Hoosiers don’t like to toot our own horns, but if we think the horn isn’t up to snuff, we’ll be the first to design a better one, and figure it out along the way if we have to. These 17 Indiana products represent established brands and industrious makers who are low-key killing it right now—a bath company collaborating with a world-famous fashion designer, a leather worker crafting goods for Willie Nelson, red-carpet looks fresh off the Paris runway, the paper straw having a heyday. If you like cool stuff and love Indiana, consider this your ultimate shopping list.
Jonathan Nesci and Christopher Stuart both have furniture designs in the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s permanent collection—and they’re working right here in the museum’s backyard. From their studios—Nesci’s in Columbus and Stuart’s in Carmel—comes deceptively simple sculptural furniture that’s sold through art galleries for tens of thousands of dollars. Nesci became established in Chicago as a designer who pushes the boundaries of digital fabrication in collaboration with master craftsmen, while Stuart is a native eastsider who can weld and learned to design on the job at Thomson Consumer Electronics; he later graduated from Herron School of Art & Design, and can keep a lot of fabrication in-house. When Nesci moved to Indiana, he and Stuart discovered a mutual ambition and mindset. “We both work in collectible design, which is a relatively small field,” Stuart says. And hard to understand, so we asked each guy to explain the other’s genius.
Nesci on Stuart
“What makes Chris’s work of interest is that he has a background in pure industrial design and the skills and equipment to physically make his own work. This hybrid of resources opens up many possibilities. His passion for production quality and his understanding of process and finish have led him to create work like the U Bench that merges traditional craftsmanship with industrial processes. His work is important to Indiana (and Indiana is important to his work) because he is part of an independent art scene that works far enough from coastal and big-city influences, allowing plenty of space for new work to breathe. This means that his pieces are born as objects of his own creation without the input of a hyper-competitive system.”
Stuart on Nesci
“One thing I find interesting about Jonathan that is important to Indiana is that his work is local, but has an international stage. He works out of a small town, collaborating with local industrial manufacturers to produce very refined, museum-quality work. It’s a practice of true minimalism and restraint. His work, like the Library Bookcase, defies one’s expectations of an industrial product with its delicate balance of scale and visual weight. Although made entirely of aluminum plate, it appears to float effortlessly on the wall: an example of his sensitivity to scale, proportion, materiality, and construction.”
Library Bookshelf (2007)
Wallpaper magazine gave Nesci’s polished-aluminum wall-mounted shelf an award for best use of materials in 2009. It’s part of an early collection that used only seven- or 70-degree angles (the bay walls are set at seven degrees), which represents Nesci’s interest in designing within geometric constraints.
$18,000 through W/ gallery in Columbus, jonathannesci.com
U Bench (2015)
The rolled bronze sections are connected with only four small welds where they meet. Stuart meticulously files down those points so the piece looks perfectly seamless. When viewed through the opening, the two U shapes form a circle. Galleries in New York City, San Francisco, and Beverly Hills sell the limited run of 30.
Price upon request through The Future Perfect galleries, christopherstuart.com
1. Leather Feather Stone
STEVIE CROSSBODY $498
Why so much? To get her signature torn-edge flap without creating a lot of wasted leather, Lindemann has to spend considerable time placing the pattern on the hide just so. No two flaps are the same, each piece of fringe is cut by hand, and the bag is entirely stitched without a machine. One of Project Runway’s all-stars ordered a custom Leather Feather Stone purse.
Available at Green Apple Boutique in Zionsville, etsy.com/shop/leatherfeatherstone
2. Howl + Hide
Why so much? Resiak has been sought out to make leather pouches for John Wayne Stock & Supply and a rolling-paper holder for Willie Nelson, but you’re not paying for his status. You’re splurging for a lifetime warranty, quick-release front straps, expandable sides for traveling, a reinforcing brace under the handle, and an inside pocket that holds the biggest laptop out there. If you don’t mind a crooked rivet or two, you might find one discounted at this month’s sample sale.
