2015 Digital Bonus
The Furniture Issue
from the editor and director
Chris Amundsen and Monica Moses in the ACC offices in Minneapolis
Photo: Julie K. Hanus
Welcome to American Craft
this is our annual digitalonly bonus issue, and we’re delighted you’ve opened it. In this issue focused on furniture, you’ll find dozens of gorgeous chairs, tables, and cabinets, alongside stories of the inventive makers behind them. For almost 75 years, American Craft has celebrated the ageold human impulse to make things by hand – to learn, connect, communicate, and thrive. The creative spark, which lives in everyone, is mysterious and fascinating – and it’s the thread that runs through each bimonthly issue we publish, in print and online. We cover people who work in clay, wood, fiber, metal, and glass – along with equally accomplished artists whose mediums include Legos, balloons, and sun-dried tomatoes. American Craft is published by the American Craft Council,
a member-driven national nonprofit that supports professional makers through unique craft shows, free educational opportunities, and awards programs for emerging artists and masters. We hope, as you scroll through this issue, that you’ll consider joining our cause. By becoming a member of the American Craft Council, you’ll not only bolster the handmade in a mass-produced world, you’ll be investing in your own creativity: Members get a free subscription to the award-winning American Craft. After reading the magazine, many members tell us they feel a spark and do something expressive themselves. Others tell us they simply feel good about supporting those who aim to earn a living making art. We hope our paths cross again. In the meantime, enjoy this bonus issue.
Executive Director, ACC
Editor in Chief, American Craft
furniture 2015 / american craft
Furni Bonus Issue, September 2015 Published by the American Craft Council www.craftcouncil.org
On the cover Skylar Morgan’s striking White Steel Top Table (2014).
Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee
Creativity is infectious.
What is your favorite piece of furniture? The results are in.
From the Editor and Director
Emerging Makers Meet three rising stars: Michaela Crie Stone, Colin Pezzano, and Sarah Marriage.
Inside the Field Talking shop – and the next generation of designer-makers – with Steffanie Dotson, president of the Furniture Society.
Furniture makers are bound to ergonomics – an uncomfortable chair or a too-high table won’t make it far in the marketplace. Yet these 15 designer-makers prove that creativity flourishes within limits.
Cutting Edge Artist and furniture maker Christy Oates answers our questions about digital fabrication technology.
044 Man of the World
Bookshelf Six volumes for every furniture lover’s library.
Feast your eyes on some of the freshest chairs, stools, and benches to be found at furniture hot spots across the country.
Judy Kensley McKie’s Dragon Settee.
Out and About
028 Elements of Surprise
The Corliss chair by Studio Dunn marries cast aluminum with maple. page 064
New York designer Stephen Burks has made a colorful career out of partnering with artisans around the world, producing ethical goods and elevating the handmade. Shonquis Moreno talks to Burks about his fusion of craftsmanship and contemporary design.
< This chest is one of
30-plus Roy McMakin pieces in collector Elaine Smith’s California home. page 070
Corliss photo: GSP Studios / McMakin photo: Mark Tuschman
iture < François Chambard
prides himself on furniture that is “simple and basic, accessible and well made.” page 037
052 Past Perfect
064 Structurally Sound
With her geometric tabletops, wall hangings, and headboards, Ariele Alasko breathes new life into old lath. Patrick Clark talks to the New York woodworker about her creative practice.
After college, Asher Dunn was struggling to establish his woodshop. A single sturdy stool turned out to be all the step-up the Rhode Island designer needed. Joyce Lovelace reports.
Keating portrait: Kirsten Boyer / Chambard photo: © Francis Dzikowski, Esto
058 West by Midwest As a fifth-generation woodworker, Geoffrey Keating appreciates time-tested techniques and ageless aesthetics. But the Colorado furniture maker also has a keen eye for contemporary design and 21stcentury functionality. Gussie Fauntleroy has the story.
editor i a l
Monica Moses Editor in Chief email@example.com
The House that Roy Built
Elaine Smith’s fascination with the work of designer-artist Roy McMakin began more than 20 years ago. Today, her Bay Area Victorian is home to more than 30 McMakin pieces. Deborah Bishop talks to Smith about finding her aesthetic soul mate.
076 Motor City Modern Partners in life and business, Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer conceive of each piece of furniture together, in an exacting approach. The result? The Detroit-based design studio’s simple and honest look. Joyce Lovelace has the inside scoop.
< Geoffrey Keating
was a motorcycle mechanic and a theology student before committing to furniture. page 058
Julie K. Hanus Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Mary K. Baumann Will Hopkins Creative Directors Dakota Sexton Assistant Editor email@example.com Judy Arginteanu Copy Editor Joyce Lovelace Contributing Editor Chelsea Hammerbeck Designer
Andrew Ranallo Digital Producer firstname.lastname@example.org Elizabeth Ryan Interactive Editor email@example.com publishing Joanne Smith Advertising Sales Manager firstname.lastname@example.org Christian Novak Membership Manager email@example.com
A Space In Between Michaela Crie Stone’s furniture balances sculpture and function.
sometimes, when michaela Crie Stone is feeling overwhelmed, she’ll take to her studio, grab a fresh blade for her scroll saw, and start piercing pieces of ash, oak, cherry, and maple. Just a few years into her woodworking career, Stone, 26, is already known around Rockport, Maine, for the simple wooden boxes she creates with earthy patterns of leaves, webs, and branches. “I sell them almost as fast as I make them,” she says. “But
anemones) and complicated, geometric structures. An observer easily spots the family resemblance between these early sculptures and Stone’s newer functional work. Stone graduated in 2011 and, like many broke college kids these days, quickly landed back home with her parents. She applied for a two-week basic woodworking class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport “because it’s around the corner from my parents’ house,” she says. Stone thrived within the relative confines of furniture making. “I was getting really overwhelmed in the sculpture studio, because there are no rules,” she confesses. “Having parameters was really necessary for me.” Soon she enrolled in the center’s 12-week intensive furniture-making course and in 2012 was
left: Radial coffee table, 2011, white oak, glass, 1.5 x 3 ft. dia.
Photos: Marti Stone
below: The understated Strata hall table (2013) shows off Stone’s hand-piercing prowess.
these are just simple designs, basically just sketches for me when I’m decompressing from my more mathematically complex work.” Turns out it takes a rested body and mind to devise deceptively simple pieces such as the Parabola coffee table, Sinuate chair, and Chiasm bench. These objects are made entirely from modules, with dozens of standardized pieces forming the larger, functional whole.
