Design with a Bang

Writer Tom Scanlon
Photographer Bryan Black

Marcus Jeremy McElhinney’s designs are not pretty. You won’t stop in front of them and say, “How adorably cute!” No, there are no lovely flower patterns, chirpy pastels or kitschy cowboys in his hotel, bar, restaurant and corporate work.

Just the same, you won’t be afraid to plop down on one of his lobby chairs, or bang your fist enthusiastically on a McElhinney bar. You might even want to bang-bang your fist, as this is the rugged visionary behind Bang Bang Designs.

His is a muscular vision, flavored by industrialism but also by a sleek, modern look. He uses wood, metal, concrete and steel for attractive pieces that will last long after we’re gone.

Asked about his style, McElhinney gives a deep chuckle.

“Difficult to describe,” he decides. “Got some industrial roots, but also a very high-level finish. Some of it is a little French industrial, but also very contemporary.”

He is proud of the look and functionality of his work.

“We do a lot of hardwoods with steel or different metals,” he says. “The key for us is all the designs are fresh, very unique. We try not to regurgitate what we see around town.”

Looking for Wild West kitsch, or a cacti-peppered Southwestern vibe? No Bang Bang for you! But if you’re pondering something different — even if you can’t quite picture it — McElhinney’s place might be just what you need.

After establishing a strong footprint with hotel, restaurant and corporate work, Bang Bang Designs is about to launch an ambitious home furniture showroom, all custom-made.

“We’re going to be literally building furniture in the back shop and selling it in the front showroom,” McElhinney says. “Everything modular. Furniture like you don’t see anywhere else.”

He’s not just talking the talk, he’s welding the weld and chopping the block. Indeed, just because McElhinney’s designs are muscular and well-grounded, it doesn’t make them unattractive or even commonplace. Bang Bang’s Instagram page provides visual evidence: a robust, dual-colored conference table for the Better Business Bureau; the “Psycho-Cubist Steel Cloud of Doom,” an intergalactic-style light fixture now in its final resting place at Found:Re Hotel in Phoenix; a gorgeous (and, likely, indestructible) walnut conference table with steel legs; a sleek, powerful steel wine rack; and sliced tree tables on steel hairpin legs.

To see Bang Bang Designs at work, check out the sparks-flying video by Derek Ellis on Vimeo.

The past works and new pieces McElhinney is just buffing out are almost a blue-collar art.

“I’ve always been an artist,” says McElhinney, a youthful 42. “I went to school for fine art. Then in my 20s, I moved to Barcelona and got a job building special effects, learned how to put things together and create industrial designs. After doing that for years and moving back to Los Angeles to build military vehicles, I came to Phoenix. Just a strange coincidence led me here.”

When he settled here a decade ago, he developed a vision of his professional life: “I wanted a company that incorporated some of the technical aspects I learned with my artistic side. That was the genesis of Bang Bang Designs.”

As his business has grown, McElhinney has added staff, focusing on the designs but also keeping his hands in the fabrication and building phases.

“The method of construction is important to us,” he says. “We’re building heirlooms we want to last forever. At the same time, we want them to be beautiful.”

Bang Bang’s swanky industrial work can be seen in the interiors of Mexx 32 restaurant, the Pita Jungle downtown and the new Found:Re Hotel in Phoenix, where “we did an enormous lighting package.” You probably won’t see some of Bang Bang’s more interesting furniture work, created for startups in the sizzling Phoenix business world.

“We’ve done a lot of very cool corporate stuff,” McElhinney says. “These are definitely furniture pieces with a lot of personality. It’s more like bespoke office furniture. Corporations are trying to appeal to younger employees with workspaces where people feel more relaxed — a feel that’s less like school or work but more like at home or in a club.” It’s not just American businesses that are wanting a different feel for their offices, it’s a global trend at the moment within work offices, see for example the furniture that is offered by Brisbane’s leading office furniture company, as well as researching others to see how offices over the globe are being transformed from a bleak cube desk layout to a more relaxed open office that promotes employee happiness, among other advantages.

And now Bang Bang is getting ready to shoot off into homes around Phoenix.

“Our showroom on Indian School Road is going to be all custom furniture, one-of-a-kind or very limited edition, all my designs,” McElhinney says.

The Bang Bang founder is quick to shoot off about his collaborators, particularly Jason Wenk and Steve Mott.

“Jason has been with me for about five years (which is basically the beginning) and is the shop foreman and talented fabricator,” McElhinney says. “He has been very instrumental to the growth of the company. Steve has been with me about a year and a half, and is also a very dedicated and talented fabricator.”

McElhinney is part designer, part fabricator, part operator. He says he takes pride in designing unique pieces “and not regurgitating common ideas. We start with raw material and cut, grind, sand, weld, finish every piece in the shop here in Phoenix. I believe in working hard and being prolific, experimenting and using a range of materials.”

With a launch planned in mid-November, the new showroom will be at 2143 E. Indian School Rd., with one-of-a-kind and limited-series pieces for sale. Everything, McElhinney notes, will be designed by him and handmade. Want to be part of the team that makes what lands in your home? McElhinney is happy to do custom-made pieces.

Bang Bang Designs will come out firing with the new showroom, which McElhinney envisions as far more than pure commerce.

“The store will also have coffee and Wi-Fi for designers, architects and creative people to come sit, work, discuss projects, etc.,” he says. “I want it to be a hub for creative people in the city.”

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