Get to Know the Tucson Furniture Brand Taking the Design World By Storm
The unlikely pair behind Baker Hesseldenz Studio creates functional works of art for the home.
By Carly Scholl | Photography by François Robert
In a Tucson studio alive with pulsating creative energy and filled with the implements of meticulous artisans, two designers have built a unique furniture brand based on the contrasting and complementary nature of their individual backgrounds. Each comes to the proverbial table armed with years of experience in different creative industries. While Mary Ann Hesseldenz, inspired by 1970s style and punk rock music, built her career as a fashion designer in New York City, Scott Baker boasts a lineage of Quaker furniture makers stretching back to the 18th century, and he followed suit in the family trade after graduating from University of Arizona.
The pair met after Hesseldenz moved to Tucson in 2001 and opened an interior design firm, through which she curated an annual exhibition of furniture designs. “It seemed like every time I would talk to someone about this event, they would ask, ‘Have you met Scott Baker?’” she recalls. “Everyone had talked him up so much that I drove over to his studio and asked him to be in the exhibit. We got to know each other
as friends and did the show for a couple years. I started having him do all the millwork for my interior design projects. It was instantly clear to both of us that we worked really well together.”
The couple began dating in 2006 and formed their interior design business, Baker Hesseldenz Studio, that same year. “Then the economic downturn happened,” explains Baker, “and our dream of creating furniture kind of got put aside as we shifted to mainly crafting cabinetry and architectural millwork for several years.”
As they emerged from the worst of the recession, the couple was finally able to ask themselves, “What makes us happy?” Hesseldenz remembers, “Scott looked at me and said, ‘I want a furniture company.’”
Masters of Collaboration
In 2016, Baker Hesseldenz Studio’s inaugural line of five furniture pieces made its debut. Inspired by everything from the spire-filled skyline of Istanbul to the Siege of Sarajevo to a stiletto heel, each creation featured the signature blend of traditional artistry and fresh ingenuity that has garnered the duo praise from all over the world.
“When it comes to our business partnership, we both come up with the ideas, but Mary Ann is the one who envisions the essence of a piece and I’m the fine-tuner,” says Baker. Notes Hesseldenz, “Some of my strengths are scale and proportion, from my background in fashion. Scott will think up a design, and I can make suggestions about scale that can completely change the piece. We don’t fight, but we’re very honest with each other.”
The result of this dynamic collaboration is a couture collection that transcends both traditionalism and modernism thanks to an orignal alchemy of high design and expert craftsmanship. Such ancient elements as bronze, oak and walnut mingle deftly with contemporary details crafted from acrylic and quartz, while asymmetry and elongated proportions lend an edge to the classic curio cabinet or coffee table. “Our work is sort of influenced by turn-of-the-century design, midcentury modernism and ’70s and ’80s style. It is a physical embodiment of the marriage of opposites,” asserts Hesseldenz.
“My first impression of their collection was that it was a little bit rock ’n’ roll, very metropolitan and definitely not something that, at face value, you would assume was being designed and produced in a town with such a different cultural aesthetic as Tucson,” explains Richard Wilkinson, owner of a Scottsdale showroom that represents Baker Hesseldenz Studio. “Their work might not be right for everyone. These pieces really appeal to the client who understands and appreciates fine art.”
A Community of Creatives
While each sofa, stool, credenza and table is crafted in the Baker Hesseldenz studio space, it takes many hands to raise a piece from concept to completion, and the couple is passionate about working with local talent. “Everything that’s
fabricated out-of-house is done by artisans within a 3-mile radius of our studio,” notes Baker. “The tradesman who does all of our caning detailing operates out of his living room, working on one chair at a time.”
One of the couple’s main collaborators is Metalphysic Sculpture Studio, a family-owned and -operated bronze-casting business in Tucson. “We work almost exclusively with sculptors, but Mary Ann and Scott’s work is truly in the realm of multimedia art,” explains founder Tony Bayne. “Their furniture is very contemporary, especially in the way they use bronze as an essential element, but at the same time their designs have somewhat classical shapes that manage to be seductive instead of severe.”
Style and Sustainability
As the couple continue to dream up new designs for their furniture line, they remain as devoted as ever to their original mission of quality over consumerism and purpose over popularity. “We don’t listen to trends,” says Hesseldenz. “We try to make timeless pieces that have both a hint of history and a sense of the future. In the fashion industry in New York, I was inundated with constant chatter about what was ‘in.’ Paying attention to trends completely diluted my ability to design a pure collection that came from
Adds Baker, “That’s why we love working in Tucson. There is no white noise from a fast-paced market that demands trendiness in our work. Our influences can come from anywhere and they don’t have to fit into what is popular. We want our pieces to be functional, but we also want them to last forever as generational heirlooms. I don’t want any of our creations to be disposable or unloved. The ultimate goal in sustainable design is making something that will survive many lifetimes.”