Though these works are painstakingly engineered, they also lean toward the conceptual. Stone’s Parabola table, for instance, is fanned with 100 maple strips, the idea being “to create a curve using only straight lines,” she says. A self-described “science nerd,” Stone arrived at Skidmore College in 2007, planning to major in biology. “But I’ve always had this dichotomy between art and science,” she says. Sure enough, her painting and sculpture electives proved more seductive than she had expected – “Let’s just say the hours spent in the studio far outnumbered hours spent in the lab.” So Stone majored in studio art with an emphasis in sculpture, and spent her time building work with graceful, natureinspired themes (she harbored a particular fascination for marine life such as coral and
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awarded a year-long studio fellowship there. Stone was quick to impress her teachers. Tim Rousseau, a resident furniture maker and instructor at the center, immediately noticed Stone’s eye for proportion and her ability to work through ideas. Stone can create “geometric forms with simple shifts in frames,” says Rousseau. He particularly admires the Sinuate chair, a study in roundness, with its moony contours of ash, steel, and leather. Meanwhile, the purportedly simple designs of those piercings are “testaments to her amazing hand skills.” Beth Ireland, another of Stone’s teachers and mentors, observes that many artists (she includes herself) feel an internal tug-of-war between sculpture and functional craft. They suspect it’s an either/or proposition, or they might lack
left: Parabola coffee table, 2013, maple, walnut, glass, 1.3 x 2.2 x 2.2 ft.
The interior of the Helix light (2013) is painted orange to enhance its luminosity.
confidence that they can reconcile the two. “But Michaela feels perfectly comfortable in this in-between state,” says Ireland. “Her portfolio is that of a much older artist, and yet she explores subject matter like a kid – fearlessly.” Though Stone has earned accolades for her furniture, she hasn’t abandoned the idea of sculpture. In 2014, she spent a spring residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado, where she explored her sculptural vocabulary, setting aside concerns with functionality; one of the pieces she created there was displayed at SOFA Chicago that year. She has also exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show as one of eight “emerging artists,” and will be one of five Windgate ITE resident fellows at the Center for Art in Wood this coming summer.
For now, Stone believes some of her modular furniture already bridges the considerable divide between sculpture and practical purpose. “I have this really strong conviction about my Parabola coffee table,” she says. “Even though it’s a perfectly functional coffee table, there’s something about the volume in the center that, to me, has a more sculptural aspect.” Bearing out Ireland’s observation about her conceptual strengths, Stone riffed on this theme a while longer: “I’m not convinced fine art and functional craft need to be separate. I think there’s a space in between those two worlds, and maybe that’s a place for people like me.” ~christy desmith michaelacstone.com Christy DeSmith is a writer in Minneapolis.
Sinuate chair, 2012, ash, steel, leather, 3.8 x 1.3 x 4 ft.
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Character Development Colin Pezzano tunes into his interests to create an idiosyncratic vision. colin pezzano makes anthropomorphized furniture with long, gesturing limbs and other lifelike features. A tall, slender table in Pepto-Bismol pink has the loose, gangly legs of an octopus (or perhaps an awkward teenager), plus a name to suit its character: Phil. Pezzano has another tall, slender table he calls Stranger Danger. With four legs and an elevated front paw – the canine reference is unmistakable – Stranger Danger comes off as playful and fun. “I draw a lot from ’90s cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and comic books I really like by Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns,” he explains. Like a lot of Pezzano’s work, which relies on cartoonish colors and irreverent figures, Stranger Danger has a surprisingly sad back-story. Pezzano named the piece for the mannerisms of his dog, a reticent elderly Italian greyhound he left behind at his childhood home in South Jersey. “Really missing him comes out in the work,” he says. At age 23, Pezzano has already developed a distinct language within the furniture world. But just five years ago, he
above: Phil, 2014, poplar, basswood, epoxy, paint, Robitussin, 39 x 20 x 18 in. top right: Stranger Danger, 2013, poplar, basswood, white oak, African blackwood, paint, 44 x 27 x 27 in.
was an overwhelmed freshman at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Pezzano had planned to study industrial design, but he ended up hating all of his ID classes. “I just couldn’t do it,” he says with a groan. Remembering his boyhood dreams of carpentry, he made a bold and sudden switch. “I declared my major as a woodworker before I took any woodworking classes,” Pezzano says. Pezzano was thrust into a curriculum focused on basic woodworking skills. “It’s pretty technical,” explains Don Miller, head of the wood program at the University of the Arts and an advisor to Pezzano. Miller observed that Pezzano was uncomfortable with the early, more nitty-gritty aspects of his training, but the teacher watched Pezzano emerge with a strong vision during his junior year. “I had been trying to design all this earthy furniture,” Pezzano recounts. He finally decided to inject his interests (mainly characters from TV shows and surrealist comics) into his woodwork, adding plenty of narrative details. “And that’s when I started being happy with my work,” he says. After this epiphany, Pezzano’s first piece was a swan-necked lamp with a rubbery body inspired by
Despite cartoonish overtones, Pezzano’s work has a dimension of pathos.
Backyard Wrestling, 2014, basswood, birch plywood, milk paint, 22 x 18 x 20 in.
Photos: Ken Yanoviak
comics. The subject was failure, he explains. “The lamp was illuminating its own body,” he says. “Kind of like bringing notice to your own failure.” Next he made a chair, or Chairrrrrrrrrr, as it’s called, with one slightly collapsed leg. “It’s again the idea of failure, giving up midway through, buckling,” Pezzano explains. “The concept is really about not being able to support your own weight, let alone other people’s.” “Early on, I wondered if Colin shouldn’t be in sculpture,” confesses Miller, who came to admire how the functional aspects
imbued Pezzano’s work with pathos. “The results are awkward, beautiful, and moving,” he says. After graduating in 2014, Pezzano moved to a refurbished Airstream trailer on a fellow woodworker’s farm in New Jersey but this summer returned to Philadelphia. A 2014 winner of the Windgate Fellowship, Pezzano will use his grant dollars to fund a trip to the Netherlands, where he hopes to further his “understanding of human anatomy and how it elicits emotion.” In the meantime, he had his first solo show at Bridgette
Chairrrrrrrrrr, 2013, poplar, fabric, paint, 38 x 28 x 27 in.
Lamp, 2012, basswood, milk paint, brass, found shade, 16 x 10 in. dia.
Gathering Dust, 2014, ash, birch plywood, sea-grass rush, 14 x 33 x 20 in.
Blob Table, 2013, basswood, cherry, paint, epoxy, 27 x 54 x 18 in.
