An Homage to Artisanship
Located on bustling Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, CA, Stahl + Band is a haven of art and design. Opened by Jeffery Molter in 2016, the showroom and gallery has a rich history as the former studio of artist and actor Dennis Hopper. Today, it houses an ever-rotating collection of furniture, lighting and art from around the world, including pieces of Jeffery’s own design. We spoke to the curator and creative director about his passion for artisan craft.
Styling & Photography of San Francisco Showroom by Rosy Strazzeri-Fridman
Hi Jeffery, here at Armadillo we are huge fans of Stahl + Band. Take us through your journey to opening your store. How has your brand evolved since opening?
I moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago from Milan and found my happy place here in Venice, at the beach. After a few moves around LA and 20 years later, I moved back to Venice Beach immediately following my divorce. Truly a full circle moment for me.
It was here that I decided I wanted to establish a gallery where I could curate artists from around the world. Created as an open studio, with a ‘no areas off-limit’ approach for all clients, the space [was] designed equal parts [as a] showroom and gallery, serving a changing roster of emerging and established fine artists, and carrying a curated collection of furniture that showcased the work of artisans including my own designs. It wasn't until a couple years later that I found out my gallery space had a rich artistic history – for many years, it served as a studio for the legendary actor, artist and Venice resident Dennis Hopper!
Can you share the inspiration behind the name Stahl + Band?
Inspired by my German ancestry, I chose the name Stahl (‘steel’) + Band (‘ribbon’) as a private homage to my favorite artist, Richard Serra. [It is] a literal interpretation of Serra's sculptural fluidity. The importance of organic materials [combined with] carefully crafted simplicity outlined my ethos for S+B.
Your space is described as a mecca of curated art and design. Can you share a bit about your sourcing process and how you discover new up-and-coming designers and artists?
I wish I could share that traveling the world had been my window into my artist's work. However, our global community in both art and design has become extremely small throughout the years, and finding such talent is much easier. Social media and European design publications have been my conduit for finding artists that have that special tactile essence of design – both in [their] interpretation and application of unique materials, the major S+B design criteria.
Where do you draw inspiration from within the design world, and in general?
Architecture has always been a great source of inspiration for me. Luis Barragán had an emotional influence, but it was Museo Jumex in Mexico City that changed me. The sense of space, light and chosen materials designed by famed architect David Chipperfield had me seeing the use of materials in such different applications. Through this influence, I've become more of a tactile artist who finds fluidity in the dichotomy of hard/soft elements of design.
Chipperfield's work realizes a sequence of spaces appealing to our human senses. His collaboration with artist Martin Creed from London, integrating bands of more than a hundred different types of marble as sculptural flooring, emanates an impressive yet calm presence. I would be remiss not to mention his skilful execution of natural and artificial lighting – the distinctive sawtooth roof creates a [diffusion] of natural light, described as a “rhythmic geometry". This project celebrates and delivers contemporary art into a completely different realm than I have ever experienced before. Worth a visit!
You’ve mentioned that you began your work as an artist in New York before moving to the West Coast. Are your creative choices impacted by where you find yourself at the time?
I've been very blessed to have had wonderful career experiences in a variety of cities around the world, which certainly helped imprint and expand my design acumen. Environment and community certainly does impact me greatly, in some ways completely unconsciously. Living here in Venice Beach, my life has slowed down, the culture is casual and spontaneous. I feel the past years’ living here, I've matured as a designer and gallery owner, and am more open to the process, less rigid with deadlines. It's created a work ethic for me that has narrowed the limit of boundaries.
We loved your recent collaboration with Madda Studio. How were you originally introduced to them?
My best friend Olivia Williams [principal of Olivia Williams Studio and Director of North America at Fearon Hay] made the initial introduction. Not only [do we share] side-by-side studio doors, we are constantly sharing textile appointments.
Olivia had scheduled a meeting with Maddalena Forcellaof Madda Studio, and instinctively knew I would be lost in their craft. It was immediate. From Madda's story of creating livelihood for indigenous communities through weaving, to the incredible depth of texture and design, I immediately knew I wanted to be involved with her artistic expression. The collaboration was easy. I wanted their textiles to be upholstered on our designs, a first for Madda and Stahl + Band. The outcome was stunning; the relationship forever changed. The best outcome for me was the opportunity for Madda to showcase her fine art framed for the first time in a gallery – a tactile expression of painting, but with her textiles.
What is an artist or project that you’ve been inspired by recently?
By far it is ceramicist Brent Bennett. Brent is a local Los Angeles ceramicist whose popularity started in the 60's. Today, Brent is coveted on 1stdibs. His successes and depth of work range from ceramic murals and vessels to furniture and lighting. Stahl + Band recently commissioned Brent, at 81 years of age, to [create] his largest mural ranging from 8' wide to 10' high – a work weighing almost 1 ton and displayed vertically in a metal frame.
To say Brent is a visionary in my opinion is not even giving him the respect he deserves. He's not even contemplating retiring. His voice remains to be heard, seen and experienced. Stahl + Band has been incredibly fortunate to collaborate with Brent over the years. To find an artist so seasoned but still willing to embark upon the unknown is a true example of why I do what I do. The truest example of an artist!