As you roam the forest of the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival and lounge by the lakeside beach, you might come across a glowing, 25-foot-tall geometric flamingo. No, you're not hallucinating. That's the visual calling card of Miami Design Shop, the same folks who crafted the 25-foot stage signs reading “Here” and “Now” above each musical performer, the 40-person VIP Corona perch, the Halcyon record store, and the festival's iconic eight-by-eight-foot swirling portal.
They'll also tool around the festival grounds in two of Miami artist Yaro's ladybugs, frequently spotted cruising through Wynwood Art Walk. If you see them, be sure to say hi. They're just some local guys out to make seriously cool stuff and have a good time doing it.
That work-hard, play-hard vibe hangs in the air of their warehouse headquarters, just off State Road 441 by the Miami Dade College Medical Center. The rough beats of Migos and Future blast over the sound of whirring saws and banging hammers. Sawdust hangs in the air and mixes with smoke. A few beer bottles sit on cluttered tables.
Two large rooms are crammed with giant CNC machines, laser cutters, half-assembled tables, booths, and signage. A skeletal serpent hangs from the ceiling. A giant metal saw blade bears the Miami Design Shop emblem. Founder Matt Root's big black Doberman, Luna, holds domain, stopping to sniff here and there, checking out any visitors to make sure they're cool.
The warehouse is part of a shop plaza that also houses a Pilates studio and a tattoo parlor. On a recent day, they've totally taken over the back parking lot to finish constructing a 12-by-12-foot shack for Belvedere vodka as part of a larger Wynwood Walls re-creation to be set up on the beach for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The shack grows three feet taller when the roof is added, which makes it too large to construct inside their warehouse, so it's coming together outside. Their landlord was just here, joking about how she'll have to evict them – but she's kind of serious.
“They love us,” Root says. “We're a part of the community. She wants to make this work, but she shows up and there's a house outside.”
This is the third space Miami Design Shop has outgrown in two years in operation. The company started small, almost as a hobby. Root, a Chicago transplant, began Miami Design Shop with his Miami-born friend Andres Rosquete. Back then, it was just a laser cutter in his living room. Their first job was creating the signage, tables, and menus for the restaurant Fooq's in downtown Miami.
The jobs kept coming, and soon the living room wouldn't cut it. They moved to a friend's backyard guest house behind the Vagabond Motel on Biscayne Boulevard, but that went sour after a few months when the owner got annoyed with the constant foot traffic of customers.
“We're in a backyard running a laser cutter, burning leather and acrylic, with this dog running around,” Root laughs. They moved across the street to a real property, and a few months later, they moved to their current home. How much longer that'll last, they can't be sure.
The team has grown too. Rosquete's grade-school buddy Stephen Shaw was working in an architecture firm and helping with construction designs here and there before he finally quit the firm and joined Miami Design Shop full-time. At any given moment, there are a half-dozen to maybe 15 guys working in the warehouse, depending upon the projects on hand. Roquette is one of the main designers, along with Kevin Espeche, who works out of Oakland. So does Roquete actually. He relocated to the Bay Area a couple of years ago, but he's back in the Miami shop for two or three months at a time, and when he's not, he's piped in on video conferences every day.
They have to work hard to get everything done. They're a one-stop shop for brands, with in-house concept, design, manufacturing, building, storage, and installation. In their two years, they've worked on large-scale projects for III Points, Okeechobee Festival, the Summit Series conference, and other corporate events. They've worked on menus and design for the restaurants Beaker & Gray and Marion. Their wooden and metal business cards are a popular business trick. They recently designed, manufactured, and installed a functional art-piece bookshelf at Brickell City Centre.
It's a career that comes with long hours. They shed literal blood, sweat, and tears. Relationships fall apart. Their health and sanity suffer, but there's too much pride in what they're doing – and it doesn't suck to be your own boss, working with your friends when you're not even 30.
They're beginning to expand the brand into custom furniture work and stand-alone art pieces.
“We definitely are interested in doing some long-lasting projects,” Shaw says. “There's something about a short deadline [where the work] is only going to [last] a couple days — in these cases it's an event or something like that – where we actually get to see thousands of people interact with our stuff. That makes it worth it, even if it's a month of work just for those two days, three days, one day, whatever it is. To see it fully activated really makes it worth it, but needless to say, to have something that's permanent that will always be there is a different sense of satisfaction.”
It's also cool when they get to work on passion projects, like the time they were hired to design and build the Monkey Love camp at Burning Man. That ephemeral festival's ethos of cultural disruption and art at play is at the heart of what Miami Design Shop aspires to be, which is how the giant flamingo came to be. The neon bird wasn't a commissioned piece, just something the dudes cooked up for Art Basel 2016. They took it for a ride through Wynwood and watched faces in the crowd light up.
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“It caught a lot of reaction from people,” Rosquete says. “That was the most enjoyable thing, to just walk it around and have people be like, 'Wow, what is that?' They didn't even know that someone was driving it.”
“Seeing all these people with their phones out,” Shaw continues. “It was thousands of people just looking at it.”
They take the flamingo out wherever they go now. It recently popped up at the inaugural Food + Music Festival at North Beach Bandshell Park, where the guys helped construct food vendor booths. Not only is the bright bird a fun way to get their business attention, but it's also a cool visual reminder of why they do what they do and what they hope to do in the future.
“That's the goal, to keep growing and also locally shaking things up a little bit,” Root says. “I think the flamingo got a rise out of a lot of Miami. We're going to be popping up more and just trying to make this town a little bit more fun.”