Mayer gallery, a big milestone for him: “I am so thankful and lucky as a young artist to be supported by her and her influential gallery.” He’s also preparing for an exhibition, “Discomfort: Furniture, Function, and Form in Contemporary Sculpture” at the Hunterdon Museum in Clinton, New Jersey, opening in January. His next project, he says, will be building everything for his bedroom; he hopes to eventually find a gallery space to display the whole room. No doubt it will make for one heck of a bedtime story. ~christy desmith colinpezzano.com Christy DeSmith is a writer in Minneapolis. furniture 2015 / american craft 09
The Art of Constant Change Sarah Marriage took a few detours to find her way to furniture.
Fiddler Mantis (2012) is an adjustable music stand in madrone and eucalyptus.
furniture-maker sarah Marriage fondly remembers an exercise from her first few weeks at College of the Redwoods called “the perfect board.” The charge: Take a raw piece of lumber and create a board that is perfectly flat, with exact 90-degree corners. Once you’ve done that, cut it in half, glue the halves together, and make it perfect again. “The point is, wood is a moving material,” Marriage explains, “so even once you get it perfect, it’s never going to be perfect forever. It’ll move by the next day.” Continual movement is something she knows well. Before landing at College of the Redwoods, Marriage had left the architecture program at Princeton University during her junior year, moved back to her family’s home in Alaska, 010 american craft / furniture 2015
found her way again to the East Coast, and put in several years at an elite structural engineering firm in lower Manhattan. Despite the multiple detours, the 35-year-old knew early in her undergraduate architecture studies that she wanted to pursue furniture. “I wanted to make the things I was designing, and I felt like furniture was a scale that I could handle,” she says. She discovered furniture legend James Krenov, and then, in the pages of Fine Woodworking, saw an ad for his famed furniture program at College of the Redwoods. She was on her way. Since graduating in 2013, she’s kept busy: She has a sixmonth studio fellowship at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship through January, after a stint as a technical assistant at
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. This past summer she was elected to the board of trustees of the Furniture Society. Recently, she was awarded the $25,000 John D. Mineck Furniture Fellowship by the Society of Arts and Crafts to create a cooperative for female furniture makers. Marriage’s own experience is driving her focus on female makers; as she pointed out in her fellowship proposal, she has frequently been asked if the furniture she was showing was the work of her husband. “People just don’t expect us to be furniture makers,” she says. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a shop together, and just like ‘power in numbers,’ made a bigger presence by being together?” Marriage’s momentum in the field suggests she’s building a
presence of her own. Her tambour desk, Leviathan, showcases her Krenovian training in its effortless details and apparent weightlessness atop elegantly curved legs. Her latest piece, Frog Pond Table, displays her technical finesse while stepping outside of Krenov’s tradition in favor of rougher edges. Beyond her one-of-a-kind studio pieces, Marriage’s evolving vision includes production lines of furniture. “When I’m in between projects, I zoom out and look at that vision and that hierarchy and set of objects that I want to be making,” she says. “It’s all still in its infancy. It’s all really exciting right now.” ~andrew ranallo sarahmarriage.com Andrew Ranallo is American Craft’s digital producer.
Table photos (2): Mark Juliana / Other photos: David Welter
Frog Pond Table (2015), Marriage’s latest work, pairs technical precision with rough edges.
Leviathan (2013) evokes the craftsmanship of furniture legend James Krenov, who founded the furniture program at College of the Redwoods, where Marriage studied.
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inside the field
Furniture in the Future Tense
steffanie dotson first joined the Furniture Society as a student in 2004. Now a furniture maker based in San Diego, Dotson, 38, was elected president of the group in 2013. She talked with us about the challenges of serving its membership in a transitional time for the field.
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Furniture Society President Steffanie Dotson
We’re interested in figuring out who the new generation is and what they’re interested in, because their interests seem very different from those of our older members. We’re walking the floor at shows, talking to as many of these folks as we can to find ways that we can help them grow as makers. We’re very dedicated to helping our members become successful in the furniture field. How so? I think this new generation is maybe not so interested in
studio furniture making, but more in being able to make repeatable designs, to really support their families by making objects and furniture. They’re looking at new technologies like CNC, laser, and 3D printing as ways to make things happen. Things are getting cheaper, so more makers will have access to these technologies, and they’re starting to come up with clever ways to streamline processes and make designs repeatable. The best work I’ve seen isn’t straight off the CNC table,
but [rather] coupled with some skilled handwork. That’s what’s really promising and exciting. At our 2014 conference in Port Townsend, Washington, we had a huge “digiFabulous” event highlighting three makers who work with digital technology, to show all the different things you can do. Most recently, at our 2015 Symposium in Durham, North Carolina, ShopBot founder Ted Hall spoke about the new industrial revolution and how digital fabrication is changing things in exciting ways.
Illustration: Tina Berning, kokoartagency.com
What do you see as the role of the Furniture Society today, and how have things changed since it was founded in 1996? Well, our role today is being champions of excellence, refinement, responsibility, and craftsmanship in furniture. We provide a sense of community for furniture makers and furniture enthusiasts. Also, as an educational nonprofit, we have a strong commitment to providing opportunities for students and apprentices, and educating the public about the importance of handmade furniture. At the inception, our main focus was studio furniture, and I think that has changed a bit, based on how the field has changed. Now we have a more inclusive focus. So in addition to studio furniture, we also embrace design, limited production, work that uses alternative materials, even manufacturing processes.
inside the field
right: Joe Lendway Nightstand, 2013, ash, cherry, birch plywood, maple veneer, 5 x 2 x 1.5 ft.
Nightstand photo: Jonathan Theodorou / Other photo: Brandon Skupski
far right: Brandon Skupski Haywood credenza, 2013, walnut, 2.6 x 4.7 x 1.8 ft.
Now that the first wave of studio furniture collectors has filled their homes, how do you get new buyers interested? I think that [the earlier] generation of collectors has definitely diminished, and collecting has changed. But I’ve seen a couple of things happening along with that. One is this whole secondary market that has come alive, with really great prices being attained for pieces by [established masters such as] Nakashima and Maloof and Castle and Carpenter. Also the emergence of a new generation of buyers – not necessarily at the collector level, but young professionals who are really attuned to craft. They may not have as much money as a collector per se, but they definitely are interested in furnishing their homes with handmade items that they actually intend to use. What does furniture education look like today? Where does it – or should it – go next? The large accredited schools will always have an important role in the education of university-level instructors and thinkers, and they do a great job at preparing talented folks. I don’t think an MFA is required for every person who aspires to
DIY culture has “played an important role in helping people realize how fulfilling it is to work with your hands.”
make furniture. There are tons of wonderful resources available. Guilds and apprenticeships are still viable places to learn a craft. Maker/hacker spaces are an exciting addition to the craft learning arena. I say “exciting,” because the more outlets for quality learning, the more craft and furniture making will grow. I tried to ignore the DIY culture when it first appeared, kind of hoping it would go away, but it’s actually played an important role in helping people realize how fulfilling it is to work with your hands. DIY has also uncovered some very talented craftspeople, and now has many different levels. It seems smaller tidbits of information are more affordable, attainable, and interesting. So I think things are going to pick up at the craft schools, workshop circuits, and maker spaces. People also seem to gravitate to fun, loose events where they can show up and create in a group setting. It’s all good news, because in my book, anything that gets people interested and involved is valid. ~joyce lovelace Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor. furniture 2015 / american craft 013
out and about
The Hot Seat Furniture has one limitation: It has to fit the human form. But that doesn’t mean it all has to be the same. Just look at this selection of stylish seating, sourced from galleries, shops, studios, and collectives across the country.
