Rough South Home is the creation of Clarke Titus. He’s a craftsman, a traveler, and a lover of the past. All of these roles are expressed in his work. He created 20 one-of-a-kind pieces exclusively for the Foundary and the Rustic Industrial Specialty Shop. We had the chance to talk with Clarke about his process, life, and the rustic industrial movement.
Is Rough South Home still a one-man show, or do you occasionally involve others in the process?
My wife happens to be an amazing photographer who in addition to making great images, also acts as my sounding board/voice of reason. When I’m tweaking something new it has to meet her approval, and if it does I will go obsessive on it until I love it. It seems to work best that way, unless I am dead sure of a piece. Also, my neighbor is a metalworker now. We’ve started collaborating on some of the newer stuff and utilizing scrap and salvaged metal in a new way for me. All of the designs and styles previously out of reach somehow seem possible now, and everything we’ve worked on so far has turned out exactly how I envisioned it in my head.
You’ve talked about the history salvaged materials offer, but we can also see a personal history of craftsmanship in your works. What first inspired you to create and how did you originally channel that inspiration?
There was always writing; I always wanted that most. Then I went from renovating and maintaining retail stores to doing my own thing. RSH was a leap of faith, but I felt like I would never get an opportunity like this again and I went for it. I have strong opinions and know what I like, and I find it difficult to stop sometimes. I burn the candle from every direction. With RSH I make what I like, what I find useful, and what I find challenging. Then I try, when I can, to make those things unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a terrible business model, but it’s much more fun and forces me to keep improving. It’s worked so far, and I’ve been lucky with the responses so I’m trying to stick to it. On commissioned pieces I still end up pretending that they are for me.
Do you have a regular source of materials, or are you always hunting for new sources?
Both. Even at my regular spots the hunt is constant. It’s always a surprise when you are looking for and utilizing salvaged stuff. No two pieces can ever be the same.
Can you describe your studio for us? Does your home resemble your studio, or do you like to keep the two stylistically separate?
The space where I meet clients/shoot items/store pieces/hoard wood was originally the mechanics’ bay of a 1940’s Sinclair gas station in my neighborhood. It’s basically an exposed brick wall/concrete floored box with 14-foot exposed joist ceilings and a huge roll-up door. I redid it to reflect what I like to see. Whites and grays, wood, rust, and metal sprinkled in. All of my lights, lumber, and the things I’ve made are filling it up. But I actually work from the backyard shop at my house. One day I hope to have a space that can be all things: shop, warehouse, and showroom but I’m just not there. My house is a 1925 bungalow in Atlanta, all original bones. It’s small, in the same general layout as the house was in 1925 and how people lived back then, but it’s all we need. I think. I redid the kitchen last year in RSH style. So in that sense, my home and space very closely resemble each other.
The industrial style is certainly popular now. Why do you think this is? How do you see it evolving?
I think it stems from the fact that most of us are pre-programmed for nostalgia, the way we look back to the past with a fondness that didn’t necessarily exist in that present. When I see a good industrial piece, one that really stands out, it almost always is because it’s antiquated, unexpected, lived-in, or a little off theme. It’s historic, it survived, and it doesn’t quite belong in the polished and fancy over-designed world we tend to live in. I think the popularity stems from the way that industrial is an easy complement to any pre-existing style. As these types of pieces become more and more popular and/or rare, the big companies are copying them. Trends in general stem from a small movement and travel to the mainstream. You’ll see the 300+ page furniture catalogues with pages and pages of industrial “reproductions.”
The evolution of industrial, I think, is underway; when the recreation of a “look” becomes more important to the consumer than the actual original piece itself. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want to make or sell something made to look old or distressed. That’s like faux finishing or real artificial leather. I don’t want a light that was patterned after a 1920s’ Holophane or a 1940s’ gas station light or an old warehouse light that’s available in any imaginable quantity. I want to find the original light, the actual one. And I want to make it work again, but not like it did in that old steel mill or warehouse or gas station. I want it to work in your apartment or house or wherever you want it to be. I want to get you close to it.
The irony of it all is that real industrial pieces were mass produced long ago, and now their skeletons and carcasses are cast-offs and survivors of decades of actual use. And that is what makes them rare and interesting to me, in the midst of all of this new mass production. If I make a light, I searched hard to find it and spent a lot of time to bring it back to life; chances are you aren’t going to see many more like it, certainly not found on page 115 of a catalog. As far as industrial furniture goes, I guess the definition becomes a little more nebulous, but it’s definitely not those railroad cart coffee tables or mason jar / pipe lights. It seems to be mostly frankensteined stuff, which I can get behind.
Do you believe travel is essential to the creative process, and if so, can you talk about its influence on your work?
I don’t know who said it, but if you run from comfort then everything will become comfortable. Huge road trips and living in different regions of America teaches you so much. Working third shifts renovating retail stores in the major cities of the South exposed me to a world I never would have known existed. I’ve been to a bunch of places and I’ve put a huge emphasis on travel. Seeing Europe, and then going back to road trip through Sicily and Italy were amazing, but the work I did in Haiti was the most important to who I am and what I’m doing now. Every place leaves its mark on me. Travel has definitely changed my life; it has made me clearly understand perspective. This past year has been nothing but work, but I hope to get my honeymoon in before too long.
You become so involved with the materials you find. We have to ask for curiosity’s sake, if you could do anything else, what would it be?
I’ve been a lot of things, and I think that they all have led me to where I am and to what I am doing now. If I could do anything else, it would be to worry less about the future and to have more faith in the ride to get there. If I keep working hard it has to all work out.