Collaborative by design

From left: Hillary Petrie, AB ’06; Crystal Ellis, AB ’06; and Stephanie Beamer, AB ’06 started collaborating on design projects at WashU. Now the trio runs Egg Collective, a furniture design company in New York. Courtesy photo

After more than a decade of making furniture together, ­Stephanie Beamer, AB ’06; Crystal Ellis, AB ’06; and Hillary Petrie, AB ’06, have a knack for translating each other’s sparks of inspiration into designs.

Beamer, Ellis and Petrie — all architecture majors — co-founded their contemporary furniture design company, Egg Collective, shortly after graduating from the College of Architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The three friends, who met as freshmen and lived together from sophomore through senior years, have been honored in Forbes’ 30 under 30 and ­featured in publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to Interior Design. They’ve designed pieces for Lincoln Center in New York and for buildings and homes around the world.

After graduating from Washington University, though, they were designing mostly for themselves. They all stayed in St. Louis to work for local furniture makers or architecture firms. But they also had access to fabrication equipment, and they set aside Tuesday nights to work on their own pieces. “They’d be things we wanted for our own homes,” Ellis says. “Sometimes we’d be like, ‘I need a dresser.’”

Work soon took them to different cities: Petrie relocated to New Orleans when her firm took on recovery projects after ­Hurricane Katrina, and Ellis moved to New York.

But they still wanted to collaborate remotely, so they set up a “virtual studio.” Before they were even concerned about selling things, they chose a name, set up a website and had a professional logo made. “We wanted it to feel legit, even though we didn’t know what it was,” Ellis says. They chose the name “Egg Collective” because the pure, simplistic form of an egg was also the perfect metaphor for the new enterprise they were undertaking.

The three focused on functional pieces, like a pill-shaped coffee table that doubled as giant bookends. By experimenting, they honed their skills and learned more about design.

They knew the next step would require living in the same city. So in 2011, they all met up in New York, a major furniture market. Ellis had just earned an MFA in sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design; Beamer was already in New York, working for a high-end furniture company and design-build architecture firm; and Petrie was in New Orleans, working in a millwork shop.

They rented space in a Brooklyn woodshop, where they made their first collection to debut at the 2012 International ­Contemporary Furniture Fair. They won Best New Designer, and the attention quickly gave their company legs to stand on.

Five years later, they’ve got a self-sustaining business working on its fourth collection. They try not to be “trendy” and to stick to what inspires them. All their furniture is custom-made, typically built with a combination of stone, metal, glass and wood. They source materials as locally as possible.

And they’re constantly collaborating.

“It’s gotten easier to work together as we’ve matured,” Petrie says. “We communicate so well.”

As they’ve found their own voice, they’ve also worked to support other women designers. In spring 2017, they used their showroom for the exhibit “Designing Women” that showcased the works of 18 women designers in furniture, lighting and housewares.

The marriage of unique, simple and thoughtful pieces was hailed as a must-see by The New York Times and Vogue, among other outlets. “The experience was far beyond what we anticipated,” Beamer says. “It was super positive — the beauty of all the artwork, the press, the swell of support.”

All their success, though, isn’t shifting their focus away from the work that brought them to this point; it’s affirming their dedication to the company they’ve built. They currently have six employees, a showroom in Soho and a workshop in Brooklyn.

And they plan to stay put; in 2015, they signed a seven-year lease on their workshop to continue their successful collaboration. “We round each other out,” Beamer says.

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