The clean copper tubing of Chair #2 by TJ Volonis seems to channel the name of the website where we spotted it: Fiercely Made, a collective of Brooklyn designer-makers. “Copper as a material is quite amazing,” says Volonis, who makes wall-mounted sculpture as well as furniture. Some metals can be cold, but copper is “warm and creates a beautiful light,” he says. And unlike metals that rust, copper forms a patina, a beautiful and protective coating. Photo: Carlos Bido
Saddle Leather Chaise Lounge
Jamey Garza and Constance Holt-Garza of Garza Marfa create covetable, saddleleather and steel furniture, which has been primarily available through their Texas showroom. This summer, the pair debuted new designs, including textiles by Constance and this alluring Chaise Lounge, at Kruger Gallery in Chicago. The Midwest-based gallery has Texas ties; this October, a second location opens in Marfa. Photo: Garza Marfa
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The Torus Chair is a seat of serendipity: Jon Brooks had a 4-foot pine log, and after using part of it for one of his signature Ball Chairs, the remainder was not quite enough for another spherical seat. He began work instead on a flattened ball, and the new form compelled him. “Staying open to the possibilities as they arise is a vital part of my creative process,” Brooks reports. The Torus Chair will be at the New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association 20th anniversary gala and auction this October. Photo: Bill Truslow
out and about
This Flor Chair draws on nature, of course, but its elegance equally calls on technology and craftsmanship. For her Stumps collection, Israeli designer Sharon Sides transfers natural wood-cut patterns onto sheets of brass through a complex process of digital printing, acid etching, and meticulous finishing. This special-edition branch-leg Flor Chair, one of 12, is available at Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia. Photos: KeneK Photography
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out and about
Garry Knox Bennett
When Pritam & Eames opened its new location in Maine this year, the stalwart studio furniture gallery turned to an equally storied maker to inaugurate the space: Garry Knox Bennett. Over his 50-year career, the Oakland icon has filled his home with furniture and art – his own and others. His 2005 Zig-Zag Chair was among the pieces culled from this trove for “Garry Knox Bennett: Inside.” Photo: M. Lee Fatherree
Fox + Yates
Sleek isn’t often richly textured, modern isn’t always cozy, but the Sling Chair hits all the right notes. The first collaboration between Austin, Texas, craftsman Michael Yates and Austinarea artist Alyson Fox, who designed the linen sling, it’s available in whitewashed oak or gray lacquered ash. Find it on WorkOf, an online hub for independently made furniture, lighting, and home accessories. Photos: Courtesy of WorkOf
John Eric Byers
Studio furniture is among Gallery Naga’s specialties, and this fall, the Boston gallery offered an up-close view of John Eric Byers’ striking work. The upstate New York artist, who studied with Wendell Castle, painstakingly hand-tools his solid wood pieces, such as this Block Bench of carved, blackened hardwood. The result is an entirely individual look. Photo: Momo Jones
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out and about
Greta de Parry
The Coleman Stool is one of Chicago furniture maker Greta de Parry’s signature designs. The sturdy, stylish perch has a powder-coated steel base; the seat is available in solid wood or hand-cast concrete in a range of muted colors. See it in person at one of the Midwest’s furniture powerhouses: Minneapolis’ Forage Modern Workshop. Photo: James John Jetel
Todd Merrill Custom Originals X OLEK “Damn I wish I had #You,” says one. “#Fear is only temporary. #Regret lasts forever,” says another. For her eye-catching Swivel Thrones, Polish-born artist Olek cloaked four custom Todd Merrill chairs – canvases, really – in her distinctive provocative crochet. The four thrones were part of an Olek installation at the Brooklyn Museum earlier this year; today, you’ll find the two remaining available thrones on display at the Todd Merrill Studio Southampton gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Todd Merrill Studio
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What is your favorite piece of furniture?
the red blue chair by Gerrit Rietveld is an enduring touchstone. The chair is a visual essay on how to support a body. The seat plane, back plane, and armrests hold up the key body parts. Everything else serves to locate those support planes in space. Rietveld’s design has worn so well over time that if it had never been made before, and someone came up with it today, it would still get published instantly on all the design blogs. That’s pretty good for an almost 100-year-old design. ~tom loeser, artist and professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Jennifer Anderson’s Pattern Study #2 (PS2) stools incorporate playful ribbons of milk paint.