Available at Howl + Hide near Fountain Square, howlandhidesupply.com
3. People for Urban Progress
Jessica Bricker and Amy Beemer
CONDUCTOR WEEKENDER DUFFEL $435
Why so much? When Amtrak refreshed 20 of its trains from the Northeast Corridor, PUP got hold of the seats, stripped off the buttery deep-blue leather, dry-cleaned it with an environmentally friendly process, then solved the challenge of cutting out patterns around worn seams. The effort raises money for PUP’s city-beautification projects around Indy and saved a lot of leather from the landfill—leather “Amtrak Joe” Biden might have sat on.
Available at the People for Urban Progress studio at Central State, peopleup.org
4. Spark Leatherworks
PILOR PANNIER $275
Why so much? Roe created his own line of bags but died last year before going to market. (See page 8 for the full story.) His family just began selling Roe’s inventory. He obsessed over the perfect leather—it came entirely from the shoulder of Texas cattle, was produced without chemicals, and went to a saddle tannery in Brazil. His sketches looked like rocket schematics; the black pannier (shown) has more than 100 components and converts to a backpack. And each one carries a piece of Roe’s soul.
Available online only, sparkleatherworks.com
5. LM Leather Goods
BRIDGES BACKPACK $550
Why so much? LM employs master craftsmen to hand-stitch its bags, which are a spinoff of a third-generation company that has been making guitar straps for the best in show business since 1975, based out of a three-story former Montgomery Ward store in Anderson. LM works with a tannery to customize leather to its specifications. Finer points include foam padding, waterproof lining, and rolled edges that hold up for the long haul and bridge the gap between work, weekend, and wanderlust.
Available at James Dant in Irvington, lmleathergoods.com
Aardvark, The Original Paper Straw (2007)
A guy named Marvin Stone was ahead of his time when he designed a paper straw 130 years ago, before the world fell in love with plastic and then tried to atone for it. He patented a spiral-wound version and created a company to produce the straws. Eventually, that company became Fort Wayne–based Aardvark, which revived the design (and made it fun) in 2007 for restaurants, bars, and hotels. In 2014, the company patented a bendable paper tube, and last year, it ramped up production capacity by 700 percent to meet demand. A straw can decompose in 45 to 90 days, and the cute patterns don’t suck.
600-count jumbo straws, $30 at aardvarkstraws.com (also available on Amazon)
Linnea’s Lights (2009)
Before Gwyneth Paltrow committed a crime against candles (Google it), her Goop website plugged Linnea’s Lights, which are mixed and kraft-paper-wrapped in Carmel and sold in hundreds of boutiques around the United States. Country-music star Holly Williams had Linnea’s Lights create a signature scent for her boutiques, White’s Mercantile. The soy-wax candles are crafted in small batches entirely by hand and without corner-cutting or skimping on fragrance. If they left their front door open, the Carmel Drive corridor would smell divine.
Linnea’s Lights original Cashmere two-wick candle, $38 at Haus Love in SoBro, linneaslights.com
Klipsch Headphones (2018)
Tony Martin and Andrew Doerr
When Paul Klipsch built his first set of speakers in 1946, the giant walnut-clad cabinets helped launch an entire industry: hi-fi home audio. Today, many of his Indianapolis-based company’s products retain that midcentury style. “We just continued to do it until it was cool again,” says Tony Martin, Klipsch’s senior manager of industrial design. The historical influence is certainly evident in these top-of-the-line Heritage HP-3 headphones. Featuring sheepskin ear cushions, solid walnut cups, and copper elements, the cans look as good as they sound through a high-end amplifier. Which—you’ll just have to trust us on this—is pretty amazing.
