Andrea Hill is the founder and self-proclaimed reluctant creative behind Tortuga. “Reluctant” because while she’s involved in every stage of the design brand’s creative process, she’s reluctant to attach her name to the products, and instead, prioritizes supporting the independent artists and designers with whom she collaborates to bring Tortuga goods to life. With entrepreneurial roots and 10 years in the art industry under her belt, launching Tortuga felt like a natural next step for Hill, who was on a mission to create thoughtfully crafted home objects in a timeless modern style that’s flexible in nature. From modular planters and interchangeable cutting boards to vibrant bookends and recyclable tableware, everything Tortuga makes is meticulously designed to grow and change with you, staying functional in our ever-evolving world. I got to sit down with Andrea and learn more about her process.
Can you tell us how Tortuga came to be?
When I acquired my first home, I owned art that I was really proud to hang on the walls, but all of my furniture felt disposable. So I actually embarked on my first furniture commission and collaboration with a word worker friend. And I became really inspired by that process of how we could create furniture that had a story to tell, and that could evolve with people’s needs. But I think our mission of making flexible pieces for the home really became more relevant after 2020, because our homes actually need to do more for us today. So we still make pieces that can transform, and because of that, they end up working harder than your average bench or side table or planters. And I think for me, that’s core of what Tortuga has always done, but that has just felt more real and important to me today than ever before.
Can you describe your design style in 3 words?
Flexible, playful, and thoughtful.
Can you tell us more about your product development process? How do you decide what to make next?
I think that it’s definitely a dialogue with our customers as well as just all of our personal ideas that come from the team. And I think a lot of what Tortuga does is not just deciding what to make, but whom to work with in order to make those things. Collaboration is really important to our process. And I think that it can bring about unexpected product categories or products that we had never thought about before.
What do you do when you hit a creative block?
I personally do many different things every day, and I think that’s the burden of being a small team and the founder of a team, so it’s easy for me to actually change gears and step back from a creative design problem to do something like bookkeeping for a few hours. And I find that when I come back, sometimes the problem looks different.
Do you have a favorite piece (or pieces) in your collection on Design Milk?
I really love the platform planters that were designed by Ferrah Sit of Light and Ladder, I was really amazed by how she innovated a modular planter system that was so visually striking. I’ve never seen a design for a planter that could organize a large collection of plants. So when you place them next to each other, they create this like serpentine path of patterns that you can put on your windows sill or on your floor.
Also the bookends, which are designed by Andrea Caruso and Alberto Gobbino of Ciszak Dalmas, those pieces just work so well to prop up heavy books and they bring a really fun form and pop of color to the bookshelf.
Dumbo Bookend Pair in Medium Sand
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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?
I think it’s really important for me to know my personal tendencies. As an entrepreneur and just as a person, I’m very impatient. I want to get our products out there as quickly as possible. And I think that the process of product development and the process of working in the design industry has really helped me to slow down and to be more reflective, to test things more, and to take more time with them before making any decisions. Because these things are going to hopefully be out there in the world for a very long time, they’re going to have a long life cycle, and they deserve the extra patience that doesn’t come easy to someone like me in order to get them to that place that they need to be. So I don’t know if anyone has ever given me that advice, but I’ve continuously revisited this again and again as we develop products.
Can we expect anything new from Tortuga on Design Milk in the future?
Yes, so we created a collection of candle holders, trivets, and napkin rings designed by studio Den Den (coming Spring/Summer 2022). George Coffin and Jillian Wiedenmayer developed these asterisks-formed wooden products that look beautiful on the table. They’re in bright, lovely colors. The stains that we use allow the natural wood grains to show too.
We’re also launching new colors and patterns for our cosmos recycled place mat collection. And for me, I was really excited about the possibilities of recycled rubber and how they can exist in the kitchen space.
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