News & Press

Crain's Chicago Business

Bucking the fast-fashion, disposable trend

JUN 30 2023

In a world of fast fashion, disposable products and cheap goods, a new Chicago design studio offers handcrafted furniture and accessories meant to be heirlooms.

Refractory, founded by Angie West and Alberto Vélez, embraces a respect for American craft and the artisans who painstakingly produce the lighting, furniture and sculptural objects designed by the partners. Made of cast bronze, cast glass and wood, the pieces cost upward of thousands of dollars and are meant to last generations. It can take up to 10 artisans who have mastered centuries-old techniques and 40 hours to make a single item. “The work is the polar opposite of disposable or temporary,” said West.

Long-term plans include a consumer-facing brand of handcrafted home goods and an apprenticeship program to teach future generations American craftsmanship, which is increasingly being threatened by mass production and imports.

“It is important to preserve handcraft,” West said. “Work produced by hand is meaningful, period. There is no intelligence, artificial or otherwise, that can replace the spirit of a work made by hand."

By Zlata Kozul Naumovski


Future Frontier

MAR 24 2023

Shrouded in a turmeric haze in the dilapidated attic of a former Milanese military hospital, are a series of cast bronze, resin, and solid wood furnishings, light fixtures, and objects made for an intriguing and powerful debut of Chicago-based collectible design studio, Refractory.

Dubbed “Holotype,” the exhibition was quick to garner attention from the members of the international design community roaming the grounds of Alcova, an annual exhibition of independent designers at Milan Design Week. A few months later, Refractory again captivated fairgoers at New York’s Salon Art + Design fair with its bold, modern forms set against the Gilded-Age backdrop of the Park Avenue Armory.

By Sophie Aliece Hollis


Texture reigns supreme for this Chicago design duo

MAR 16 2023

The Chicago-based duo behind Refractory design studio tend to re-imagine traditional materials in contemporary ways that invite innovation.

“Our work is fueled by our interpretation of what certain materialities have yet to offer, and more specifically, how we can persuade those materials to offer something new,” Angie West tells Business of Home.

By Caroline Biggs


A Pair Of Chicago Design Industry Vets Debut Cutting-Edge Studio Refractory

FEB 08 2023

“Refractory was founded on the shoulders of West Supply,” Vélez says of the industrial arts workshop comprising more than 40 local artisans and makers. “This city’s grit and manufacturing culture are an inextricable part of our ethos and the day-to-day feel of the whole building, including the studio.”

Through this budding brand, which now shares an industrial corridor with West Supply, just west of Logan Square, the makers constantly “seek oddness and rarity in design rather than the familiar,” as West puts it.

No matter what the future holds, one thing is certain: This is just the beginning of Refractory’s story.

By Lauren Brocato


Designer of the Day

JAN 17 2023

Angie West and Alberto Vélez were already well-versed in infusing artistic sensibility into experimental objects and furniture (previous gigs include fabricating large-scale works for the likes of Theaster Gates and Studio Sofield) when they co-founded Chicago-based collectible design studio Refractory.

Seeking to rekindle a renaissance of American artisanship, the duo’s debut collection encompasses dozens of frontier-inspired pieces rigorously crafted in cast bronze, solid black walnut, and cast resin, all paying homage to the sublime beauty of the resilient natural formations that inspired the studio’s name. 

By Ryan Waddoups


Works by Zaha Hadid and Ron Arad among objects at Salon Art + Design in New York

NOV 22 2022

A selection of international gallerists and studios showcased design and art collections at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan's Upper East Side during the Salon Art + Design fair.

The yearly showcase of collectible design and art takes place in what was once an armoury in Midtown Manhattan, with international exhibitors showing work from both contemporary and historic creatives.

by Ben Dreith


What We Loved at Salon Art + Design

NOV 12 2022

The hotly anticipated collectible design fair’s 11th edition presents a head-spinning array of ambitious one-off and limited-edition pieces.

by Ryan Waddoups


Six American Designers Share Their Inspiring New Takes on a Dream Dinner Party

NOV 11 2022

Sometimes, the planning for the holidays can be just as much fun as the celebrating.

This year, we asked six American creatives to share how they dress up their dinner table for guests. They came up with a party theme and set their tables with some of their own work as well as a few other objects. Then we picked new designs that complement each vibe.

