In Focus: Trestle Shop

When I first saw the heritage-inspired wares and garments from England’s Tender Co., I knew I had found something very special. Recently, I got to relive that experience in discovering their lesser-known side project called “Trestle Shop”.

45° “Hands Free” Watch

In short, it is a very limited collection of experimental and unconventional pieces that were made alongside the Tender Co. line. The project is run by Tender designer William Kroll and his wife Deborah, who make each piece by hand in their London home. Speaking to the adventuresome nature of Trestle Shop, there is a huge variety of goods that are available from dip-dyed knit socks to hand thrown pottery.

A great example and personal favorite of the current collection is the natural sand-polished Cow Horn Comb. In the midst of researching button materials for the Tender Co. main line, they discovered that combs were traditionally made of horn because it is strong enough to withstand being cut into fine teeth. So in the spirit of doing, Trestle Shop crafted a handful of combs that are individually packaged in a riveted slip of English-woven mattress ticking.

Hand Thrown English Red Clay Coffee Mug Detail

By nature, Trestle Shop as a whole has an extremely limited stock that is also in constant flux. Often times there will be only one piece available in a given design, and designs themselves are always changing. This of course may make it difficult to own a Trestle Shop piece, but the exclusivity speaks to what the project is really about – namely artistry. Rather than settling into iterations of products that sell, William and Deborah are interested in investigating their own creativity regardless of how it manifests. For me, learning about their work has been a breath of fresh air that makes me eager to see what other side projects are out there!

You can see the rest of the current Trestle Shop collection by visiting their website. Keep in mind that their stock changes constantly with new creations appearing as quickly as they vanish, so check back frequently!

Diemme – “Firenze” Boot

The Montebelluna district in northeastern Italy is world-renown for its many types of footwear. That area alone manufactures over 50% of the world’s technical mountaineering boots as well as 75% of all the ski boots around the globe. Fittingly, the region is also home to Diemme, which is one of the preeminent artisan-shoe companies in the world.

Cappucino – contrasting yellow laces

Located in Onè di Fonte, this family-run footwear company has been making shoes by hand since 1992. Staying true to Montebelluna’s legacy, Diemme is known for its mountaineering, trekking, military, safety, and even hunting footwear. Yet having been long-since lauded for their quality and style, the label has also enjoyed a strong presence in the fashion industry – often collaborating with various designers for limited spin-offs of their classics.

Ontario – leather & lace detail

Perhaps their most iconic shoe is their “Firenze” boot, which has seen various iterations and colorways throughout several seasons. Like all of their footwear, each component is sourced in Italy (despite the occasional turn to tanneries such as Horween or Charles F. Stead & Co for some high-quality leather). The boot features a gusseted tongue which is padded with vegetable latex for extreme waterproofing and comfort. Should rain be a concern, each Firenze boot is made with a Vibram Moreflex sole that is notable for it’s slip-resistance. These soles are also extremely light, pliable, and ready for whatever adventures you can conjure up.

Root Beer – Horween “Mastiff” leather & Moreflex “Christy” Vibram sole

Be sure to check out some of the current and past versions of the Firenze boot in the gallery below. It’s also well-worth a gander at Diemme’s website for more information concerning their processes and products.

Blumenstein Audio – Handmade Wooden Speaker Systems

“Travel through music brings with it whatever you desire—the thrill of discovery, a childlike curiosity, humility at the many generations that have paved our way.”  -Clark Blumenstein

Since 2006, Clark & Molly of Blumenstein Audio have shared their unique approach to audiophile equipment with discerning clientele throughout all seven continents (yes that includes Antarctica). The vision is simple: to produce an unadulterated sound experience through a no-frills approach to HiFi and a minimalist visual aesthetic. Relying on years of combined experience in building stereo systems and custom woodworking, the team crafts each speaker by hand in their Seattle, WA woodshop. The result is a line of streamlined, straightforward speaker systems that are pleasing to the eyes, the ears, and are remarkably inexpensive.

