Thomas Hayes wears a gold chain, diamond earrings, and bulky, black-framed, tinted glasses. He’s got a Bauhaus-style tattoo. He looks like a cross between a fashionable skateboarder and a bouncer who knows a lot about Riesling. Though his hint of a lisp suggests New Jersey gangster, his vowels are long and lavishly Californian. He refers to the furniture he designs as “jewelry for the home.” He gives his barstools curves. His furniture is designed to accessorize the female form. He wants his furniture to be sexy.
As a 5-year-old, Hayes went to craft fairs with his uncle to sell jewelry. By age 10, Hayes was getting up at 4:30 a.m. to sell antique furniture at flea markets with his mother. Hayes did not like getting up at 4:30, but the furniture spoke to him. He grew up in Hayward, a working-class redoubt in the Bay Area, where he went to a school for children of people he calls the “actual, real hippies.” There, he developed an appreciation for raw materials, metal, and wood. He developed an appreciation for craft.
In 2001, Hayes owned an antique store in Berkeley when business dried up—and he packed his bags for Los Angeles. Pulling in on the 101, L.A. looked to him like the Oakland Hills but bigger, more electric, more open to possibility. He’d spent his teenage years going to Guns N’ Roses concerts and he thought of L.A. as the place where people came to be rock stars.In the middle of Hollywood, on a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard where auto-repair shops run up against black-box theaters, he opened another antique store. He specialized in importing modernist furniture from Brazil, where he’d found a design sensibility as forward looking as California’s. One day, a customer came into the shop and saw a rosewood chair by Sergio Rodrigues. The customer wanted to use the chair as inspiration for barstools that he could put in his new restaurant, so Hayes went on YouTube and taught himself how to make furniture. Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo now have his barstools in their house, and Hayes has received fan art from Guns N’ Roses drummer Frank Ferrer.
Hayes’ studio is still in that same space on Santa Monica, where everything he sells is handmade, on site, in a cluttered and alive series of rooms filled with furniture in various states of completion. Hayes describes his style as collaborative and improvisational. When he has an idea, he doesn’t draw anything. He describes his idea to his staff. His staff puts together a model. They talk, they adjust, they experiment until they’ve got something beautiful. And Hayes is just getting going. With the studio on Santa Monica jammed with furniture, people, and materials, Hayes has recently acquired an additional 7,000-square-foot workspace in North Hollywood. thomashayesstudio.com