Never underestimate the power of a blind date. Seven years ago, Will Haughery was introduced to a lovely designer named Emma, who soon became the yin to his yang, both personally and professionally. Together, they now create elegant, silken furniture at East Otis Studio in Lancaster.
The furniture studio is part of their rustic farmhouse built in the 1800s, located on Millersville Pike. East Otis furniture pieces are carefully crafted with passion, expertise and locally sourced American hardwoods.
Will’s crisp designs include indoor chairs, benches, dressers, mirrors and slab tables — the Friday Mirror, Otis Chair and Bench are his most popular pieces. He also makes custom pieces. His creations are graceful, solid, practical and pleasing to the eye — and the touch — in an organic, gratifying way. This 30-something furniture maker embodies the saying, “Sawdust is man glitter,” with an easy, no-nonsense vibe.
Art and design run deep in Will’s veins. Creativity was nurtured during childhood and these days his talents emerge in sculpture, colorful, abstract paintings, as well as furniture. Meeting his British-born, clothes designer wife-to-be brought perfect harmony to his life — the respect and adoration between them is palpable.
“I know building, she knows the visual — it’s a strong combination,” Will says. “There’s a conversation that happens. She adds an organic, soft, je ne sais quoi to my more brutalist (minimalist design) approach.”
Will was born and raised in Lancaster, and the youngest of five boys.
“It was fun and chaotic — a few broken bones later,” he says, chuckling.
The boys were home-schooled, and all graduated from college. While his family wasn’t wealthy, he described his upbringing as worldly. His dad was a woodworker and cabinetmaker. His mother recognized Will’s artistic inclinations at an early age and “gave me space to explore that, within the home-school curriculum as well as outside of it,” he says. “I am very much both of my parents.”
After graduating from Temple University, Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where Will studied sculpture, he landed a gig at BDDW, a fine furniture maker in Philly with showrooms in SoHo, New York, and Milan, Italy. He worked there for eight years, learning “how to do things, and how not to do things.” He says their work is well-finished and he saw the importance of spending extra time finishing furniture, which he does on his own creations.
Will and Emma renovated their home in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. It was on East Susquehanna Avenue, but they noticed a marble brick with the name Otis carved into it on a house on their block. Will did some sleuthing in the city’s records and discovered their street was originally called Otis Street. Connecting the past to the future, the name East Otis Studio was born.
Selling the Fishtown home positioned them to return to Will’s homeland and move to the nearly 3-acre, spacious farmhouse with a large workshop/studio. It is located near his parents’ home.
Emma has a full-time job but still manages the communication side of East Otis Studio and edits the designs.
“She knows what clients want,” Will says. “The combination of masculine and feminine really helps the designs — it’s a strong suit for us.”
Will and Emma work together toward simple and useful design.
“The softness of the furniture profiles and details like leather feet under the wood legs and solid brass hardware,” give the pieces an ageless appeal.
Functional yet special furniture
Being kind to the planet is part of the East Otis Studio brand. They use American-grown wood that is sourced locally, utilizing minimal waste methods, Will says. They do not use stains but enhance the natural beauty of the wood.
“We pride ourselves on the finish feel and don’t let a piece leave the studio until both of us are happy with it,” he says.
Will describes his work as casual, simple and understated. “I like to create objects that are not overly complicated, but special — something that will last generations.”
The design element in the client’s home is embraced. Emma says she enjoys “putting spaces together — pairing soft elements to harder elements,” which can maximize the impact of East Otis Studio pieces.
One of his most popular pieces is called the Friday Mirror. It’s a large, legged, lean-against-the-wall piece with soft leather feet.
“It’s an everyday, getting ready, checking your outfit mirror — the selfie mirror you didn’t know you needed,” Will says. “It’s the ultimate ‘you look amazing’ mirror.”
Why is it called a Friday Mirror? Will says that back in Philadelphia he was working four 10-hour shifts a week, leaving Fridays to “pursue my own dream.” This mirror was the first East Otis-designed piece, aptly credited with that milestone four years ago. They are available in a variety of wood finishes and custom sizes and cost $1,200.
What about the Noon Dresser, a sleek, timeless piece made out of walnut with a deep luster finish and burnished brass hardware? Will says it was a solution to a storage problem.
“We needed an aesthetic, sturdy and moveable storage unit that we could use to organize things. It’s a set of drawers that looks as nice as a room divider or a dresser in the bedroom.”
Its name has special meaning, too.
“Noon is a nickname Emma has for me,” he says.
Will says it felt good to come back to Lancaster and that the city has maintained some of its honesty from when he grew up here, as well as delicious farm-fresh food and the culture that goes along with that.
“It’s a great place — a hidden gem of opportunity. More artists should move here — but not too many,” he says, chuckling.
Living in a rustic home built around 1840 can keep anyone busy renovating — or just keeping the faucets from dripping. Fortunately, “we’re not the kind of people who do well without a project,” Emma says.
Their home is bright and airy and tastefully stark.
“We try not to have too many things we don’t need,” Emma adds. The couple prefers to have “a few things that are really beautiful.”
In addition to building a business together and making their house feel more like a home, they are adding to their family. They have a puppy named Celine Dijon and are expecting their first child this November.
Their long-term vision for the future includes opening a retail gallery showcasing East Otis Studio creations as well as Emma’s fashion designs — along with her flair for interior design.
“The goal is to work side-by-side together,” he says.
Will also plans to grow the studio, eventually hiring employees who will “have room to work safely.” Relying on word-of-mouth from clients and an Instagram page, they are prudent in their use of ad space.
“We can’t grow too big too quick — I want it to grow in a sustainable way that has long-term trajectory.”
Just like the timeless pieces that grow from East Otis Studio.