Heritage HP-3 headphones in walnut, $1,379 at Ovation Audio Video in Carmel, klipsch.com
Silca SuperPista Ultimate Bike Pump (2014)
If you didn’t know the Hoosier character, you might think the extravagantly engineered SuperPista Ultimate bike pump was designed as a publicity stunt. But Silca, a 100-year-old Italian bike-parts company sold to Hoosier Josh Poertner in 2013, was completely serious about creating the best pump in the world. There’s no plastic; it’s mostly stainless steel. The purpleheart wood handle is turned on a lathe. The hose was originally designed for racecar brake lines. The plunger inside is Italian leather, more durable than rubber. The gauge is nearly accurate enough for NASA. The pump will never wobble. Six years after Wired admired it but grimaced at the price, Poertner is still selling them to the hardcore cycling customers he envisioned.
SuperPista Ultimate bike pump, $450, silca.cc
Jason Wu for Brizo (2012)
Seth Fritz, Judd Lord, and Jason Wu
In 2006, three years before Michelle Obama put Jason Wu on the map by wearing one of his dresses to her first presidential inaugural ball, the designer hooked up with Brizo, a stylish division of Carmel-based powerhouse Delta Faucet Company. Brizo began sponsoring Wu’s runway shows, and later debuted a bath collection designed by the man who had become a high-fashion superstar. At the time, a matte-black finish wasn’t seen anywhere in kitchen and baths, but Brizo (specifically, industrial designers Judd Lord and Seth Fritz) had been experimenting with the look in its local design studio. Wu had to have it. He considers the tub filler “the little black dress” of bathroom hardware.
Jason Wu for Brizo Odin Collection Widespread Lavatory Faucet, $738, brizo.com
Union Western Clothing (2014)
Jerry Lee Atwood
Not many men in Indianapolis have an occasion to wear an embroidered and rhinestoned Western suit, but now that Jerry Lee Atwood is dressing rock stars and NFL players in his custom two-pieces, maybe more guys here will find one (Rev, Zoobilation, ArtSparkle … ). Lee, a self-taught designer who picked up some skills working backstage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, affixes each Swarovski rhinestone the old-school way—in a four-pronged setting—rather than the modern shortcut of gluing. So when one of his pieces ends up in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it will look as good as new.
Custom suit, $2,500 and up, unionwestern.com
Nikki Blaine Couture (2007)
This red-carpet outfit by Nikki Blaine—rhinestones, sequins, fringe, and mesh fused with stretch satin—recently walked the runway at Paris Fashion Week as part of her Queen of the Night collection. It was the Zionsville-based designer’s Paris debut, but she has shown at New York Fashion Week since 2011 while building a bona fide fashion label—not often done in Indiana. Blaine customizes gowns (or pants) for special events as well as everyday looks in sizes 0 to 20, and might not let you get away with boring black.
Queen Star Appeal, $725, Nikki Blaine Couture in Zionsville, nikkiblaine.com
Vera Bradley ReActive Collection (2020)
Vera Bradley has become one of the great American fashion labels, just as casual, practical, and pretty as Michael Kors and Liz Claiborne. The famous Fort Wayne accessories company sells more duffels than any other brand in the United States, and those quilted-cotton airport staples have pushed the industry to value femininity in design. The new ReActive collection, released this year, uses the company’s great reach to promote sustainability. The material (milled specially for Vera Bradley) is made from recycled plastic water bottles, and the company says it will help recycle 3 million of them in six months. When you slip a water bottle into the backpack’s stretchy mesh side pockets, make sure it’s a reusable one.
ReActive “Grand” backpack in Gramercy Paisley, $115 at Vera Bradley’s Fashion Mall store, verabradley.com
Old Hickory Furniture Co. “Leanback” Chair (1930s)
Bark-on, knobby limbs of hickory wood make the best rustic furniture. Indiana was once home to at least five major manufacturers of hickory furnishings, so you might find the long-lasting relics in basements and backrooms around the state. But it’s easier to just buy the “Leanback” chair from Old Hickory, the last of the great companies still around. The Shelbyville maker was once the country’s largest hickory-furniture producer, famous for furnishing lodges in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks. It recently reached into its archives to revive production of the classic “Leanback” in either open cane rattan or an upholstered back and seat. It looks as timeless in a downtown condo as it does on a Bean Blossom porch.
