Russ Fry Design + Fabrication Makes Interiors Sing
The skilled craftsman makes custom furniture, lighting and architectural elements
Skilled craftspeople take their ideas and make them into objects, but it takes something special to make someone else’s vision a reality. Russ Fry does exactly that, bringing together a passion for good design, a deep knowledge of steelwork and fabrication, and a network of local artisans to create furniture, architectural installations and lighting solutions for home and business owners.
Designers from across the country come to Russ Fry Design + Fabrication for projects of all kinds, from themed bunk rooms to swinging chairs, innovative tables and desks to bespoke lighting fixtures, but Fry wasn’t always interested in making things. “Creativity wasn’t really a focus as a kid,” he says. “I discovered in college that I had some talent for graphic design.” This talent manifested in a graphic design degree from Montana State University. During his junior year, Fry interned at Bozeman’s Media Station, which designs steel signs and lighting. “I learned to work steel and fell in love with it,” says Fry. “It was so tactile.”
Fry worked in graphic design for years but used his new love for steel to make furniture on the side. Crafting raw, industrial pieces out of scrap metal, he caught the attention of interior designers like Abby Hetherington (Abby Hetherington Interiors; Architect’s Wife). Fry’s work circulated by word of mouth, and in 2010 or so, after a few art shows, custom furniture became his full-time job.
Despite leaving a career in graphic design, Fry still uses his design background every day. It plays an essential role in his process, and it’s part of what makes Russ Fry Design + Fabrication the best at what it does. Clients approach him with an idea. Sometimes it’s specific, like a table centerpiece for a bank lobby or a display room showcasing vintage guitars, and sometimes it’s vague, like a magical bunk room for the kids. Fry offers possibilities and solutions. “That’s probably my favorite part,” he says. “The designer and I go back and forth and listen to ideas. We make a better product that way.”
After they sound out a plan, Fry sources the materials and gets to work. Working with one full-time employee, Colter Cline, Fry maps the design digitally, then cuts the steel, either with a laser cutter or in-house with a carbide saw. “The pieces should click like a puzzle,” says Fry. They use tacks or pins and pegs to keep the pieces in place while they weld everything together. Next, they grind everything down until the connections disappear. Finally they sand, polish and add a finish—most commonly a blackened effect achieved through a chemical reaction that darkens the metal.
Even with Fry’s expertise, sometimes the most important thing for a project is teamwork. “There are great woodworkers for specific things, different aspects. Same with steelworkers. I’d say that I’m kind of the funnel,” says Fry. “I funnel it all together here at the end, do the final details, and get it installed.” He makes the process sound simple, but it takes years of experience, a deep understanding of many crafts, and a manager’s mind to do Fry’s job. He’s a little like the conductor of an orchestra, and the finished product is the music.