Orca (Caramelized Bamboo)

Orca (Caramelized Bamboo)

 What is particularly impressive about these speakers is the lack of extraneous components which have long since been standardized in the industry. Borrowing some jargon from their website, the “Orcas have no damping, no tweeter, no woofer, no midrange (single driver), no capacitors, resistors or inductors (no crossover), no equalization, (no BSC, no Zobel network, etc.), no biscuits, no miters, no paint, no primer, no lacquer, no solder-less clips, no grill cloth, no nails, no threaded inserts, no spikes, no unnecessary curves, no nameplate, no structural plastic, no terminal cups, no removable panels, and no internal panels.” In fewer words, what’s left is an undiluted audio signal with free reign to meld into the natural resonances of an all-wood cabinet. Sound can’t get more honest than that.

Natural Bamboo

Natural Bamboo

To maintain quality, the team has a hand in every process that culminates in a finished speaker. Each one is built from solid wood bamboo ply, which has a remarkably sonorous personality. Blumenstein offers both natural and caramelized cabinets, the former producing a more resolute sound due to the baking process. Once assembled, the speakers are hand-sanded and treated with a non-toxic 200 year old blend of linseed oil and natural resin varnish for a smooth, lustrous finish. Now that they are beautiful, each speaker is tuned by ear and microphone before it’s  ready to be fully enjoyed at home.

Custom In Home Installation

Custom In Home Installation

Drawing on an undeniable passion for music, Clark and Molly are really great about working with each individual client to customize the right set up that accounts for personal taste, budget, and listening space. If you are interested in learning more, be sure to check out their website.

In Focus: Parabellum

In reaction to growing trends of mass-production and outsourcing, Jason Jones and Mike Feldman launched Parabellum with a simple desire to make some of the best hand-made leather goods in the world. While they have select stockists around the globe, their craft is an intimate one based almost entirely in Los Angeles. The team works together on every single piece, ensuring that each aspect of their work is carefully considered to fulfill the most demanding requirements for style and durability

Medicine Man Duffle – Natural

Of their line, the Medicine Man Duffle is one of the best examples of what Parabellum is about. The bag is made from 100% Buffalo leather, which is treasured for it’s uniquely toothy texture and tensile strength. However, because the label adopted American Bison as its totem, Jason & Mike only harvest hides from animals that live organically on free range ranches in the US. So as not to squander the character of the buffalo leather during tanning, they treat each hide in their own family run microtannery where they keep a close and well-trained eye on the entire process. The leather is then skived by hand before being cut and sewn. While their bags are lined with a Kevlar-reinforced suede interior, the Medicine Man Duffle in particular features an adjustable/removable leather strap. Once completed, each piece is hand-finished for posterity and individually numbered for good measure.

Custom-cast Copper Buckle In the Making

Parabellum offers two hardware options for most of their goods. Their copper rivets and buckles are designed and crafted by American artisans using single-use molds. The natural properties of copper allow it to develop a unique patina over time which is sure to complement the aging process of the buffalo leather. But if custom-cast solid copper isn’t up to snuff, the bag is also available with Military Grade Ceramic hardware. Though not widely realized, ceramics are amongst the hardest man-made materials in the world (think anti-ballistic plating for vehicles and thermal-resistant tiles on NASA’s space shuttles). In other words, you needn’t worry about dishing out the abuse.

Natural Bison Grain & White Ceramic Buckle Detail 

In addition to creating wonderful pieces, the label is particularly inspiring in terms of it’s outlook. Borrowing from its mission statement, “[t]here was a time, not so long ago, when a man could buy a belt of such high quality that it lasted a lifetime and could be passed down to his children. With the inception of the Parabellum Brand, we believe that time has returned.” That said, when considering the labels emphasis on environmental responsibility and collaborations with local artisans, I dare say that their time has returned with a vengeance.

Be sure to scroll through the gallery below for detailed images of the Medicine Man Duffle as well as some shots of their process. You can find more about the brand and their work on their website, including information about their upcoming women’s handbag collection.

