Visions of Home
Living the dream is a tough gig, but Adam Dunn of Four Hands has what it takes
by Neal Baker
Photographs by Mica McCook
Four Hands is the biggest name in home furnishings that you didn’t know you knew. Even if you’ve been to its storefront in South Austin, you may not have realized that your other favorite and second-favorite and maybe third-favorite furniture stores have been stocked with its designs all along. Overseeing the Austin-based company’s extensive creative output is creative director Adam Dunn, whom I’ve come to see in his office. Showing me to a soft, squared off armchair of his creation, he tells me about the uniquely modern and fashion-forward vision behind designs that regularly land in the catalogs of retailers like West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel, to name a few.
In his position, Dunn must set the tone for the collections that will populate the look-books and showrooms each season, choosing themes to be communicated through shapes, materials, and colors. Simultaneously, he has to understand the business of it all, developing the company at the same time as its look. It’s a large responsibility, but Dunn welcomes it. “You have the opportunity to make really big, impactful change,” he says. “Whether it’s good or bad — you never know.” But something tells me that he does know. He’s clearly confident and passionate, and now he has 15 years of product development under his belt. His method is collaborative and has him constantly filtering information about concepts, feelings, and other people’s desires. “I’m a big Pinterest guy,” he tells me. “It’s like a brain dump.” To be sure, his brain must be packed to the brim.
It’s the dream job…the thing about being a creative director is that you finally have the opportunity to build
the brand the way you see it should be.
It’s full steam ahead for Dunn right now, but his personal path to where he is now was not a straight shot. He spent time in and out of school, and his first design-related endeavors didn’t involve interiors at all but had him doing wardrobes for photo shoots. Tugging on his shirt sleeve, he reveals to me a reminder of when things truly clicked into place. The numerals “XXVII” inked on his forearm mark the 27th year of his life, the number serving as a memento of several things — some beginnings and some endings — from what he described as one of the milestone years of his life. Most notably: his graduation from college, his first job in product development, and the passing of his beloved grandfather. It was the kind of year that sweeps you off your feet just a bit, but as he sees it, “it really catapulted my direction in life.” The next several years he spent at Arhaus developing the skills that would take him to where he is today at Four Hands. He’s been in his current position since 2013, but he still finds excitement in the possibilities it presents him with. “It’s the dream job … the thing about being a creative director is that you finally have the opportunity to build the brand the way you see it should be.”
In all aspects of Dunn’s work, business and design end up being codependent. This relationship is visible even in the Four Hands office space, a tall room where the classic cubicle, stylish as it may be, is forgotten in favor of open and airy workspaces divided by glass set in grand frames of iron, all Dunn’s creation. The front wall of the room is covered in corkboards, upon which are pinned clippings and printouts full of moods, textures, colors, and other inspiration. It’s a manifestation of the ongoing collaboration and a hint at what’s to come. What ends up on that wall is not merely the result of inspiration, but also of careful study of what people want. As Dunn explains, it’s about finding “what the general mood and feel is of the consumer, and then making the material story around that.”
Dunn is in good company in his efforts to bring these “stories” to life. He leads a team of designers plucked from places like Anthropologie, Arteriors, and American Leather. “They’re all incredibly creative and really smart merchants,” he says, with emphasis on the latter distinction as the magic ingredient in Four Hands’ formula for imagining products that push boundaries of style but that also reach a huge market. “That’s what we really look for,” Dunn continues, “not just designers, because that’s just half of our business … it says a lot that they can lead with the business strategy but still manage to [create] really beautiful pieces.”
Indeed, the Four Hands collection stands out in all the right ways. While there’s a classic sensibility that runs through everything it creates, each piece possesses a distinctive charm owing to the care given to details. It’s hard to imagine what goes into finding the perfect wood grain or pairing hard and soft edges just so, but in talking with Dunn, the magic becomes easier to understand. For every decision, he makes clear the reason behind that choice and what it means to the piece or the room, but more importantly to the brand as a whole.
Today, the next vision of the brand sits before me on Dunn’s desk in a stack of papers. Essentially the definitive collection of visual ideas informing the next season, this new outgoing creative brief, he tells me, is full of fresh approaches and looks with more colors, more textures, and in some places more simplicity than we have come to expect from Four Hands. Plenty else is new for the company, which is growing fast as ever, but for Dunn, the next big step is parenthood. Having recently adopted two young boys, he calls the current year another “big milestone, even bigger than this,” pointing again to his tattoo. And truth be told, big can be difficult, especially when kids are involved, but Dunn is astoundingly put together for someone operating on zero hours of sleep. I guess by now he knows how to take the twists and turns. In business and in life, a lot can happen in just a year. And while it’s not always clear where it all leads, it’s exciting enough to be going somewhere.