one important aspect that contributes to an amazing piece of furniture is the relationship between the maker and the object. Whether it’s a Chippendale chair or a James Krenov cabinet, the craftsman’s mastery of the material is apparent in every detail. Examples of this can be seen in industry as well. One of my favorite pieces of furniture is Hans Wegner’s Wishbone chair. For me, it epitomizes the designer’s complete comprehension of a material’s potential. ~jennifer anderson, furniture maker and educator, San Diego
my favorite furniture is not the Stickley armchair sitting heavily in the corner or Odysseus’ mythical bed, rooted into the ground. Perhaps because I’ve always lived in small spaces and made a living as an itinerant woodworker, I love furniture engineered to pack up cleverly and move with us easily, from the campaign furniture of the early British Empire to the Shakers’ hanging peg-rail chairs to the nomadic furniture designs of the 1970s. ~r.h. lee, woodworker, Los Angeles
Stools photo: Yuki Batterson
i’m inspired by the aesthetic of traditional Southern furniture; it was a southern rocking chair that was the original inspiration for me to start Holler Design and to have a furniture design-build company in the South. I read Craftsman of the Cumberlands, about Chester Cornett, a rural southeastern Kentucky chair maker, when I was just starting out. Cornett built many chairs, without power tools, that were a lot like what you’d think of a traditional Southern rocking chair – but with bookshelves built into the side or other over-the-top features. I thought that was cool – he was taking traditional pieces and putting his own twist on them. That’s a major influence on the aesthetic of Holler Design. ~matthew alexander, furniture maker and designer, Lascassas, TN
right now i’m really into the work of George Hunzinger, who I was introduced to by Barry Harwood, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum. Hunzinger landed in Brooklyn at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a time in which furniture was still made using traditional materials, but with an industrial aesthetic influenced by the development of factory production. For me, that’s interesting work to study as a corollary to our own time. Hunzinger was an innovator, and I see him as almost a role model for how we are working today, during what is not an industrial revolution but a digital one. ~vivian beer, furniture designer/ maker, Manchester, NH
Waves photo: Courtesy of the artist
i’d go with something by Charlotte Perriand, who worked as a designer in Le Corbusier’s architecture office in Paris. In collaboration with Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, Perriand designed a whole series of avant-garde furnishings, including a stainless steel and leather chaise longue. She would later move to Japan in 1940 to work as an advisor to the country’s export market, and began to design furniture with local craft techniques. One piece was based on her machine-age chaise longue for Le Corbusier – but it was made with wood and bamboo by local craftspeople. I have a lot of respect for design work such as that: for keeping traditions alive by using natural materials and traditional processes in new and innovative ways. ~casey lurie, designer, Chicago
it is difficult to pick just one of Judy Kensley McKie’s pieces of furniture as my favorite. But I have to pick her Grizzly Bear Bench (2002) for how simply, universally comfortable it is. The original was made at Judy’s studio near Boston, the casting was executed in Berkeley, California, it resided for several years in Aspen, Colorado, and now is at rest on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. ~gail fredell, furniture maker and faculty, RISD, Westport, MA
the noguchi coffee table for Herman Miller is a fascinating piece. It has a beautiful softness. And with only three elements, Isamu Noguchi set the gold standard for the “less is more” principle. The rest of us are still banging our heads against the wall trying to figure that out. Noguchi was a sculptor first, and you can see that in this table. But it’s not the kind of coffee table that’s so artistic that you wonder, “Where am I going to put my drink?” or “Can I put a book on it?” ~libby schrum, furniture designer/ maker, Camden, ME
i believe, as William Blake suggests, that we should see the world in a grain of sand. My furniture-maker heroes are those whose work transcends the traditional preoccupation with function. They focus more on the details that delight those who take the time to look closely. I am inspired by the late James Krenov’s drawer pulls and door catches, Silas Kopf’s perspective illusion marquetry, and Larry Robinson and Grit Laskin’s exquisite inlays. They all recognize the synergistic effect of deftly executed details. I try to emulate these heroes in my own work, and, yes, function regularly misses the bus. ~mark laub, furniture maker, Oak Grove, MN
Mark Laub is inspired by furniture makers whose work conveys a sense of delight. His Planet Waves cabinet aims to do the same with features such as inlaid seahorse images.
i’ve been following the work of artist Jay Nelson for a few years, and I like that his work pushes the limits of what could be considered a piece of furniture. Jay designs and builds wooden living structures that are sometimes mobile (such as on the back of a truck or a boat), or up high, like a tree house. The forms Jay makes have a very unusual aesthetic and intuitive method of construction – they are fantastical yet intimate environments that embody a particular West Coast lifestyle. I am most drawn to his work because of his ability to create a totally immersive space from basic resources – the materials are not grandiose, but what he’s able to create with very simple tools and techniques is quite inventive and compelling. ~adrien segal, artist, Oakland, CA
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facet chair This is not your grandmaâ€™s folding chair. The Facet Chair hangs flat on the wall. Lift it down as one piece and expand it to 90-degree angles â€“ and the seat will fold into place, securing the structure.
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Artist and furniture maker Christy Oates on where digital meets traditional – and beyond.
to do in a manufacturing environment,” she says. Today, the 35-year-old’s work is a deft blend of digital making and traditional woodworking. For her Facet Table, Oates used a computer-aided drafting program to map a marquetry pattern, digitally reorienting the wood grain direction before laser-cutting and handassembling the components. A 4-foot marquetry mandala, her E-waste Project similarly blends digital and manual technology: designed in CAD, laser-cut, and assembled by hand. The final object, Oates says, asks a question: “Does the art hold less value if it is made by a machine?” Earlier this year, Oates left California for Wisconsin, trading a tiny studio for a 5,100square-foot building. She’s excited to have space to work on larger projects – as well as expand her line of marquetry kits (digitalwood.com). We asked Oates for her thoughts on craftsmanship, digital tools, and technology.
christy oates began using digital fabrication tools such as CAD/CAM while working on her MFA at San Diego State. But, she’ll tell you, her true immersion in the technology began when she reached out to a local manufacturing company. In 2009, while working on her thesis show of folding furniture, Oates approached the manufacturer and offered to trade labor for the use of an industrial laser-cutter. She worked for three mornings each week for a semester, and later started working for the company full time. The experience deeply influenced her perspective as an artist using digital fabrication and design tools. “Being in that environment, with the tools, and especially with the people who knew them intimately, opened my eyes to what these machines can really do – and what they weren’t being pushed
Tell us more about how digital technologies – such as 3D printing or computeraided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) – figure in your work. I am currently exploring the boundaries of digital technology – what the machine and software can and cannot do. I feel there are two categories of digital work in art/craft: work that is made using CAD/CAM as a measuring tool and work that uses it as a design tool. Using it as a measuring tool means making things we have seen before but using the technology to speed up the process. Artists and designers who are using CAD/CAM as a design tool, [on the other hand], are making work that can also be made by hand but may not have been realized without the use of CAD/CAM. One great example of this is Jeroen Verhoeven’s Cinderella table.
The Right Mix
Al Ch ris s
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CAD/CAM is essentially a sophisticated jigging process. And all work that has been made using CNC routers and lasers with traditional material thus far could also have been made by hand; I haven’t seen anything that has pushed past that. (I’m not taking into account 3D printers, because they use a non-traditional material.) That is my goal: to find out if the machines can make something using traditional materials that cannot be made by hand. I believe this can only be achieved by altering the machines and software past their current state. This involves me becoming a computer programmer and a toolmaker in addition to an artist-maker-designer.
