Co-creators Linsey Burritt and Crystal Hodges blend sustainable practice, innovative design and thoughtful collaboration to produce interiors, window displays, art installations, objects and environments for a diverse range of clients, designers and venues.
INDO began 2013 by being mentioned as two of ‘The Most Kick-Ass Girls of 2012’ in a list published by Carhartt, the traditional tough-boy clothing manufacturer. This dynamic duo, Linsey Burritt and Crystal Hodges, have had an amazing past year, appearing on ABC Local (WLS-TV) and being featured in Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, and others. The leading visual merchandising trade publication, VMSD, just named two of INDO’s projects to a short list of ‘2012 Stunning Window Displays from Around the World.’
Burritt and Hodges believe in sustainable living so much that they dedicated their careers to it. They co-founded INDO, their West Loop company, in 2007 (think window without the w’s), building window displays and installations from materials that have been diverted from waste and recycling streams. These soft-spoken, stylish young women are making loud statements with their creative repurposing of recyclable goods, practicing what they term quiet activism—urging viewers to think about waste in our society.
Their client list includes Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Taste of Chicago, the Merchandise Mart, and others. Library catalog cards, expired hibiscus, nail polish caps, 6,000 pounds of paper, 17,000 yards of string, and ‘used fabric tubes from foxy designers’ are their selected media. ‘If our work can spur a conversation, that’s a win. If our work causes people to reflect on their consumption patterns, that’s a win, too.’
How did you meet?
LB: We met in the South Loop at a coffee shop Gourmand Coffee. We both were working there and attending Columbia College. I was a Graphic Design student and Crystal was studying Interior Architecture.
What was the catalyst for starting INDO?
CH: City Soles, a shoe store in Wicker Park, commissioned us to do a window and we eventually did 4-5 installations for them. We established a portfolio from these installations and our collective work at Columbia. In 2010 we did a project with Shannon Downey at Pivotal Production for Urban Innovations where we used office paper.
Do you each have designated tasks on projects?
LB: We decide at the beginning: one manages and one assists, it’s a collaboration for us. We begin with an idea session; on most projects we both can do all roles, but we take turns at managing.
What businesses use your services?
LB: Ad agencies, design firms, retail establishments.
How do you calculate your fees?
CH: We calculate our fees on a project by project basis. We scope the project parameters and define the client’s requirements. We then estimate the project which requires a back-and-forth dance until we find the sweet spot. We calculate our rate hourly for most projects, for interiors we cross reference with a square footage rate, and then assume a range for material costs.
Is ‘green’ a big part of your work?
CH: Yes, absolutely. That part comes under material sourcing. We try our best to get materials from stores that like the recycling stream so that we are just diverting it from that stream instead of buying new things. We have to keep buying new glue sticks and other things to support projects but, for the most part, the recycling stream is where the materials come from. We also pay attention to where it’s going after the window is finished so it won’t be thrown away.
How do you handle the recycling phase of a project?
CH: For our smaller projects, we save things. We save and recycle all of our fishing lines; it doesn’t take up that much space. The 6,000 pounds of paper for Steppenwolf is coming down relatively soon and we have to return that to where we got it from, which is Recycling Services. They’re going to take all the paper back; we planned that with them in the design phase.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
CH: We love paper. It is easy to come by and easy to manipulate.
Are most of your materials purchases or donations?
LB: We purchase our materials half of the time and the other half of the time they are either donated or found. When materials aren’t coming to us by way of being donated or found we reach out to recycling companies to see what they have in stock. Last year we purchased a gaylord with 1,000 pounds of sheets of plastic that the recycling company so graciously stores for us. The sheets were used in the Taste of Chicago installation and it’s amazing to us those sheets came at the size they are (3′ x 4′).
Do certain settings influence your choice of materials?
LB: Sure! That’s the nature of site-specific. Since the bulk of the materials we use are in a simple, raw form they are extremely adaptable.
Do clients dictate what they are looking for or do you have free rein?
CH: Sometimes they do; they usually come to us because they have something that they want to show. Delta-Brizo always have a new technology they want to showcase. Then it’s up to us; we go through our creative process and give them a few interpretations. We have creative rein, but they give us a seed. Sometimes the small shops give us full creative rein.
Talk about your recent ‘tea project.’
CH: TeaGschwendner is a German company with its first store in Chicago at Division and State Streets. They decided to do a window display because they’re thinking about rebranding. Even though they’re a German company in America, they’re recognizing where they are in the world. A friend brought us to their attention and we did their first window. It was a small window and something we have been struggling with lately is we don’t do too many small boutiques because we have to manage the budget. What we do is usually so intricate and ‘out there,’ that’s what we’re known for. To take enough time for us to get a small budget to work is very difficult. We’re trying to be more successful so we can work with the smaller boutiques in Chicago. It’s not easy to do what we do in half or a quarter of the time.
What is your most challenging project?
LB: The current Brizo installation at Dream2O showroom in the Merchandise Mart was challenging as we worked with string in a new way. We built a full scale prototype in our studio, which we don’t generally do since it takes a lot of time. We find a challenge in projects of all sizes. For Brizo we were challenged by sculpting string in a new way, but for the Tea project, we were challenged by a tight time frame.
What is your most rewarding project?
LB: Steppenwolf. It often felt as though it was an impossible project. It was a big accomplishment for us. We sorted through 10,000 pounds of paper and the final result used 6,000 pounds of paper. To see that go up and stay up was quite gratifying.
