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Meet Erik Rueda of Erik Rueda Design Lab in Chelsea

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erik Rueda.

Erik, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I had tools in my hands from a very young age working with my father and helping to finish the home I grew up in. For years as a child, Legos were my go-to creative outlet. I’d say they planted the basic tenets of Architecture in my young mind. Throughout my youth and into High School and later College, I wore a tool belt building additions, renovations, millwork, and furniture; cutting my teeth in the world of high-end residential carpentry. Architecture and Interior Design became a natural fit when it came to answering the question “what shall I study in college?”. With that answered and having been accepted to Northeastern’s School of Architecture, 2006 became the last year I ever worked for anyone else. While in school I moonlit designing, and building furniture and millwork for a steadily growing book of clients in the Boston area.

Add to this tale that I joined Army ROTC my first year at NU, on track to commission as an Army Officer upon graduation. A stint studying in Rome gave me an even greater appreciation for craft and detail found at every corner of The Eternal City. After graduation in May of 2012, as a newly pinned Lieutenant in the Army, I packed up my home workshop and departed on a 6-month stint on Active Duty. It was during this time I crafted the plan to expand my practice and launch a newly branded company, Erik Rueda Design Lab, that would embody the work, style, and principles I’d been honing over the years. Coming home, I set about the critical task of finding my first ‘real’ workshop. An old fur storage warehouse in the New Market Sq. the neighborhood of Boston became our new beginning. After 8 weeks of renovations and fit out, we were off! Myself and one helper tackled anything and everything we could get our hands on.

My days were spent in Carharts building our projects and my evenings in PJ’s designing, drafting, and book-keeping. Within 7 months we had hired 4 people, taken on a wide range of projects, and incredibly, landed our first Fortune 500 client for a major NYC fit-out. The following year and a half was a dizzying period of amazing project opportunities, growth, and design challenges. In early 2015, with 4 month’s notice, I was given the news that I was deploying for a year-long mobilization to the Middle East. At the same time, we had to vacate our workshop as the building was being torn down to make way for development! In an incredibly stressful and serendipitous series of events, I found a new building to acquire in Chelsea (a stone’s throw from Boston Harbor), met two exceptional business partners that would prove instrumental in the survival of the company in my absence, and landed a handful of projects that would be our lifeblood over the next year. Off I went on my military adventure.

Fortunately for me, I could stay in contact and use my down time to design and continue to foster client relationships via email and Skype. From afar I watched as my dedicated team dismantled our operation, packed up in-progress work, and moved the company to our new home across the Harbor. We kicked off what would be our next chapter. Nearly a year later I returned home to a thriving company, fresh new hires, and a series of marque projects testing our capacity, skill, and creativity. I had spent many a night anticipating the moment I could dive back into my work, my passion.

Against the recommendations of friends and family, I took only 1 day off following my return home and began my first week back at 6:45 am. 2016 would prove to be a tremendous building year. We had consistently doubled in size every year. I and my team were determined to overcome the turbulence of the preceding 16 months and drive towards our true potential. That drive, that push, brings us to today, another year down and many projects later. Our growth has not slowed. Our project list has not waned. We surprise ourselves with the clients, locations, and scopes of work in which we are engaged. Most importantly, and this cannot be understated, none of this could have been possible without the incredible cast of personalities that have poured their discipline and passion into what we do and who we are.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
By far the most challenging period in our story centers around my deployment and the need for us to move into a new shop. It was both a blessing and a curse. For small businesses cash flow is critical. Major unforeseen expenses can and often are, death sentences. At the time, I was the only person ‘selling’ us and what we do. I was the sole revenue generator. Coupled with the costly move to the new workshop, it was a make or break season in our story.

Thankfully, the aforementioned business partners stepped in to assist and support my staff. Melissa, our now Design Principal, and Blair, a friend, and fellow business owner teamed up with Jack who runs our operations, to lead the Design Lab through its greatest challenge.

As with most businesses that have skill-based services hiring the RIGHT staff is an immense challenge. The team can make or break a business. While challenging to find, we have been uniquely fortunate to have an exceptional string of talent work for us from rather diverse backgrounds. It is they that craft the work our clients use every day.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are a design and fabrication workshop that specializes in bespoke, tech-infused, furniture, millwork, and interiors for the commercial and hospitality world. Our model is to take the ideas from clients, architects, and builders, develop those into fully designed projects and build those projects rapidly and efficiently in our Chelsea MA workshop. As we are a custom fabricator, our focus tends to be on the high impact, client facing, and specialty areas of the projects we work on.

In some ways, we are the melding of a rapid prototyping lab mixed with a production facility that is capable of reasonable volume. Our greatest asset is our ability to innovate. We hold true to the ‘Design Lab’ in our name. We push the envelope with the material applications, methods, and uses in nearly all our work. The result is a portfolio full of completely unique work that easily excites designers and clients alike.

What were you like growing up?
I’ve always been very independent. I enjoyed work and projects from a very early age. I was always playing in the woods and building rather elaborate, at least for my age, forts, and structures. Like many kids growing up in New England, I partook in outdoor activities, played organized sports, and loved snow. Perhaps the most impactful element to my upbringing was the traveling I was exposed to by my parents.

I was so fortunate to be taken, often, to Germany and Mexico and as a byproduct, I grew up bilingual. My Spanish wouldn’t become palatable until much later! Unknowingly, I was absorbing cultures and perspectives that would instill in me a set of values and work ethic to which I credit my current position. Of course, I had the occasional visit to the ER resulting from a daredevil streak I seem to have. Thanks for not being too mad Mom.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 214 Arlington street
    Chelsea, Ma 02150
  • Website: erikruedadesignlab.com
  • Email: melissa@erikruedadesignlab.com
  • Instagram: @erikruedadesignlab
  • Facebook: erik rueda design lab
  • Twitter: @erikruedadesignlab
  • Other: erikruedadesignlab.com


Image Credit:

Cody O’Loughlin, Haley Mclane

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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