"The economy made everyone rethink how they consume," says designer Christopher Stuart. He knows firsthand—after losing his job as a prototype maker turned industrial designer in 2009, he returned to his hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, and got to work crafting industrial-modern furniture pieces from unassuming materials, such as an armoire from spare flooring and aluminum trim. His work reenergized the design firm Luur Studio, which he originally launched in 2007, and inspired his latest project, how-to book DIY Furniture: A Step-by-Step Guide. "I had to consider how I could open doors for myself," he says. "Couple that thinking with a hardware store, which is accessible to everyone, and you end up with a creativity that's for the people."
Stuart's grandfather worked at and later owned a pipe company, and Stuart now keeps this handmade briar-root artifact as both a childhood memento and piece of inspiration. "It's a reminder to continue making things with your hands."
Plasti Dip rubber coating
"As a DIY-er, you look at every single spray paint on the shelf," Stuart says. "And one day, there it was, this black rubber spray paint." Most recently, Stuart used Plasti Dip to convert blocks of wood into "fancy" doorstops. ($10, acehardware.com)
"Ram My Knuckles"
Indiana law prohibits the sale of brass knuckles, with a bizarre exception: brass knuckles in the form of a belt buckle. "I found this at one of the shadiest flea markets in Indianapolis," Stuart says. One ceramic ram and a coat of gold-luster glaze transformed the knuckles into a paperweight for Stuart's studio.
"Sometimes you just need to stick two things together, and fast," says Stuart, who buys the crayon-box-colored ties in packs of 500 and keeps them handy for large-scale projects. "They're the new duct tape." ($9 for 500, homedepot.com)
Folding Techniques for Designers,
From Sheet to Form
This book by Paul Jackson provides blueprints for more than 70 ways to pleat, curve, and crumple paper. Stuart adapted the techniques to design a line of lighting fixtures that can be packed flat and reassembled at home. ($22, amazon.com)
"Every time I go to the store and decide to buy a plant, I gravitate to these little, tiny sculptural pieces," he says. "I recently saw some hanging terrariums, and it's now on my to-do list to make them. I could throw in some moss that grows outside the studio."
"Just switching to one of these chrome-faced bulbs can transform a lamp into something entirely different," Stuart says of these off-the-shelf examples. "They're perfect for DIY lighting." (From $1, grandbrass.com)
A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.