In Focus: Joshu + Vela

Joshu + Vela is an emerging outfit in San Francisco which produces some of the most carefully considered bags and leather goods out there. While their mantra is to “highlight the beauty of function by creating simple and well made goods,” one would only need to interact directly with any of their products to understand the emphasis they place on quality. Though I wasn’t able to make the trip out, my cousin Rebecca was lucky enough to meet with Noah of Joshu + Vela in their studio to gain some insights into their brand and their process, which she detailed below:

Joshu + Vela – In the Studio

One way of characterizing the brand as a whole is the idea of intimacy. Everything in their studio is made entirely by hand with the best materials available. In addition to custom-cast hardware and vegetable dyes, they source domestically grown organic cotton from Herbert Rice Fabrics Inc in NY, which has been in operation since the 1800’s. The manufacturing process relies on pharmaceutical grade waxes and oils for finishing, and thus is completely free of hazardous solvents. Similarly, they source 100% vegetable dyed leather from animals already marked for consumption in an effort to reduce their environmental footprint.

When it comes to producing their goods, the team at Joshu + Vela employs a plethora of different hand tools, eight vintage sewing machines, and an 80 year-old rivet setter. This reliance on antiquated machinery demonstrates that the underlying concern of the brand as a whole is not maximizing output, but creating small quantities of goods, which can endure the tests of time.

Joshu + Vela – Backpack & Large Tote

            Although their line features a variety of different pieces, the entire collection is aligned by simple aesthetics and utilitarian designs. Branding is kept to a minimum and unnecessary lines are kept at bay. All in all, everything is clean and classic, but ultimately built to be used.

Be sure to take a gander though the gallery below to check out some of their collection and some glimpses into their workspace. Also, stay up to date on their upcoming releases by periodically visiting their website.

Studio Visit: Lucio Nuñez

Lucio Nuñez has made custom flamenco and classical guitars by hand for the vast majority of his life. Having begun in his 20’s, he quickly worked up the skill and expertise to make guitars full-time. His one-man luthiery practice has been in operation for over thirty years and has gained much acclaim amongst clients and apprentices all over the world. It was a distinct pleasure to catch up with Lucio in his studio in San Antonio, TX where we discussed his life, his work, and how to save the world:


How did you go about making your first guitar?

My brother is an architect, and he got this gig for making closets and doors on the side. He had all the machinery and tools, so I decided that I would make a guitar–horrible thing. I’m sure it’s somewhere out there. You could use it as a hammer, I guess. But that’s how I made my first guitar. I didn’t know anything. I just started, and that was that – figuring out my own way.

What attracted you to guitar-making?

The thing that really attracted me was the shape of the guitar; the curves. And the rosette, which is crazy because it has nothing to do with the sound. I just asked myself “How do they do this?” so I tried different things and ruined a lot of really nice wood until finally that brother of mine said, ‘You are stupid. People have been making guitars for centuries. You should go look, and maybe somebody out there can help you,’ but nobody took pity on me until later when I apprenticed with a luthier that used to work for the National Conservatory of Music. His requirements and schedule gave me some much-needed discipline.

Flamenco Negra

So it was the curiosity in terms of how to make guitars that excited you?

That and the aesthetics. You know the instrument is beautiful, I think. I mean the instrument itself. Obviously Classical and Flamenco music is wonderful, but I wasn’t into that world at the time. I was into other things like jazz and heavy metal.

Did your interest in those other genres influence your guitar-making at all?

Little by little I discovered, for instance, that the jazz players know harmony and chords and extensions. Jazz becomes complex; however, the color range, the tone range, is really small. But the classical guitar, because it works like the whole orchestra, has more intricacies that I didn’t understand at the time. I was just interested in making a guitar, any kind of guitar. I thought that in three months I would know everything about this process. But still, with every instrument, something is missing, and that’s what keeps you going – making mistakes.  And you think that next time, you won’t make the same mistake, but you do.

So what do you have in mind when you set out to make a guitar?

One of my goals is to make an instrument that can come close to reproducing the sound I have in my head. It hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully it will happen sometime before I die. The person who started helping me told me in a mystical and poetic way that the sound is already there in the wood; you just have to go find it.

The problem with this kind of creative work is that you are always trying to satisfy a new need. If you solve that problem, that’s OK. But the subjective side of it is different. Say that the playability is OK, the intonation is OK, but now, are you going to like the actual tone? It’s very subjective. All in all, though, I think the players are the most important factor I consider in my work. I don’t make guitars for myself, partially because I couldn’t buy all the guitars I make, but mostly because I get satisfaction from pairing one of my instruments with a particular player.