to working manually. However, in both cases, the acquired skill is knowing how the tool works, what its flaws are, and how to fix them. Table saws break down, sanding belts need to be changed. When I use my laser every day, I know its quirks, its settings, how it reads certain files. When working wood manually, I know exactly how much pressure to use when cutting or chiseling certain kinds of wood. When I cut laser marquetry from wood veneer, I know what speed and power settings to use and what kind of offset to use to make each wood fit together based on its density and species. It’s more than knowing how a tool feels in your hand and what it feels like to be in An emerging maxim associated contact with the material; it’s with digital fabrication is that the knowledge behind it that it is best applied in cases where comes from years of experience the hand alone could not have with the tool. The hard part achieved the result. Do you is adjusting to new software agree or disagree? versions or working with other I feel that a new art form is people’s files. As a manual developing because of artists woodworker, I don’t have using the tools in new ways, to learn Chisel, version 2.0 – but the term “digital fabrication” it will never change. has many implications for many people. Any good woodworker What’s the greatest potential knows that you have to have the of these tools? right tool for the job. Any good The greatest potential is yet woodworker also knows the to come. Up until this decade, wrong tool for the job is the these tools were only being right tool if the woodworker used in machine shops. Now, is more comfortable using it … as the price point drops, everythe right tool for the job someone can get access to the tools. times has a learning curve. There is an intimacy in I feel digital technologies working with a tool every day – are just another tool in my toolyou find out what it can, and box, and I’ll use them (and mismost importantly, what it canuse them) any way that suits not do. As artists become familthe application. iar with the tools, we are coming up with new and interesting ways In many ways, yes, they are to use them and modify them. The new tools. But compared to machines and software will do traditional tools, there are diswhatever we teach them to do – tinguishing factors. Hands-on they just need a creative teacher. feedback may be reduced, for ~julie k. hanus example. Do these tools have the potential to change how cargocollective.com we think about making? /christyoates There is a different mindset Julie K. Hanus is American to working digitally compared Craft’s senior editor. 022 american craft / furniture 2015
“Digital technologies are just another tool in my toolbox, and I’ll use them (and misuse them) any way that suits the application.”
mosquito lamp Part of Oatesâ€™ MFA thesis show at San Diego State University, the collapsible Mosquito Lamp is made of lasercut and engraved veneer. Pull the tiny chain, and the lightbulb shape illuminates. Pop out the fanlike shade, and you have a three-dimensional lamp.
the e-waste project For this 4-foot mandala, Oates collected images of discarded electronic equipment, using a CAD program to create her design. The veneer pieces were all lasercut (in 12 different species of wood), then assembled by hand.
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Speaking of Furniture: Conversations with 14 American Masters By Warren Eames Johnson and Bebe Pritam Johnson The Artist Book Foundation, $75
in 1991, for the 10th anniversary of their gallery Pritam & Eames, owners Bebe Pritam Johnson and Warren Eames Johnson interviewed 14 of their artists, intending to publish The Furniture Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Identify, Restore, & Care for Furniture By Christophe Pourny with Jen Renzi Artisan, $35
furniture restorer christophe Pourny’s parents opened their first antiques store in his hometown in the south of France when he was 5, “when it was still possible to buy and resell the contents of an entire castle.” He went on to apprentice at his uncle Pierre Madel’s famed 024 american craft / furniture 2015
Paris shop, before moving to New York in his 20s and hanging out his own shingle. And if, by some stretch, you don’t find that lineage sufficiently charming, then his Furniture Bible will leave you defenseless. In his first book, Pourny chronicles his craft with charismatic generosity. He begins with a solid foundation: Some 70 pages, “Meet Your Furniture” covers the history of period styles and design (depicted in pleasing watercolors), construction and components, even wood species. He then grants equal attention to the traditional fine finishes (oil, wax, and shellac) and preparing pieces for restoration, before launching into 14 finishing techniques, from a glistening French polish to water gilding. Completing the volume are recipes for
their stories soon thereafter. Logistics and finances intervened, however, and the project was shelved for more than 20 years, before being resurrected and released in late 2013. In the decades since the interviews, the artists, including James Krenov, Wendell Castle, Wendy Maruyama, and Judy Kensley McKie [see “One Piece,” page 82], have been
recognized as the best in their field. These time-capsule interviews about their work and lives, from a moment when contemporary studio furniture was picking up steam, reveal the makers in a candid light, speaking with a freedom that underscores the friendship and trust among the gallerists and artists, whose work they show (and love) to this day.
finishes, a guide to tools, and maintenance tips. Whether you have a project in mind or just want to better understand the furniture you have, Pourny’s deep knowledge is infectious.
continues to serve as executive director. Like many boomer craftspeople, Korn didn’t set out to be a maker; he just identified with ideas about living thoughtfully and with purpose. It was only decades later he found he was part of a greater craft movement. His story holds your interest, and his thoughts on craft as a vocation are deftly presented in an accessible, honest fashion, much like the furniture he makes today.
Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman By Peter Korn David R. Godine, $25
in this memoir, peter Korn’s first non-instructional book, the author chronicles his life as a woodworker, from his beginnings as a carpenter on Nantucket. Throughout the narrative, Korn interweaves musings on craft from his college days to the 20th anniversary of the acclaimed Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, which he founded in 1993, and where he
Book photos: Mark LaFavor
Industrial Chic: 50 Icons of Furniture and Lighting Design By Brigitte Durieux and Laziz Hamani Abrams, $45
Handmade Houses: A Century of EarthFriendly Home Design By Richard Olsen Rizzoli, $45
“true handmade houses possess a feeling that’s unlike anything I’ve experienced in a building,” author Richard Olsen writes. Here, the former Architectural Digest
they don’t make ’em like they used to – except when they do: Industrial Chic is a lookbook of furniture and lighting from the factories and workshops of the late 19th to the mid-20th century, objects whose sleek, industrial aesthetic continues to influence makers today. Design historian Brigitte Durieux profiles cult favorites, such as French company Tolix’s Model A chair, a sheet-metal design first produced in 1934 and now in the collection of the
Museum of Modern Art (as well as countless homes). Each object, presented chronologically, gets at least four pages of attention, with lush photography by Laziz Hamani. Much of the earlier work, a lot of it European, has an Eiffel Toweresque look – masses of metal, exposed structural pieces, welds, and rivets. Later pieces take on an art deco vibe. Joys are abundant: Établissements Nicolle’s utilitarian 1933 Nicolle stool, for example,
or Lucien Illy’s lyrical FlexiTube chair, circa 1950. In the midcentury, more American-born designs show up, such as American Seating’s Envoy school desk and Emeco’s Navy 1006 chair. Designed in 1944 for the high seas, it’s lightweight and rust-resistant; reissued in the ’90s for use on terra firma, it resulted in huge growth for the company – and now, immortalization in this luxe treasury for design and furniture lovers alike.
editor succeeds in binding that energy into a book. Olsen takes the long view, tracing the movement from early, even unexpected, influences (from architect Antoni Gaudí to the psychologist Carl Jung) into its 1960s and ’70s heyday, and through recent events (9/11, An Inconvenient Truth, the economic crash) that have rekindled appetites for these expressive, environmentally sensitive homes. In profiling 23 handcrafted residences, he groups them into structures designed with and without architects, refreshing even older (and perhaps familiar) homes with new photography. Even without setting foot in these inventive homes, it’s hard to deny their draw.
