In 2006, after two uncompleted stints in graduate school for architecture, I, Axel "Akke" Yberg, founded Akke Woodworks; a design/build interior carpentry business specializing in custom molding, wall treatments, mantels, ceilings and cabinetry. We quickly found our niche in the luxury markets of Long Island and New York City. Business was thriving.
In 2010, I made my first piece of furniture - a coffee table I named 'Reverse Dowry' - the manifestation of years of dreaming of the work of Kenneth Snelson (which I studied in my first studio class at Pratt in 2003). An architect saw it and suggested that I exhibit at ICFF (the International Contemporary Furniture Fair - the largest design show in North America). I was flattered, but I couldn't imagine showing my one and only table to the international design community, so I continued to build. It became an obsession.
Over the next ten months, I managed to carve out time from my growing woodworking business in order to feed my passion for creating sculptural furniture. I sketched ideas at red lights, and built pieces instead of taking lunch breaks. Before I knew it, I had a collection, which I named 'Potential for Collapse'. I felt ready for ICFF 2011, and applied just days before the deadline. Based on the strength of our Akke Woodworks website (designed by Daniel Tetrault with beautiful photography by Robert Lowell), I was accepted. The show was a huge success, and Bloomingdale's featured my work in their windows for one month, in a Free People display.
The following year, at ICFF 2012, my showpiece was 'Pingtuated Equilbripong' — a hybrid ping pong/dining table. The table, along with several other pieces (including 'In Vino Vitae'), created a buzz at the fair. David Byrne, of Talking Heads, loved the piece, and it was a personal thrill for me to chat with one of my heroes about my own work. Noted designer (Andrew) Henry Hall told me, unsolicited, that it was the best piece in the show. GQ later rented it for a Nordstrom's Pop-Up Shop in SoHo.
I've always been aggressive and fearless with my marketing. I've sent thousands of emails to designers, architects, editors, bloggers, and any business I think might be a good fit for my work. In June 2012, I contacted the VP of the World Poker Tour (WPT) to ask if they had any interest in working together. They invited me to donate a poker table that would be awarded to WPT Player of the Year. I agreed. The only issue was that I had no money to build it. Luckily, my good friends Matt Gai and his wife, Jenn, stepped in and funded the project. We signed contracts and I had a deal.
WPT gave me complete creative freedom, and I never showed them any drawings. The build took more than 600 man-hours and I'm fortunate that Matt had the bright idea to film the entire construction process from the beginning. Another childhood friend of mine, Brian Tane (of Tane Digital Video) edited countless hours of smartphone video into a 3-minute documentary
which brilliantly shows the creative process in fast-motion. I named the table 'All In', and when the winner was announced, Matt and I flew out to L.A. to present it to WPT Season XI Player of the Year Matthew Salsberg (a former writer/producer of Weeds and Entourage). He invited Matt, an avid poker player, to stick around and play in the first official cash game on the table. Matt lost, but I won — the best thing that came out of the project was that Matt Gai went "all in" and became a fully-committed member of the Akke Family. He's taken over our marketing department — creating and managing our email blasts and leading our website development team and, most importantly, he has become my go-to, right hand man — my consigliere. I bounce all of my ideas off of him.
Building on the momentum of ICFF, Bloomingdale's, GQ, and WPT, I continued to create one-offs and gain notoriety, but I realized that the market for selling this work was relatively small. So I decided to offer small-lot custom furniture, at a lower price point, but based on a selection of our one-off pieces. This line is called akke 780, and you can read the story about that collection at www.akke780.com
So… how did we land in Northport? Prior to building All In, Dominic Cattagio and Stephen Ubertini, two of the partners of The Paramount in Huntington (my hometown), asked us to make some pieces for their theater. They offered me, rent free, a unit in an industrial park, because I didn't have an official workshop. It was number 37, and it was the breeding ground of an explosion of new work.
After 18 months, Dominic and Stephen needed unit 37 back, so they suggested I look at a building in Northport Village. I jumped on the space. There was a small room in the front, and I decided I would make it a showroom. When I realized that our ping pong table would barely fit, I blew out the back wall, split the space in half and made a gallery. Initially I called it Gallery 37; a reference to the workshop Dominic and Stephen gave me when I needed a break. We have since rebranded to call the space akkseum, but we kept the 37 as an alternate logo for sentimental reasons and I love to tell the story.
My initial concept was to make the other half of the space a working studio. There was a window from the gallery into the studio section, so I envisioned an "open kitchen" concept where visitors would be able to see us creating pieces. In reality, it was flawed: there wasn't enough room,
it was too loud, and everything got covered in dust. So I spent six months transforming our working studio into a gallery for Akke Functional Art (along with other fine and functional artists' work), a showroom for Akke Woodworks, an open office space, and a venue for public and private events. In May of 2014, we held our Grand Opening, complete with a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony – yes, I used those giant scissors.
Things were going along great; in addition to our art openings, we held jewelry and gift trunk shows, threw a rockin’ Halloween party celebrating the life and work of counterculture icon Louis Abolafia, hosted a handful of killer live music shows, and a celebration of my father's life -- which, according to many of our guests, was the coolest funeral ever!
But, after announcing our Valentines Day inspired 'Salsa Night', we were informed that the building was in violation of quite a few zoning laws. Scrambling to figure out what to do next, we decided that the best thing to do was to ride this unexpected rogue wave and reinvent akkseum, the space, into a ‘creative lab’. So, we found new homes for our sculptural furniture pieces and went back to work… woodwork to be specific!
Undeterred, though, we will revisit the gallery/event venue concept when the time is right. For now, we're refocusing our attention primarily on designing and building. Stay tuned for our Premium line of cabinetry and keep a lookout for more akke functional art pieces.
Clearly, I haven't done this alone. We now have a team of dedicated and talented people building akkseum — the sum of all things akke.