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Dickinson by Design

4444 Second St.
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Chad Dickinson

By MJ Galbraith
August 1, 2014

Before he was being hired to design and build furniture for the likes of international architecture firms, and before he was working to solidify a stretch of commerce along Livernois Ave., Chad Dickinson was in the music industry. Having started a publishing company with his brother, Dickinson was in the business of songwriting, first in New York City and then Nashville. It was there in Nashville that Dickinson began, albeit reluctantly, to design and build custom recording studios. That decision eventually led Dickinson and his wife to Detroit, where Dickinson has started two companies and has also begun to raise a family.
Back in Nashville, Dickinson wasn't too keen on the confining restraints of the budgets and deadlines that accompany the building trades. But having worked out a deal where his first project wouldn't be ruled by time but by creative intent, Dickinson was able to slowly develop his design and building philosophy. It's not Dickinson's philosophy at all, really, but a centuries-old process that was lost somewhere in the 20th century as manufacturing and consumer trends emphasized quantity and pre-fabricated products over quality and craftsmanship. He calls it the natural design process, though he readily admits it's nothing new. It does, however, inform his furniture company, Dickinson by Design, and his property and business development company, I'm Here.
“It's this process of building things off of something else. The way we approach things in our society is very mechanistic. If we were going to make a daffodil or a flower or something like that with the logic we use in building, we would gather up all the pieces for that flower and then put it together. And that would never work because a flower comes from a seed and it grows into something,” says Dickinson. “It's a process of unfolding.”
Dickinson studied Japanese furniture design and Zen furniture culture, diving deep into craftsmanship and sustainability. He and his wife moved to the Bronx for a bit before he suggested that they come check out Michigan, where he grew up in Monroe. After a tour of the Green Garage, the couple bought a house in the Green Acres neighborhood and Dickinson by Design began to grow.
As a location for his workshop, the Green Garage and its environmental concerns suits Dickinson by Design and its emphasis on sustainability. The majority of their material comes from reclaimed wood and they waste as little of it as possible. He took to design dollhouses and play houses, using the smallest of wood scraps for dollhouse furniture. When working with clients, Dickinson views the company's role more as navigators than designers, walking customers through each phase of construction, giving them ownership not only over the furniture, but the process itself.
“We aren't very production-driven. We aren't interested in cranking out numbers of things,” says Dickinson. “We're interested in finding clients who want to walk through a very unique process that is kind of gone, that's disappeared from our culture today.”
Dickinson has taken his success with Dickinson by Design and applied that same guiding philosophy to the real estate development company he co-founded, I'm Here. The company purchased and is undergoing the painstaking renovation process of the iconic building at 19344 Livernois, formerly the Hunter's Supper Club, along the Avenue of Fashion.
Now that I'm Here owns the building, they're taking a slow, natural design process with the development, just as Dickinson does with his furniture. The building is large, 10,000 square feet, and historic; Dickinson's research has him believing that part of the structure dates back to the late 1800s. He's been actively engaging his neighbors in the community as he works to figure out what sort of use for the building will best benefit the previously existing businesses along the Avenue of Fashion. Dickinson's hope is to develop a property that will be a destination for neighbors and visitors alike, to nurture a district into a place where people will want to spend their Saturdays.
“How do you make the world better? Well, you start engaging the people around you. That's how you do it. And that's what I like about Detroit,” says Dickinson. “I hope that feeling's always here. I've really enjoyed it. There's not a lot of places that you can go to and do that.”

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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