Furniture Studio: Materials, Craft, & Architecture By Jeffrey Karl Ochsner University of Washington Press, $45
There are profiles of former students, exploring the lasting effect of the class. But perhaps the strongest argument for the impact that materials-based learning and a skilled educator can have is the catalogue of student work during Vanags’ tenure, which delights with page after page of great design and, from so many first-time builders, astonishing skill.
the premise of the university of Washington’s furniture studio is simple: Architecture students design and build one piece of furniture to learn, on a small scale, about working directly with materials. Furniture Studio documents the outcome of that hands-on challenge – and the legacy of instructor/ studio founder Andris Vanags. Author Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, a UW architecture prof, chronicles the final studio Vanags taught before his retirement in 2009, tracking 11 students’ 10-week design, build, and evaluation process (and the sense of calm and understated expertise that Vanags brings to the table).
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elemen s o sur rise t
15 fresh pieces by furniture innovators from coast to coast
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furniture is inescapably central in our lives. It’s where we rest our heads, gather with friends, and recline after long days. What the designer-makers on the following pages share is an understanding that, even with objects as ubiquitous as tables and chairs, there is room for the unexpected – for furniture to be creative as well as comfortable. With that in mind, we gathered 15 striking pieces suited to the most public parts of the home – the living room, the dining area – and talked to their talented makers. Read on for their motivations and stories – and to see their innovative work. ~the editors
Vivian, to me, is a strong-willed artistmaker who carries her curiosity with her all the time, explores it with her inner sensitivity, and responds to create objects with her stunning perseverance.
yuri kobayashi furniture design department, RISD
vivian chiu Brooklyn, New York
Inception chair, ash, 32 x 16 x 16 in.
Vivian Chiu’s witty Inception chair began as a quip – a chair within a chair within a chair – but quickly became a compelling challenge for the 26-yearold designer-maker, an alum of Rhode Island School of Design. “It took an extreme amount of math and calculation,” she says. “Measurements were made to 1/32nd of an inch.” She’s not one to shy away from hard work. Chiu cites repetition, discipline, and labor as the guiding principles of her practice; physical and mental perseverance is what keeps her engaged in a project. “My work encourages the viewer to see and almost experience the labor involved,” she says, “as well as question the process by which it was created.” vivianchiudesigns.com
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Michele Marti Maker Madison, Wisconsin
Many furniture designer-makers talk about the human scale of their work, the way furniture interfaces with the body. Michele Marti’s work takes that exploration to a new level. “I am really interested in how people interact with one another while seated in furniture – conversations and flirtations, especially,” says the 29-yearold graduate of California College of the Arts. Marti sets the stage for such intimate, even provocative interaction through the composition of her chairs, emphasizing and intensifying the experience of sitting. “Body language is a very important part of my work; what your hands, elbows, knees, and feet are doing – and how they are facing. Touch becomes the main focus.” cargocollective.com/ michelemarti
Victorian Spread, found chair, mahogany, 3.2 x 3 x 1.5 ft.
Michele’s work immediately moves beyond the usual obsessions of the furniture maker, such as ergonomics and craftsmanship, and without neglecting those, cuts directly to what furniture can convey in terms of narrative and directing social interaction.
ashley j. eriksmoen Head of furniture, Australian National University School of Art
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Photo: Mark Serr
Materials have always been at the core of Riley McFerrin’s work, as the 40-year-old has Hinterland Design evolved from visual artist to Vancouver, builder to furniture designer, British Columbia founding Hinterland in 2010. “I think there is no better knowledge of an object or a process than when you labor over the nuances of the material and allow solutions to design problems to become self-evident,” he says. His Little Gem tables developed out of his desire to
make something special – “something unexpected and supernatural” – out of the abundance of waste wood to be had in the Pacific Northwest. Each Gem functions as a table, he notes, “but ultimately it is a sculpture of a crystal made of solid wood.” Chain-saw-carved, planed, sanded, oiled, and waxed, with tops of marble, Cor-ten, granite, and mirror – no two are alike. hinterlanddesign.com
Little Gem side tables, Western red cedar, oil, beeswax, carbon pigment dye, black granite, Carrara marble, brass, 20 to 28 in. tall
Photo: Hinterland Design
Riley’s work is a perfect marriage of the messy, unpredictable natural world with fine craftsmanship. I love how he wrestles foraged and reclaimed timber and branches into modern forms without letting the personality of the materials become subsumed in the process: Hinterland produces furniture and objects that are tamed, but not domesticated.
rena tom founder, Makeshift Society
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Vincent Edwards Design Bloomington, Indiana
Vincent has developed technical skills that I never knew existed and has, perhaps, given me a brief glimpse of the future of furniture making. Needless to say, his work is cutting-edge, not easily duplicated, and has changed the parameters of what’s possible.
Bench, a System of Curves, Baltic birch plywood, 3.4 x 19.3 x 8.8 ft.
Vincent Edwards earned a BFA in printmaking at Indiana University – “mostly woodcuts,” he says – and, as the story often goes, toward the end of his undergraduate career, took a woodworking class. “Within a year, I had a band saw, chisels, hand planes, and a workbench in my basement,” he recalls. His passion for furniture brought him to the Herron School of Art and Design, where the artist, 34, earned an MFA in 2012. His bench is a “true hybrid of traditional and digital fabrication,” he notes. He made the bulkheads and horizontal curved slats with a CNC router, while he laminated the backrests and
other curved components in a vacuum bag and cut them into strips on a band saw. It took 500 hours to fabricate – and that was with the helping hands of coworkers and professors. vincentedwardsdesign.com
What really makes Jason stand out is his skill in transforming an idea into a 3D visual rendering in the design process – providing the ideal images for his concepts.
clayton oxford artist and entrepreneur
Quantum table, 2010, powdercoated steel wire, Corian, lacquer, 2.6 x 9.2 x 4.3 ft.
