Listen to any of the curated playlists in our retail stores, and it’s immediately apparent that the musical tastes at Ledbury HQ are strong and varied. That’s part of the reason we recently struck up a partnership with our friends over at Fern & Roby (we’ve featured them in the past) a design house that specializes in handcrafted, high-quality audio hardware and equipment. They outfitted our brand new Made-to-Measure lounge at our flagship location with a custom audio system including their Montrose Turntable and Maverick Phono Preamplifier. We recently spoke with Fern & Roby’s Art Director/Product Developer Jesse Brown about audio design and manufacturing in Richmond.
Tell us about your role at Fern & Roby? How did you end up there?
I landed at Fern & Roby a few years after I met Christopher via Instagram. At the time, my wife and I were living in Atlanta, Georgia and would visit RVA during the holidays while we would stay with her folks in Lynchburg. A few years ago, during our annual visit, I reached out to Christopher and asked if it would be possible to see and listen to the Tredegar Turntable. He agreed, the three of us spent a few hours listening to records and talking audio. After we left, I turned to my wife and said, “I should work for Christopher.” We made the decision to relocate to Richmond this past summer and the rest is history.
Christopher and his wife Sara Moriarty started Fern & Roby in 2013 as a pressure-relief valve from the day-to-day operations of their industrial design firm Tektonics Design Group. Fern & Roby is a team of eight, and we operate out of a 20,000 sq ft shop space in Manchester, just across the river from downtown.
Many of your pieces feature reclaimed wood and industrial elements. What is the design ethos behind Fern & Roby?
Fern & Roby designs and builds things as tools for living. Audio components, furniture, small wares. They all have a place in our lives. Communing with friends and socializing—these are what inspired us to develop most of our pieces.
All of our work is produced with the conviction that products shouldn’t be throw-away items. We believe daily life is enhanced by the inclusion of heirloom quality objects that enhance your experience. Mostly we are just people who get excited about ideas and have fun pursuing the creation of the final product.
Materials are the foundational part of our process in design, and so revealing the origin of material and narrative of the process is central to our life and our pieces. Wood and cast metal—these materials naturally have flaws and imperfections, as do the machining and casting processes themselves. We like to leave those traces exposed–they aren’t things to hide, they are tell-tale of the material’s origin.
Why did you choose to manufacture in America when you could do it for cheaper overseas?
It would certainly be cheaper to make things overseas, but we are immensely proud to make things here in America, and especially excited to make things in Richmond. It’s not easy. People don’t always understand it, frankly. Many of us came of age at a time when shop class was on the decline and it has in the past 20 years become essentially extinct, which is a shame. There is somewhat of a disdain for so-called “blue collar” jobs in the United States but manufacturing is a big part of our American DNA.
Learning how to make something, whether it’s an industrial fastener or a fine piece of furniture, requires a huge amount of intellect, self-control, and dedication. We live in a culture where goods are now incredibly cheap and frankly are made to be disposable, because we have outsourced the labor and divested ourselves of the responsibility of ensuring ethical trade practices. It can be challenging to explain the value of higher cost goods that live up to our standards but we think it is worth it.
You’ve been in business for around four years now, how are you looking to grow the brand in the next year or so?
Starting Fern & Roby has been one of the most satisfying challenges in our professional lives. Now that we have established a core body of products we have been working on expanding our market across the country. We are committed to our direct sales model because we believe we can deliver the best experience when we are interacting directly with our clientele. We also want to provide the highest value for the best price. Our products are durable and designed to be modular and upgradable so distance from our clientele isn’t a problem. Taking care of our clientele just like we take care of our staff is a core value and essential to our success.
We also hope to be opening our first showroom here in Richmond in 2017. Within that space, we’re planning on being able to host events such as listening parties, art shows and other fun gatherings. We love Richmond, so this will be our way to be able to interact with the community even more.
What’s on current rotation at Fern & Roby HQ?
“Northside Gal” JD MCPherson
I was floored the first time I heard this a few years ago and hooked from the very beginning. The pure, raw sound had me and I wasn’t looking back. I don’t know if you’ll find a much better side 1, track 1 song. I’m sure plenty of people will argue, but this song oozes style.
“Say I Wanna Know” Nick Waterhouse
I first heard this song on a car commercial a while ago. After a little research, I discovered that something was missing from my life – it was Nick Waterhouse. There’s something about a song that makes you want put on a nice suit and tear up the town.
“Try A Little Tenderness” Otis Redding
This one…. it’s pretty self-explanatory. Probably the greatest song ever recorded. Yep, I said it. Also, how many other great songs has Duckie (Jon Cryer) danced to? None.
“We Belong Together” Ritchie Valens
I was 7-years-old when I discovered Ritchie Valens. It was through the movie “La Bamba”. When I found out the movie was, in fact, based on a true story, I bought all the Ritchie Valens tapes I was able to afford. Which wasn’t many, since I was 7. But that discovery paved the way for my musical taste.
“Tainted Love” Imelda May
A rockabilly version of Tainted Love, yes please. Sung by the beautiful Imelda May. Yes, please.