Used Balls Please: Hayden Makes Tennis Furniture
In my last column for Backcourt, I mentioned Hugh Hayden, a furniture designer that makes living room sets using tennis balls. Here’s a more in-depth look at the artist and his work.
Hugh Hayden doesn’t think of a tennis ball the way most people do. Instead of it being a bouncy rubber object that never seems to connect with a string bed’s sweet spot, Hayden thinks of it as a building block for his limited edition furniture collection, HEX Tennis.
The collection, introduced in May, includes pieces made entirely out of tennis balls that are bound together with non-stretchy polyester cord. They’re constructed using a hexagonal grid configuration, which is where the name HEX comes from.
Stylistically, the collection is a combination of whimsy and minimalism, but there’s a larger aspect to it: eco-friendliness. The balls used to construct the collection, which includes two chairs—a hollow and a solid version—a stool, a coffee table and an end table, are secondhand. Hayden gets his “supplies” from tennis facilities in the New York area. He prefers to use indoor, hard-court balls instead of clay-court ones for an obvious reason: they’re not as dirty. (FYI: He washes all balls before using them.)
If sitting on a pile of balls sounds uncomfortable, Hayden says that’s not the case. The chairs have an ergonomic design that molds to the contours of the body. “The whole collection is based on the geometry of a sphere, or a tennis ball, reinterpreted for the geometry of the body,” says Hayden, 25, who grew up in Dallas and now lives in New York.
So what led Hayden, a young artist who doesn’t play the sport but is a fan of women’s tennis because it’s “more emotional,” to create furniture using old tennis balls? Happenstance.
While attending Cornell University, Hayden went to a party that had a room full of plastic playpen balls. He thought it would be cool to harness them into a singular element. “Something that was more functional, something like furniture,” he says.
After graduating from Cornell with a degree in architecture in 2007, Hayden received a $20,000 traveling fellowship from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. (SOM is the Chicago-based firm designing the Freedom Tower for One World Trade Center.) While spending a year researching “the architecture and cultural implications of restaurants in Japan, France, Spain and the United States,” he continued thinking of ways he could create furniture using plastic playpen balls. When he returned to his hometown of Dallas in July 2008, he constructed models using gumballs before upgrading to real balls.
Earlier this year, after moving to Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood known for its population of artists, musicians and hipsters, Hayden learned that a friend’s father was an avid tennis player with a stockpile of tennis balls. “I don’t know why he was saving them,” Hayden says. “I immediately knew I could use all these discarded tennis balls to make a chair. And there was a sustainability aspect to it because I was repurposing existing material. And it was green, actually bright neon green.”
|Hayden got his idea while attending Cornell, and put it into practice in New York City. (Savinien Caracostea)|
It takes four to eight weeks and between 300 to 500 balls, depending on the model, to construct a chair. The cost of a hollow chair is $1,000 and a solid one is $1,200. The pieces are heavy—the solid chair weighs about 70 pounds. They’re also meant for indoor use. “Because it’s made of tennis balls, it’s sort of upholstered,” Hayden says.
In the near future, Hayden, who is currently working as a junior designer at Tihany Design, would like to start a program where people can send him their discarded balls so he can make a chair out of them. “The end user could have even more of a connection to the balls. He could say, ‘These are balls I played with.’” (To contact Hayden about having HEX furniture made for you, e-mail him at email@example.com.)
And if you’re in New York, you can see Hugh Hayden’s work at the Hayden-Hartnett store located at 253 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, and at the Design To Go Pop-Up Shop in the Port Authority Terminal through Sept. 26. If that’s not enough, Hayden is working on project with the Andy Roddick Foundation. More on that later.
One More Thing...
The next time you’re about to throw away your old tennis balls, consider where they’re headed. It’s estimated that every year more than 310 million tennis balls end up in landfills. Why not donate them instead, if not to Hayden, then to local animal shelters, nursing homes and schools that could use them. Or send them to Rebounces (rebounces.com), a company that recharges balls for longer usage.
Sarah Thurmond is an associate editor at TENNIS. Follow her on Twitter.