This being our American Design issue, all of our selections are American-made. 

by Adrian Madlener


Editor’s Picks: 9 New Products We Love

NOV 08 2022

Designer Pages

Heretofore Looks to the Future

NOV 02 2022

Refractory Studio's Heretofore lighting line is a formidable collection that displays the meticulous hand-crafting the brand is known for.

Like all of Refractory Studio's work, Heretofore has an heirloom appeal. The company aspires to a celebration of the American design vernacular, actualized with traditional methods and contemporary tools: "an evolution and an extension of a community of artisans who seek to create in the space where art meets collectible design."

Given the emphasis on community, there's no better venue for showcasing Heretofore than the Salon Art + Design show next week at the Park Avenue Armory. In addition to Heretofore, Refractory will also be showing their new solid oak Holotype seating line. 

Gray Magazine

Material World

OCT 01 2022

Refractory design studio debuts its collection with an installation rooted in
the spirit of the American frontier.

by Michael Wilson

photographed by Jonathan Allen


Explore the fascinating power and intricacy of armor

SEP 11 2022

Embracing a fascination with materiality – Chicago-based furniture, lighting and objects studio, Refractory displayed ‘Promontory’, a series of extraordinary productsat Milan Design Week 2022. 

“Promontory is about the power and intricacy of armor in its many forms, from an unyielding ridge of limestone that has withstood erosive forces to the armor of warriors throughout history and rugged creatures that dominate the arid landscape of the American West” says founders Angie West and Alberto Vélez.

by Nitika Choraria

Modern Luxury

Take Note

AUG 12 2022

Salone del Mobile and Milan Design Week are officially back in action.

by Jesse Bratter

Hospitality Design

Original Thinkers

AUG 05 2022

Refractory takes craftsmanship to another level.

by Will Speros


Alcova Turned an Abandoned Hospital into Milan’s Design Hot Spot

AUG 05 2022

Chicago-based furniture design studio Refractory  made its international debut at Alcova with “Holotype,” a multisensory exhibition in Alcova’s attic and terrace. Refractory’s furnishings found the company of paleontological specimens and frontiers by Sarah Wilson, together sharing the idea of decay and grit as a “comforting antidote to perfection.”

by Lark Green and Chris Force

Canadian Interiors

Salone del Mobile, Milano: Return to Form

AUG 03 2022

This Chicago-based studio had arguably the most interesting space within a campus of interesting spaces: a concrete-enveloped attic on top of a former psychiatric hospital building called Alcova in the Inganni district on the edge of Milan. With multiple products on display, this standing lamp stood out for the sculptural delicacy of two heavy asymmetrical halves leaning into one another.

by Peter Sobchak


Editor’s Picks: 8 Nature-Inspired Products Exciting Us This Summer

JUL 20 2022

Inspired by the mountainous terrain of Bogotá, where co-founder Alberto Vélez grew up, the console activates the underside and interior faces with vertically textured profiles that in turn shape the open space underneath. The cast bronze form encourages contact and continuous discovery and serves as a canvas to explore time-evolving patinations.


The Cool Kids of Milan Design Week

JUL 19 2022

This year’s edition of Alcova—the wildly popular independent design show presented during last month’s Milan Design Week—was its most ambitious yet. Held once again at Centro Ospedaliero Militare di Baggio, an abandoned military hospital west of central Milan, the show featured more than 90 exhibitors including established and emerging designers, students, brands, architecture firms, artists, and other creative thinkers.

Interior Design

These Sustainable and Sculptural Pieces Made Waves at Alcova in Milan

JUL 17 2022

Valentina Ciuffi and Joseph Grima launched Alcova in 2018 as a showcase of group exhibitions in overlooked locations of historical significance around Milan (think former military barracks, abandoned villas, and old factories). This year hosted two U.S. makers: Refractory, a new studio out of Chicago, proffers furniture evocative of tectonic forces and erosion, including the Heretofore suspension light; Otherside Objects, from Los Angeles, brought Wavy, a bench in deadstock canvas and salvaged Douglas Fir resembling a futon draped over wooden orbs. 

