Alibi V.27 No.35 • Aug 30-Sept 5, 2018 

Culture Shock

Elements of Design

The thoughtful objects crafted by Danny Hart

Danny Hart
Danny Hart at work in his home studio
Courtesy of Danny Hart Design

There are several origin stories for Danny Hart Design that one can point to, and specifically for the handmade wood jewelry that is so instantly recognizable as made by his hand. Here's one: His business making custom lighting fixtures was just getting started. He still had his full-time job in construction, but was making time for his own design work when his house got broken into.

“We just got totally wiped out,” he described. Among the missing was all his wife's jewelry. “None of it was overly pricey, but it was stuff from all over the world, like street markets in Portugal. Well, I had some ideas for jewelry,” he recalled. So he made her a pair of earrings and a necklace.

As she wore them out, she started receiving compliments and people asked where they could get them. “And it snowballed into this.” A year after that he was unexpectedly laid off from his job, and “it was either pick up a hammer somewhere else or see if I could make this work. So, I went all in.”

Not everyone could put such a spin on being the victim of a burglary. “I'm just hopelessly optimistic,” Hart laughed, and it is true—he just exudes this positive energy. “It's crazy that one of the worst things about Albuquerque is the property crime, but I love it here, I'm not going anywhere. That turned into a full-fledged business that I can support my family with. It's crazy how that works.”

Wood earrings are simple and elegant, with a splash of color
Wood earrings are simple and elegant, with a splash of color
Courtesy of Danny Hart Design

There are other points of departure that led to the work Hart does today, too, reaching all the way back to his childhood, even. “The smell of wood, and working with wood and the process of building something out of wood—that all absolutely taps into those memories,” he said, going on to describe his father's workshop at the home where he grew up outside Santa Fe. “It's definitely nostalgic, but I also think that wood is really in right now.”

He's always been making things. As a kid, Hart shaped his own miniature wrestling ring on his dad's bench grinder for his action figures to tussle in. In high school he wanted an ab roller (really!) so he took apart his skateboard and refitted the wheels on a 2-by-2 and made his own. Later when, he broke up with a girlfriend and moved in by himself, he made his first coffee table. “It's always happened this way—I want this, I can't buy it. How can I just make it myself? … Sometimes it takes me way more work and way more money to build it myself. But that's not really the point anymore. I'm just, like, fully invested in making things.”

Over the course of the past 3 years of focusing solely on his business, the things that Hart makes have evolved and continue to do so. Shaped wood earrings of fine wood and metal, bangles with a multitude of planes smoothed onto their surface, necklaces with elegant splashes of color. While most known for his jewelry, he makes a lot more than that—custom furniture and geometry-inspired lighting pieces, for example. A degree in architecture and years of work as a finish carpenter contribute to the technically refined, well-executed work, whatever their final form, that he produces out of his home. “I just like to keep it simple,” he said of his style. “Make it as clean as possible—one joint can be a piece of artwork by itself. I take that one 45-degree miter joint or lap joint or dovetail joint … and isolate that in a piece of jewelry. I execute it as best as possible without adding beads or frill. Just the simplest design and the simplest joinery.”

Custom lighting designed by Danny Hart
Custom lighting designed by Danny Hart
Courtesy of Danny Hart Design

That simplicity—and really, much of the overall style—reflects his home, New Mexico. “It has to do with the laidback nature of New Mexico. I'm not going to stress over adding too much detail.” Most of the wood Hart works with is locally sourced, as well (“Things with a small carbon footprint,” he offered. “I might not be effecting much with those small decisions, but it matters to me.”).

He went on to describe the shifting colorscape of the desert, like on the drive up to Santa Fe. “One week it will be brown and desolate and dry, and then, a week of monsoons, and instantly, flowers are popping. There's greenery everywhere. Everything is alive. It's really all there, it just needs the right elements to make it pop. I often feel the same way about jewelry—sometimes you just need those little colors to make what you're wearing stand out, to give you some confidence.” And all those good feelings generated by wearing the jewelry come right back to Hart himself. “I tell people all the time, it's like an energy exchange,” he described. “When a person wears it and tells me they get compliments—that energy comes right back to me. It's a cyclical thing—all ego talk aside—it's amazing.”

Despite this energy around his jewelry, Hart doesn't consider himself a jeweler. “I'm not even a great carpenter,” he said. For him, it all comes down to thoughtful design. “A good designer is a good problem solver, but our way of communicating the solution is a built creation, whether it is a piece of jewelry or a light fixture or furniture or knocking down a wall. Whatever it may be. Good design is where it all starts.”

Find Danny Hart Design all over town—frequently at the Railyards Market, and at various grower's markets—or seek his work out online at dannyhartdesign.com. Stay hip to his latest work and evolution as a business and as a designer on Instagram, @dannyhartdesign.