$975 and up, oldhickory.com
Julie Browning Bova Home Collection (2011)
Julie Browning Bova
In open-concept living, the sofa probably won’t sit against a wall, which means it better look good from the back. Carmel-based interior designer Julie Browning Bova thought of that while creating fine furniture for three top American brands over the last decade. Note the “Morgan” sofa’s cutout details around the bottom. The piece is part of Bova’s Stanford Furniture collection, which is handcrafted in North Carolina, the cradle of the American furniture industry, and boasts classic lines so any piece easily can be reupholstered and updated down the road. Bova’s signature is equestrian influence, tied to her Zionsville family life—the “Morgan” is named for an American breed known in the competition world for comfort and versatility, two qualities that apply to this sofa available in a huge range of sizes and upholsteries.
“Morgan” sofa in leather, $4,900 and up at Julie Browning Bova Studio in Carmel, juliebrowningbova.com
Jennifer Masten and Mike Tuttle
Modern-living design company Inhabit was one of the first to realize walls don’t have to be flat. Its dimensional wall panels changed the design industry—and have shown up all over TV.
Wall Flats (2004)
Back in 2004, walls were either painted, wallpapered, tiled, or Venetian-plastered. Inhabit introduced another idea: dimensional designs like waves, graphic shapes, and basket weaves on adhesive molded-paper squares. Wall Flats debuted at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2004, and Interior Design magazine named them the best eco-friendly product of 2006. The fabrication would become even more sustainable when Inhabit switched from bamboo to bagasse, a renewable byproduct of sugar cane that would normally go to waste. The product steadily found a fan base with commercial designers, who have used it in untold number of projects, like the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Panama City, Panama. Inhabit did a custom version for the Google headquarters. The owners don’t always know the final destination of an order made by a contractor or interior designer, so many times they have stumbled across Wall Flats in a magazine or on TV (30 Rock, E! News). Wall Flats are often used in homes, too, but installation is tricky for DIYers. Inhabit recommends using a heavy-duty wallpaper paste, and you have to leave a gap between the tiles and mud the seam like drywall. Sales surpass $20 million now, and they are currently available in 14 patterns, which are copyrighted—beware knockoffs. $3/square foot
Cast Concrete Tiles (2015)
The first spinoff was concrete tile that works in applications that the paper product doesn’t, like on fireplaces and outdoors. The Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach used it. $18 to $25/square foot
Peel-and-Stick Planks (2016)
Inhabit got the sense that homeowners wanted something easier to install. At the same time, the modern aesthetic was softening with the introduction of natural materials. Inhabit responded to the trends with peel-and-stick strips with the look of wood grains (complete with knotholes but minus any bug infestations) in a cleaner, less-rustic interpretation of reclaimed lumber. The 18 options include a midcentury walnut, a beachy gray driftwood, and salvaged barnwood. $7.50/square foot
Wedge-shaped Planks can be set in herringbone, chevrons, and zig-zags. $12/square foot
Finished Wall Flats (2020)
This year, Inhabit released Wall Flats in a number of new looks, like wool felt, solid matte colors, and wood grains. The felt, available in 25 colors, provides softer acoustics. The solid mattes mean customers don’t have to paint them if they want colored Wall Flats (the original only comes in white), and they wipe clean. Plus, they can be applied with double-stick tape. Masten, Tuttle, and their staff are actually cutting the finishes, applying them to a standard Wall Flat, and hand-trimming them, by the hundreds to order, in their Irvington studio. “We’re the ones figuring out the best way to do it,” Masten says. $14.50/square foot