CH: With that project we had the opportunity to work closely with a recycling agency that was very excited to be involved and to see what their material could be used for. They had a different sense of purpose when working with us. It inspired a larger community than we are used to working with. We also had a lot of volunteers that gave their time to help us sort through the paper for specific uses.
Would you say that this project has given INDO a media presence?
LB: It was a slow trickle. We would get a slow trickle of press and then it was full stream.
CH: Linsey has been very involved in the design community since college and a lot of our press came from that community bouncing our name around. People find the work that we are doing and the materials we’re using interesting. We have a different model, because we made it up: we’re doing what we want in windows and with this medium. It’s not that we made up window dressing, but we’re doing it a different way and people are responding to that. People ask ‘Why did you start, how did you start? How do I do something like that?’ We really don’t have an answer. You just have to do something you like and see what sticks.
Where does your inspiration come from?
LB: I don’t think it comes from one place.
CH: A lot of times we just play with materials. We process things internally, we both just dream about things. We take our time and think about it, and not let anything hold back that kind of ideation. Then, we get real with it; just allowing yourself to dream about it yields results.
You currently share studio space with Strand Design, a hot new furniture design company. How did that come about, and does that foster a more creative work environment?
CH: I actually worked with Sharon Burdett, Strand co-owner and principal, at a different job. When I was doing retail design, Sharon was doing the graphics for that company.
LB: Ted Burdett had studio space that was shared by 6-8 different artists—now it’s our current space. At that time Crystal and I were excited about being creative on our own and we talked about starting a collective together. We met a few times with Sharon and Ted around the time that Strand was born and we decided to share space together.
Do you find that you feed off each other in your different areas of work?
LB: Yes, just being in the same space with other creative people, even at a subconscious level, informs and supports the work.
Do you have a staff or interns, or use volunteers as a project requires?
LB: We’ve used volunteers in the past for lack of budget. It would be a dream to be able to afford to work with other like-minded, creative individuals as it makes the work better.
Where do you hire them from? Are they students at Columbia, or professionals?
CH: Students usually email us and then we save it for future reference. Lately we have a teacher at Columbia that has been rallying her students. We got a great student of hers recently who we’ve been trying to work with. The students are excited and it’s best to have people that are excited to be working on these projects.
Describe a typical studio day.
CH: Go in, make coffee; sometime we chat, sometimes we don’t. We’ll probably check our email; sometimes we’re on the computer all day, sometimes we’re not. We always make lunch, because we have a kitchen at the studio; we usually make an afternoon coffee. Everybody’s lives in the studio revolve around coffee and lunch!
LB: There’s a little bakery, Loretta’s, on Randolph and we go there around 3 o’clock; we all go for a cookie, a little pick me up.
Do you socialize together when you’re away from the studio?
LB: Absolutely. We’ve been friends for 10 years and still have the same group of girlfriends worked with at Gourmand.
Favorite way to chill?
CH: I love to cook at home, and I love my greyhound Rachel (aka: Moto Rainbow).
LB: I love to mix up a great Manhattan to drink while I cook. And play gin rummy.
What’s next for INDO? Any move in the near future?
CH: A future goal is more of our own personal projects. 2013 is already lined up with client projects, which is a good thing. Right now we’re in the perfect space with no plans to move.
Any lectures, demonstrations, or teaching positions?
CH: We do occasional talks to students. There’s also job shadowing with Chicago Public School students, usually at the high school level.
Do you have a mentor(s)?
CH: Tim Cozzens, my studio professor in interior architecture at Columbia, he was always supportive, encouraging, and never gave up on me.
LB: My mentors are my friends. We have a very strong creative community surrounding us. My boyfriend, Sam Rosen, is my main mentor; he is part of the Post Family, an art and design collective in Chicago, and he has a web design firm.
Who are your favorite Chicago artists?
LB: I love Jenny Kendler. She always impresses me and she’s one artist in Chicago whose exhibitions I always attend. She did the Bolt Residency at Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC) and had an installation there recently.
CH: That’s really hard. All of our friends are artists and I don’t have a favorite. I have a favorite photographer who is one of my best friends, Stephanie Bassos. She is so good with people and has a passion for it. Stephanie is continually growing her photography and it’s beautiful to watch somebody escalate. She also did an amazing job photographing my wedding.
LB: We collaborated with Stephanie at the Rainbo Club, a bar in Ukrainian Village back in 2007. They have these window boxes inside that they feature local art in and one day it occurred to me how amazing it would be to engulf them. Stephanie’s work went up on the walls and inside of the window boxes we printed her photos life size and then placed a few props to make those photos come to life.
What are you currently reading?
CH: I’m reading Until I Find You by John Irving.
LB: I’m reading Rework by 37signals.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
CH: There are a few things. When we were talking about materials and how we got started, Margot Harrington wrote something: she basically took everything we were doing and made a sentence about how we diverted things from the recycling streams. We got that from her; it was the first time that somebody helped us frame what we were doing because we were doing this and not realizing it.
LB: She has a blog, Pitch Design Union, we enjoy.
CH: We see that window dressing has a powerful role on the street where it can impact people in different ways. A lot of people stop to look at great displays, just like they would stop to look at great art. For our future plans we are trying to engage people to use window display as a platform for larger campaigns or different kinds of messaging; having more of a purpose, or social platform, rather than just something beautiful. We are not there yet but hopefully in 2013.
Kathleen Waterloo had an 18-year career in interior architecture in Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1996 and is currently an artist in Chicago.