July 9, 2014
Text by Maria LaPiana
Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows indulge their obsession with detail and quality in their beautifully crafted collection of modern furniture and accessories.
It takes moxie to launch your first-ever furniture collection at the world’s most celebrated furniture fair, Salone del Mobile, in Milan. But Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows are nothing if not gutsy—and passionate about the mission that drove them to introduce their now-iconic Tractor Stool at the show in 2003. “At first we thought that a bigger company might come by and be interested in working with us,” remembers Fellows, “but we were surprised at the number of designers who came to us, wanting to design for our brand.”
Thus BassamFellows was born. The cornerstone of this robust company is the men’s shared vision of using the finest materials to artfully craft furniture with a disciplined, architectural aesthetic. Everything they make embodies this philosophy, from stools, benches, and tables to upholstered sofas. They use only solid wood with finishes that enhance, rather than mask, its patina.
Inspired by their surroundings, Bassam and Fellows live and work in New Canaan, the modernist mecca that they say energizes them. They came to see the architecture on a beautiful spring weekend in 1998—and never left. “New Canaan is in some ways the perfect town,” says Fellows. “It has incredible balance. It has a highly sophisticated, traveled, and educated population, and it also has incredibly beautiful nature.”
The men are of one mind when it comes to modernism and craftsmanship, but they traveled different paths to this happy confluence.
Born and educated in Sydney, Australia, Bassam is an architect with an affinity for what he calls the “restrained beauty, simple proportions, and rigorous craftsmanship” of early modernism. Fellows grew up in western New York; he earned an MBA from Harvard and cut his teeth in the fashion industry before becoming a creative director and luxury-brand strategist.
They met in 1996 and began collaborating two years later. “We discovered early on that we had similar tastes in what we liked, even in our own spaces,” says Fellows. “We liked modern, classic furniture, pieces by Eames, Mies van der Rohe, but at the same time we didn’t want our living spaces to be completely vintage. We wanted to mix classic with contemporary, but when we went shopping we found that contemporary pieces were mostly plastic, and they didn’t have the same DNA as classic ones.”
Bassam and Fellows set out to fill the void with a style they call craftsman modern: a melding of the modernist aesthetic with honest materials and exceptional workmanship. They hired fine craftsmen and began to build furniture that celebrates both time-honored woodworking techniques and contemporary style.
The collaboration was seamless. “Craig is the designer and I’m the storyteller, trying to build a world and a business around the ideas,” says Fellows. The furniture resonates because of its purity and warmth. “It may be spare, but there are soft edges to our furniture,” says Bassam. “People want to touch it. One thing they appreciate is that it’s very hard to date. There’s something very familiar about it and yet something new. We think that is a very high compliment.”
Early this year, the company opened its first dedicated retail space, the BassamFellows Lifestyle Gallery, in Milan, where they showcase furniture and lifestyle products, including shoes, boots, and desk accessories; coming soon are cashmere shirts and leather goods. Bassam notes they are all afforded the same level of seriousness. “We have experience, a knowledge of materials and manufacturing processes,” he says. “We don’t want people to think we’re just dabbling.”
Fellows adds: “From the very beginning we saw our work as being about more than furniture. We’re taking our obsession with quality to other products we love. They’re long-life fashion accessories. It’s what we’ve been doing all along: we take an idea, think of ways that we can make it more relevant, work with the best artisans, and create something that will last fifty-plus years.”
“We love products and working with factories and craftsmen,” says Bassam. “There’s nothing more exciting than getting an idea, drawing it up, then seeing it made. And then to have people send a note to say what a lovely piece it is—that’s very satisfying indeed.” •
BassamFellows, New Canaan, (212) 941-5900, bassamfellows.com.