In the Studio with Kate Casey of Peg Woodworking

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The lines are precise. The geometry, rigorous. And yet, in spite of all its apparent sharpness, Kate Casey’s designs always incorporate an element of unexpected softness. It presents in her dimensional weaving—monochromatic or color-blocked—on desktops and benches. You’ll find it in her stools, soft jewel-toned velvet seats arising high above sleek wooden bases. Sometimes even her sturdier materials are lent a deceivingly pliant appearance: a plane of wood made to look as limp as a sheet, draped gently over the arm of a lamp; the marble feet of a table slicing through the wood above it like a knife through butter. It is all deliciously clever, whimsical for a person who only wishes to take their whimsy so far.

Casey does it all under the umbrella of her Brooklyn-based studio Peg Woodworking. Before founding the company in 2014, the Yale grad worked as a sculptor and fabricator, which, today, allows her to smartly fuse form and function to exquisite effect. The weaving she employs is borrowed from Shaker and Scandinavian designs, updated with patterns inspired by Peruvian and American Indian craft. Despite Casey’s clearly robust knowledge of material and process, there is a playfulness to her works that breathes life into the interiors they inhabit. Peg Woodworking’s Instagram feed often cheekily juxtaposes its pieces next to pop culture references: The Hanson Brothers next to three wall hangings, Turner & Hooch astride two sculptures, a pink woven bench paired with the iconic prom dress from Pretty in Pink. It all serves to drive home the point: these are beautiful pieces, yes, but they are livable pieces, as easily incorporated into your life as, say, “MMMbop.”

In the five short years since its founding, Peg Woodworking has been featured in Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, the New York Times, and many more. To help with her ever-increasing workload, Casey has taken on two employees—Sally Suzuki, her studio manager, and Catherine Woodard, who handles marketing and sales—both of whom help with fabrication. It is an exhaustively in-house-only kind of operation, ensuring the highest quality, end to end. Recently, Casey allowed us to sit in on one of her so-called “weaving days” to talk Dolly Parton, fortuitous delivery gigs, and an early affinity for following instructions.

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

During college I delivered pizza. I was waiting tables and the delivery driver quit mid-shift. The manager knew I had a car and asked me to drop the pizza off. I had a flip phone with no GPS so I used this paper map to navigate and plan my route. But I quickly realized I could drive around all night listening to music and get the same amount of tips so I never looked back. I delivered pizza for three years and it paid to get me through college.

Your first experience with art/design as a child:

My mom would always buy me crafty things—bead looms, friendship bracelet kits, Legos—and I loved them. I loved following the instructions; I was a weird kid.

Were your parents interested in art/design? What did they do for work?

They were not in the design world, my dad works for the highway department and my mom works in a homeless shelter and manages low-income housing. Both have been as supportive as parents could be.

Personal pop culture obsession of note:

I loved No Doubt more than I loved anything. I spelled out the words to “Just a Girl” on my wall by cutting letters out of magazines, ransom note-style. In retrospect, it was a bit much.

Favorite moment in pop culture history so far:

Easy. When Garth Brooks released an album as his moody alter ego, Chris Gaines.

In designing furniture, how to you navigating pushing the boundaries of form while maintaining a sense of function?

I went to Mass Art for undergrad, where they placed a heavy focus on formal understanding. So before I had the ability to make work with function I already had a foundation for form. After making sculpture for a few years, I realized I preferred having some restrictions to guide the formal choices. Making sculptural pieces that need to function is a perfect challenge for me; I start with form and work backward to find the function.

Most difficult element of woodworking:

I find fixing mistakes to be a fun type of challenge. Human error always factors into woodworking and it’s dealing with those errors that can make or break a piece. To repair a mistake both aesthetically and structurally is very challenging and very satisfying.

And for weaving?

Endurance. After awhile it gets difficult to sit still; my fingers start to hurt and if my brain starts to wander, I make mistakes. Weaving by hand can be very satisfying— and very hard to do—in long stretches.

Wood or wood stain you’re most recently drawn to:

I love bleaching. It often highlights the grain and leaves the wood with a bone color that I am really drawn to.

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

I wake up and answer emails in bed. If it’s a weaving day, I work from my home studio. If it’s a shop day, I drive in and hop from project to project—all at different stages. Most days, there are chair frames to bring to the powder coater or marble that needs to be picked up. It can get a little chaotic. I am trying to streamline and delegate better going forward so I don’t have to be spread so thin.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

I love Dolly Parton and, more recently, Lizzo.

Least favorite question people ask you as a designer:

“How long did that take?”

What are you currently working on?

New lamp shade concepts.

What medium or tool are you most interested in presently and why?

I have been coopering pieces for the past few years and I have yet to fully scratch the itch. Coopering is how they used to make barrels with angle staves that come together to form a faceted curve. I love the effect you can get and the surprising strength that comes with the math of certain curves. It’s exciting to see the angles come together in an unexpected way, and I’m not quite done experimenting with it yet.

Color you are most attracted to at the moment:

Rusty tones, pinks, oranges, and browns.

What material do you go through the most of?

The cotton cord we use to weave the seats. We probably go through approximately 3,000 feet of cord a week.

What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?

I have been reading Feminasty: A Complicated Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Patriarchy Without Drinking Herself to Death by Erin Gibson. Unfortunately, considering the current state of affairs, I think the “why” is fairly clear.

Best advice you’ve ever received:

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.” — Jack Handey

Photos by Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, specializing in music, fashion, the arts, and culture, both high and low. Her work has been featured in Cereal, Lenny Letter, and more.