by Georgina McWhirter

Architect's Newspaper

Our favorite moments from Milan Design Week 2022: Alcova

JUL 11 2022

Alcova felt like an expedition, with design flooding the grounds as well as the space of a former nunnery, industrial laundry, medical facility, and a unique temple-like structure. Along the way we were met with familiar faces—OMA, Snøhetta, Sabine Marcelis, Lambert & Fils—and were blown away by the new names kicking up dust in the design industry—Refractory, The Back Studio, and Kickie Chudikova, just to name a few.

by Sophie Aliece Hollis


Interior Design

9 Show-Stopping Installations Seen at Milan Design Week 2022

JUN 24 2022

The scent of turmeric wafted through the air at “Holotype,” presented by the freshly launched Chicago-based furniture brand Refractory and held in the E/Spacebuilding, a new attic and adjacent terrace location at Alcova. The spice was both heaped on the ground and sprayed on the concrete walls – tinting them orange.

This unique backdrop for Refractory’s artisanal consoles, dining tables, occasional tables, benches, lighting, and objects in materials ranging from cast bronze to solid black walnut was joined by paleontological specimens and imagery of America’s West, in collaboration with Sarah Wilson, co-founder of Go-Valley, a Texas-based production company.

by Mairi Beautyman

Design Milk

MDW22: Alcova Returns With Emerging Design + Experimental Projects

JUN 24 2022

Holotype is an installation from Chicago-based Refractory Studio, which included works in cast bronze, cast glass, and wood inspired by the mountainous American landscapes – all handmade in Chicago. Huge tubs of turmeric provided the scent while a collaboration with photographer Sarah Wilson added atmosphere and context.

by Katie Treggiden


Designer Profile: Angie West & Alberto Vélez, Refractory

JUN 22 2022

Stir World

Design meets the third landscape at Alcova: Milan Design Week 2022

JUN 15 2022

A natural setting in which greenery reconquers man-made spaces, becomes ideal for presenting different conceptions of design, but all linked by an experimental approach.

by Salvatore Peluso

The Design Edit

Milan Design Week 2022

JUN 15 2022

As the design industry’s annual festival returns in full splendour - TDE brings you the highlights

by Adrian Madlener

Fuorisalone Award

Refractory Holotype

JUN 01 2022

Each year, during Salone del Mobile, Alcova brings together the people and institutions defining design culture today through ground-breaking work on living environments, products, systems, materials and technological innovation.

For the 2022 edition, Alcova will return to the same spectacular site as 2021 - a cluster of historic buildings immersed in a large, urban park in the Inganni district of Milan - with a new building that is a former psychiatric hospital.

It is within this context that Refractory will introduce new work while encouraging visitors to reflect upon the struggles and nurturing that took place in this location as well as the notion that decay has a beauty that is a comforting antidote to perfection.

The Slow Down

Alcova 2022 Presents Designs That Look Inward, Outward, and Beyond

JUN 01 2022

The new American studio Refractory also focuses on expertly handmade objects. Its exhibition, “Holotype,” puts a series of its work—tactile lighting fixtures, tables, and objects that take timeless, organic forms—in conversation with printed work by photographer and documentarian Sarah Wilson and a series of paleontological specimens, nodding toward the distinctive beauty that comes with age and decay.

A show befitting of its environment, Alcova’s 2022 edition radiates an acute awareness of our natural surroundings, resulting in a collection of inventive, optimistic demonstrations of how design might ignite or renew understandings of the world and our place in it.


by Michaela Trimble

Designer Pages

Paying Tribute to the Tributary Table

MAY 02 2022

The Tributary Table is a clever and artful piece that deftly negotiates the netherlands between art and design. "Liminal" is a good phrase for navigating this oft-confounded terrain. And speaking of water metaphors, Tributary earns the moniker via its variety of varied forms and surprising intersections: "it's about headwaters and braided streams and also about the nature of tribute, the channeling of materials and processes into something contributory."

Paper City

Where Art & Design Converge

JAN 05 2022

Texan Angie West is one of the talents behind Refractory, an edgy new design studio based in Chicago that designs, produces, and sells artisan furniture, lighting, and objects.  West, a native of San Angelo, co-founded the studio with designers Alberto Velez, who hails from Bogota, Colombia.  


page 40

by Rebecca Sherman