We're continually blown away by the creative individuals we work with here at UO — from artists to designers, stylists to photographers...we're surrounded by a completely inspiring and hardworking group. For this week's US@UO feature, which tells the stories about some of the amazing people we're lucky enough to work alongside, we're visiting the Philadelphia home of our Design Build Senior Manager Todd Quarles: AKA the guy who helps conceive, design, and execute all the amazing installations inside our UO stores.
Todd has worked for UO for nearly a decade, starting as a display artist in the store in Charleston, SC. After awhile, he started traveling around to other store locations to help them open and have input in creating the design prototypes. Eventually, he moved to the Philadelphia home office to work as the Corporate Display Artist. Over the years, his role has evolved and grown into what he does today, which includes everything from designing the way the flooring looks in fitting rooms to considering wall finish details to planning and constructing giant hanging installations. Off-duty, Todd's just as busy with a seemingly unlimited amount of hobbies, side projects, and talents: seriously, his apartment is a treasure trove of found, vintage, and insanely cool pieces he's made by hand. Not to mention his airy Philly loft—within which he has built a woodshop INSIDE the apartment—is also pretty fantastic. We caught up with him to talk more about how he works, how he's inspired, and what dream projects he's cooking up.
Photos by Michael Muller
Above: Cutting boards Todd made from different layered pieces of maple, cherry, walnut, white oak, white ash, and philippine mahogany woods
When did you first start making things by hand?
When I was really young I remember hanging out in my grandfather’s basement and he had every hand tool you could think of and multiples of each. So from a young age I wanted to use tools. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and where I lived, houses were being built constantly. When I was in grade school and junior high we used to take scrap wood from construction sites and build forts. I usually had the ideas in my head and my friends would help me build them. Building forts turned into skateboard ramps as I got a little older.
Above: A collection of vintage cameras (most sourced from antique stores or estate sales) arranged in front of the latticed wall he designed to break up his bedroom from the rest of the studio apartment.
Can you share more about the herringbone-patterned wall you built in your apartment — and how you've reworked the technique in UO projects?
When I moved into my space there was a bedroom built, but I decided to convert that into my workshop…and was left without a bedroom. I decided to build a divider wall to build a proper room, but since it's a backdrop for my living space I wanted to make it look cool. I constructed the wall in a herringbone pattern since I could use mostly scrap wood, using all kinds of wood from hardwoods to plywood to Masonite. One of the things that makes it unique is all of the woods are different thicknesses, giving it a really interesting texture. When I got to the corner I wanted to continue the herringbone around the corner instead of changing direction (which is how people normally do it). So the corner took me a while to figure out since I used different thicknesses of wood…definitely the most difficult (but satisfying) part.
In the doorway I used MDF that I painted and then sanded to give it an effect of tile with grout. We ended up using that technique in our Westwood store on a giant wall for the backdrop of the women’s space. It was cool to see what I did in a small way in my apartment turned into a large scale project in one of our stores.
Above: On the dining table, a series of patterned vases Todd made from re-envisioning root beer bottles.
What are some of your favorite UO design-build projects you've worked on?
I would have to say my favorite store is Store #78 in Charleston, SC. Maybe it’s because I started there, but it is so beautiful, housed in an old theatre from the early 1900s; the back half of the theater was restored and the front half was left in its original state, left open to see the layers of the space and how it was constructed.
A favorite recent project was the drop ceiling we installed in the New York Herald Square building, which covers about 2500 square feet. It was totally different than anything we'd done before.
Above: Todd tracing a prototype for his wooden hearts, which he makes from a mix of any scrap wood he can get his hands on, from used skateboard decks to glued-up scrap plywood to pristinely beautiful hardwoods.
Can you tell us the story behind the wooden hearts you make? How did you first come up with the idea?
It’s kind of funny: when I lived in Charleston, I was part of an art show in a venue connected to a vintage shop. The premise of the show was centered around these antique suitcases the shop had found, where each artist was assigned a suitcase and made work in response to it and using its materials. I got a little hard shell train case, and right away saw it as a head of a toy robot. So I made a six-foot-tall robot out of all kinds of both items I found and built, using the train case as the head. I thought it would be funny to have a heart in a robot and decided to make one out of wood, inserting in a matte black box inside the robot chest so it looked like the heart was floating. A friend later said that the heart was her favorite part of the whole project, which gave me the idea to continue making them.
From there I made a couple as gifts and put them in a little ornately-framed shadow box. The boxes are either matte black or white, and the heart is high gloss: I want it to be the main focus. About two years ago I did a show at UO's home office just about the hearts and made 35 of them and ended up selling a bunch of them. Now, I keep making them but mostly sell them through my Instagram and word of mouth.
Could you walk through the steps of how you make one?
I either start with a chunk of wood or I glue up a bunch of little pieces to make a block of wood that's six inches wide, six tall, and two deep. I draw a rough heart shape on the block, trying to consider how the grain will work with the shape of the heart. I then cut it out and start to shape it, using a benchtop belt sander...this usually takes about an hour. Once I get the rough shape I sand it to make it smooth and to fine-tune the shape. It’s pretty cool to see as I start to remove material how the grain changes. One of the reasons I like making them is every one I make has its own characteristics. I could cut five hearts out of the same slab of wood and each has a unique look and natural beauty about it. Once the heart is shaped I try and put between 6-10 coats of high gloss clear on it, which really brings out all of the detail. The shadow box that I mount them in is a pretty simple design, but actually takes a decent amount of work as well.
Above: Todd's collection of vintage clamps and the tattoo they inspired
Above: Scenes from Todd's apartment in north Philly
What are some of your favorite objects in your home?
I think one of my favorite pieces I have is my Z chair from Selig. I’m always inspired by midcentury furniture and design. I found this chair in a thrift store in South Carolina and picked it up for $75 and re-upholstered the cushions. I’ve seen them go for up to $1700, so that was definitely a good one. I also garbage-picked my 1975 Herman Miller fiberglass shell chairs…I was really psyched on that find. The next project for my house is a walnut and maple credenza.
Above: Another of Todd's (many) interests? Fixing up bikes, like this 1977 Harley Ironhead, which he's rebuilding to make his own with a new front end, gas tank, and handlebars.
What new ideas or projects have you been thinking about lately?
What’s pretty awesome about my job is when I have an idea it usually becomes a reality, or at least some iteration of it. So it’s rare that I have something sitting on the back burner that I don’t get a chance to use. It’s kind of the opposite, actually: we have a lot of projects so we are constantly pushing to come up with new ideas. Most of the design is such a collaborative process, whether it’s an idea that I have that evolves or I’m tweaking someone else’s idea. Actually…I do have one idea I’ve wanted to use in a store somewhere for a long time and we haven’t really had the right space for it. It has to do with the skeleton of skateboard ramps and ceilings. I’m going to leave it at that. We’ll see if it ever comes to fruition.
Above: Tools and the setup in Todd's workshop space, which he designed inside his Philadelphia apartment
Keep following the blog for more US@UO posts and behind-the-scenes looks at the amazingly creative individuals who make up the UO team!