Eye On Design: Carter McGuyer Design Group

Words by Isaac Ray Norris

Photo by Taylor Cambell

 

In addition to its musical history, Florence, Alabama is known for clothing designers such as Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin. But many don’t know that the city is also home to Carter McGuyer, Crate&Barrel featured designer and winner of the Red Dot and Housewares Design Awards.

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Carter and his wife Brandi have been operating Carter McGuyer Design Group since 2006. Together, the husband-wife team combined Carter’s experience in design with Brandi’s expertise in marketing and sales to create a powerhouse industrial design firm, jetsetting to and from manufacturing locations and client offices around the globe.

And while the aforementioned fashion designers work with cloth, models, and the creation of their respective lifestyles, Carter’s creations live and are used in homes—primarily kitchens—across the nation. The Group designs tools that combine function and aesthetics, bringing one to ask, “Why wasn’t this designed this way from the start?”

But Carter hasn’t always been set to design housewares. His interest in design pushed him to Auburn University where he majored in architecture. However, after a fateful introduction to an iconic stool—the W.W. Stool by Philippe Starck—on the cover of a design magazine, he swiftly decided to pursue industrial design instead.

“I was very fortunate to know what I’ve always wanted to do. My father was a contractor, and it naturally led me to an interest in architecture. Before I went to Auburn, I interned for an architectural firm that was very corporate, so it made me unsure at first,” he says. “But once I saw the image of that stool, I knew for sure that industrial design was what I wanted to do.”

The couple met while working together at a housewares design firm—Carter in design and Brandi in sales and marketing. Eventually, Brandi realized that by bringing Carter with her to meetings with the firm’s clients, sales increased exponentially because there was a designer in the room who could speak to the production of a product. “After that first meeting with Carter and a client, I knew it was something I had to keep doing. Mainly to ensure that our clients were being given the best consultations, and eventually, the best versions of the products they needed,” Brandi says. After working together for a while, their relationship bloomed and gave them the courage to set out on their own to create their own design firm. Almost twelve years later, the group is a powerhouse design firm based in Florence, Alabama.

But with all this success, why would this couple choose to be based in Florence? “The main reason is that we’re from here. Our parents are here, and it makes life easier to be closer to them,” says Brandi. “We also have a pull toward the water, and living on the river helps calm us and brings us back to each other.”

“Our closest clients are in New Jersey and Arkansas, so technology helps a ton. Video conferencing has revolutionized business,” says Carter. While there are sometimes unexpected flights to clients’ offices for an in-person meeting about a product, the travel gives Carter the time to research and experiment with new designs.

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“I always begin with research. What’s on the market now? What are the trends? How can this other product be improved? These are the questions I tend to ask,” he said. “After the practical elements have been figured out, that’s when I get creative. I draw as fast as I can, pouring out ideas over my design table.”

Carter mentions computer-aided design (CAD) systems. “We can tell when someone kind of gave up in terms of design and let the CAD take over. We really like to add the human touch to what we design.”

Seeing your products on the rack at Crate&Barrel, Sur La Table, Ulta, or Sephora can be an exciting experience, but Brandi laughs, “Sometimes we see something with his name on it or something we’ve created, and he’s just like ‘Huh, that’s cool.’ But I know that he’s proud of his work and to see it in the world makes us both very happy.”

Most people believe that designers live in far off, hard to reach places, tinkering away to discover new methods of creation. But some live in our own neighborhoods. Carter and Brandi exemplify that sometimes home is the best place to create.