic imagery, like The Beatles’ animated film Yellow Submarine and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Niki says Afreaks hit “all ten pillars” of what the brothers try to achieve with their work in terms of art, impact and social commentary. “We hadn’t even thought about what we’d be making before we started the project. Flying to South Africa we had no clue what we were going to make—it was just a vibe,” says Niki.
The Perfect Pairing
The Haas Brothers bring different, though overlapping, talents to their creations. Simon is a materials genius, cleverly mixing brass, bronze, porcelain and fur with highly technical resins and polyurethane. For Afreaks, he even developed beading algorithms on his computer that replicated patterns and rhythms found in nature.
“It’s amazing the way that he thinks about materials,” Niki says. “We're not just applying material because it’s available. He is completely analyzing it, working through it in his head because it needs to be hyper-thoughtful.”
Niki describes himself as “timeline-oriented.” He says, “I think like a construction worker and a hockey player, so from me it’s a little more regimented.”
That pairing of two worlds—the painter with the craftsman, the musician with the scientist, the left brain with the right—is what makes their work so original that it defies description…even by their standards.
As Niki says, “I guess we’re artists; I guess we’ve been designers. So I don’t know what I see myself as…whatever I want to be, you know?”