Flamenco Negra – Custom Soundport

Obviously it takes a lot of time, effort and expertise to build a hand-made instrument. On the flip side, factories in China can produce guitars that sell for $60. How do you view your work in relation to mass production? Is it a reaction or is it something altogether removed from that idea?

There’s a guitar teacher here in San Antonio, a friend of mine, and we were complaining together, wondering why we do what we do. He said, ‘You know what?  We do this because we are trying to save the world.’

There’s this idea that you should go ahead and buy what is affordable without any other thought or considerations for aspects like quality. My mother at some point put us on a very difficult budget because she was saving to get some pots and pans. So she saved money and went to the store in Mexico City to get really good cookware that is still in our family. But nowadays, you need a frying pan, you go to Wal-Mart and you get one for $5, but it will be in a landfill in 3 weeks. Mass production might be really good for some things, like cars. But traditionally, I think that the great luthiers were trying to make the best instruments they could, and still are, independent of the market around them.

Most of your guitars are custom made to suit each individual customer. Do these clients push your creativity into new realms that you wouldn’t have otherwise visited?

There are makers who design everything and produce a type of guitar. You go to their shops, and they say, ‘Here are my guitars and these are the prices. Take it or don’t, that’s OK.’ I prefer to hear a lot of feedback because that’s how I improve things.

When your work improves, in any field, it gets a bit worrisome to be honest. When someone comes with a different project, and asks if I can do something new, I certainly try. I have a lute that I’m working on right now as well as a 10-string guitar, and I like that. It keeps it interesting. I go to bed thinking of how I’m going to do everything, and I obsess over it, but again that keeps things exciting.

So did you experiment on your own when you were starting out?

I used to do that a lot. I couldn’t control myself. I don’t even buy magazines about guitars because if I see something new, I need to try it. You learn sometimes by doing things that go absolutely wrong. The bigger the mistake, the more you learn. That’s my personal opinion. Of course, you expend time, money, and effort, so sometimes it’s bad to make mistakes, but it’s all part of the experience.

What I like here in the United States is – I don’t want to sound offensive – but it seems that somehow the American tradition is to break with tradition. It leaves room to experiment and try new things. People are open to that here.

Flamenco in Progress

I know lutherie is not an easy business to be in. You must be very passionate about your work.

Absolutely. We need passion. We really do need passion. More than ever nowadays. They say that a writer who doesn’t write dies. We are not just what we do, we are much more than that: feelings, passions, thoughts, etc. I do this because if I didn’t, my life wouldn’t make any sense.

On a final note, am I to take your response to mean that you are fulfilled by what you do?

I am. But there is a lack within the process of guitar making. We all know how guitar makers are; they are obsessed with detail. We are practically hermits. But the point is, it’s a solitary thing. You are basically in your shop sanding and sanding and sanding. You create a lot of dust and noise, which undermines conversation. That’s the very sad part of it for me. You have no idea how much I’m enjoying this interview because luthiers don’t have a chance to talk very much.

But I think you should do what you feel you are called to do. That question, “What am I going to be?” is ridiculous. You are what you are. Whatever discipline you get involved in, there will be a big wall in front of you that has no answer. Sometimes miracles happen in the sense that we finally realize that facing that wall is actually part of embracing a discipline, any discipline.


If you are interested in learning more about his work, check out his website and scroll through the gallery below for some images of his studio, some works in progress, and some close ups of a finished guitar.

Issac Reina – One Leaf Wallet

Since launching his brand in 2006, Issac Reina has produced a wonderful portfolio of small leather goods. His design concept places a huge emphasis on both practicality and “unsophisticated” elegance. This wallet from last season is a great example of his approach.

The “One Leaf” wallet is crafted from a single piece of navy blue, italian vegetable-tanned leather. Reina nonetheless creates compartments for credit cards by folding the leather over onto itself and stitching everything into place. It’s a minimal, yet innovative design that is certainly easy on the eyes. As for actual usage, it would be interesting to hear some user reviews.

Keiji Design Knife Box

All-together a beautiful display

This box is simply amazing. Long story short: everything about this box screams hand-made – down to the spread of unique knives. This is where form meets functionality. More images and an interview with the designer over at FEIT’s blog.

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