Laurel Consuelo Broughton is the Creative Director of WELCOMEPROJECTS, a design practice that engages with everyday objects in a variety of scales and purpose. From architectural developments to couture accessories (created under WELCOMECOMPANIONS), she seeks out the underlying story that makes the ordinary come to life. She is also currently a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. Laurel’s curated project in zingmagazine issue 23, THE VILLAGE, demonstrates how she sees beyond the normal functions and size of items we use on a daily basis and gives them a new narrative for us to explore. Prior to her work in architecture and design, Laurel worked as managing editor of zingmagazine.
Interview by Hayley Richardson
In the WELCOMEPROJECTS statement for zingmagazine issue 23, THE VILLAGE is described as “the place all WELCOMECOMPANIONS call home.” This home comes to life in the Retrospective City, “where common objects have been transformed into functional building types as suggested by their forms.” This work, in both its 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional forms, possesses a Duchampian spirit, especially with the chessboard layout and lobster telephone. How and why did the surrealist lens become so important in you?
What’s interesting about Surrealism to me is that in a number of different media it sought to create a jolt or distance from familiar things so that we could see those same things in a new way. In my work I’m interested in the same end particularly through playing with the shapes of familiar objects but creating alternate functions for them. The shapes then reappear at different scales sometimes building-sized, sometimes object-sized, and sometimes somewhere in between.
The illustrations for THEVILLAGE are like architectural blueprints. Do you create these types of preliminary designs for all your WELCOMECOMPANIONS items or WELCOMEPROJECTS? What’s your creative process like?
In The Village I was interested in thinking about how the shapes of certain everyday objects could if enlarged be similar in proportion to building types we are very familiar with—such as the high-rise apartment building, the office complex or corporate headquarters etc. The cordless phone becomes the high-rise apartment building and the button becomes the office complex or corporate headquarters.
As far as my process goes, drawing definitely plays a role in all sorts of different ways. In The Village the project literally is the drawings. For WELCOMECOMPANIONS drawing might be used in the beginning to explore an idea and then to convey the designs to the manufacturer and then often we use drawings in our promotional materials.
Storytelling is another central element in your work. Are there any particular stories that made a significant impact in your life that may have laid the foundations for how you work and conceptualize now?
I was a voracious reader as a child and I think that definitely had an affect, particularly the magical realism that you find in children’s and young adult books—like The Borrowers or even Madeleine L’Engle or The Phantom Tollbooth. In a certain way it’s that same kind of wonder that I try to instill in my work but though objects and our interactions with them.
Speaking of stories, what is the story behind the name of your company?
The name WELCOME came about because I didn’t want to use my own name and I also didn’t want a studio with a faux research-y sounding name. I wanted something that seemed familiar. The studio is called WELCOMEPROJECTS and so WELCOMECOMPANIONS seemed like a natural offshoot for a line of accessories.
You recently collaborated with director, artist, and writer Miranda July on a collection called “Classics” for WELCOMECOMPANIONS, which “takes the phenomenon of a named bag to its most extreme.” The bag, The Miranda, is simple and unassuming from the outside, but inside there are specialized compartments for eccentric things like a single almond and a tissue-sized security blanket. Who else do you think would be an interesting person to collaborate with on a super-custom namesake bag?
It’s interesting you can learn so much about someone via what they carry around in their handbag. The Miranda really evolved in the design process from being just a namesake bag to being the limited edition art piece that it is now. I’d love to know what Joan Didion or Sophie Calle carry around in their handbags.
What would one find inside a Laurel bag?
I don’t know that there is anything particularly unexpected in my handbag . . . up until recently I carried around a two-dollar bill that I got 15 years ago on a visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. The house is full of all these customizations specifically to Jefferson’s day-to-day life- such as his bed existing in a the wall between his study and his bedroom—so that on one side of the bed he got up in his study and the on the other side he got up in the bedroom—this was in case he wanted to get up and just start working immediately.
You have an educational and professional background in architecture and teach at USC’s school of architecture. What new ideas or projects are you and your students currently exploring?
With my students I’m most interested in providing ways of seeing and thinking that pertain to design. Most of my studios are about getting the students think outside of pre-conceived notions or conventions.
Los Angeles has served as your base of operations for many years. What is it about the city that keeps you inspired, or helps facilitate your means of production?
I constantly find Los Angeles inspiring from the oddities of the built environment to the culture of narrative and make believe that originates here. It’s also still a center of production which means you can find nearby almost any material you can think of. It’s hard to imagine trying to make things in a place where every material has to be ordered and shipped in.
What’s on the horizon for WELCOMECOMPANIONS/WELCOMEPROJECTS in 2015?
WELCOMECOMPANIONS has a new collection launching in February called Wrong Side of the Bed, which I’m pretty excited about!