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tom replogle cofounder, Clarity Designs
jason phillips Jason Phillips Design High Point, North Carolina
In Jason Phillips’ work, less is more: “My work has always been about pushing the boundaries on form and function, always distilling design down to the essentials,” he says. “I focus on the silhouette, the emotional connection, and the materials.” Most of his pieces, in fact, are limited to just one or two materials. For his Quantum table, inspired by the movement of atomic particles, Phillips handformed heavy-gauge steel wire, creating a stunning pedestal base for the lacquered orange Corian top. “Something most people don’t know about me is that I am slightly color-blind,” says the 31-year-old, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s industrial design program. “It is one less variable in my design process, which I find helps me focus on my craft.” jasonphillipsdesign.prosite.com
New Colony Furniture Penland, North Carolina
“Joy, laughter, and the unexpected have always been at the heart of my work,” says Annie Evelyn. To wit: her delightful Squishy Sticks chair, which grew out of her work upholstering with cement. She has also made coin-operated vibrating tables and whoopee-cushion-equipped chairs. “I want to make things that make people happy,” she says. Evelyn, 39, courts grins with a powerhouse résumé, having earned both a BFA and MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. “The RISD furniture department has been like a family to me,” Evelyn says. Furniture runs in her biological family, too: Her grandparents owned a company, Old Colony Furniture, before she was born. annieevelyn.com
john dunnigan head of the furniture design department, RISD Squishy Sticks, holly sticks, poplar, paint, foam, 32 x 18 x 18 in. 034 american craft / furniture 2015
Photo: Chad Whitaker
Annie’s work is smart, provocative, and well made. It makes you smile as it makes you think. … Her personal warmth and generosity, along with her infectious enthusiasm and sense of humor, shine through in her work, making it accessible to a broad audience.
Ampersand Cincinnati, Ohio
Tim Karoleff’s studio name says Midwestern scene – a sheaf of it all: Ampersand. The 29-yearwheat – while its handcrafted old isn’t interested in either/or; legs of white oak or walnut are he wants it all – to see function entirely friction-fit, free of and form come together in a adhesives and hardware. As memorable experience and to Karoleff, a graduate of the Uniexecute it responsibly, too. versity of Cincinnati, explains: Ampersand’s Bundle table exem- “Bundle is a statement of practiplifies this philosophy. Both ele- cal pleasure.” gant and friendly, the table takes ampersandbrand.com its inspiration from a familiar
Tim has a great understanding of functionality with a solid concept. The attention to detail in his work is what makes him stand out. I mostly like the playfulness in his design – it is refreshing.”
Photos: Tim Karoleff
patrick weder designer-maker
Bundle side table, Corian, locally sourced hardwood dowels, 17 x 16 in. dia.
“ Studio McKenzie-Veal
ki, Es to ow s Dz ik ©
“It’s extremely important to me to prototype the designs as I conceive of them,” says Taylor McKenzie-Veal, 27. Flipping from two dimensions (such as drawing or CAD) to three (scale models and prototypes) allows him to “embed integrity” in his designs, he says. “The result is work that is concerned with honesty, in terms of construction and materiality.” His studio’s modular Granoff sofa was born of a group effort: McKenzie-Veal, along with Yumi Yoshida, Scot Bailey, and Ian Stell, designed and prototyped a suite of furniture for the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University. Afterward, McKenzie-Veal, who earned an MFA from RISD in 2012, stepped in as project manager/product developer, bringing the sleek sofa into existence. mckenzie-veal.com
Studio McKenzie-Veal Chicago, Illinois
Granoff sofa, fiberglass, powdercoated mild steel, high-performance upholstery, stainless steel hardware, 2.7 x 8.25 x 2.3 ft.
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Taylor’s designs encompass all the elements of timelessness. His work displays an excellent balance among original form, function, comfort, and the interplay of materials. He fluidly combines the clean lines of the modern era with innovative artistic accents.
mark s. palmquist furniture designercraftsman
françois chambard UM Project Brooklyn, New York
François is 100 percent dedicated to his work. He takes risks; he goes out of his comfort zone, always challenging himself and others. He’s also ultra-meticulous and attentive to details in every aspect of his work. He doesn’t compromise.
odile hainaut Gallery R’Pure and WantedDesign cofounder
U.M.O2, plywood, foam, Maharam felt, 17.3 x 34.4 x 15.7 in.
“A lot of people have tagged my furniture as ‘playful’ – I take that as a compliment, but that is not deliberate,” François Chambard says. “I just think it is the result of being simple and basic, accessible and well made.” His UM Project, which turned 10 years old in 2014, produces two lines: “ready-towear” production pieces and one-of-a-kind works. Eighty percent is made in-house, in what is effectively a “glorified
woodshop,” says Chambard, 47, but it suits him: “My work is not so much about material transformation and complex processes, but rather about the combination of simple shapes and materials, the unique connections of colors and forms.” The U.M.O. stool/tables, with their nubby, almost anthropomorphic legs and elegant materials (cork, aluminum, and felt), are a case in point. umproject.com
jason horvath & bill hilgendorf Uhuru Brooklyn, New York
A keen eye might spot the reclaimed bourbon-barrel staves in Uhuru’s made-toorder Bilge lounge chair, but it would take an exceptional viewer to recognize its other component: leaf springs from decommissioned New York City fire trucks. The chair is “a great representation of … what we try to achieve in designing a piece,” says Bill Hilgendorf, 36, a partner in the Red Hookbased design studio with Jason Horvath, 37. The duo favors reclaimed materials (the more interesting the better), digging into their history and allowing that research to inform their designs – as well as their emphasis on long-term sustainability. “If an object has a story,” Hilgendorf says, “it gives the object an additional layer of value, and there’s a greater chance it will be held onto and passed along.” uhurudesign.com
Bilge lounge chair, reclaimed oak bourbon-barrel staves, blackened reclaimed FDNY truck leaf springs, 32 x 31 x 30 in.
Bill and Jason are successfully marrying a forward-looking design aesthetic with a business model firmly rooted in the best studio furniture of the 20th century. They have a foot in both worlds, and are able to educate each to the other’s style and substance.
nicholas r. bell Bresler senior curator of American craft and decorative art, Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery
Olga Guanabara Brooklyn, New York
Chair photo: Jason Horvath / Table photo: Richard Velloso
Kaos dining table, walnut, hexagon steel, 2.5 x 8 x 3.5 ft.
When Richard Velloso decided in 2011 to dedicate himself to furniture full time, after a decade of working in the advertising world, he named his company after Olga – his chubby chocolate Lab – and Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, where she swam as a young dog. And in two words, he captured his warm, inviting approach to craft. “Furniture has always appealed to me,” says Velloso, 42, who grew up in São Paulo, moving to Boston in the 1990s to study journalism and design. “It’s at the center of our everyday lives: meals around a dining room table, feet up on the coffee table while relaxing on the couch. I wanted to contribute to people’s surroundings and be part of their future memories.” olgaguanabara.com
I deeply admire Richard’s approach to furniture making: purely handcrafted and intuitive, yet very sophisticated and detail-oriented. In my opinion, his work is the perfect amalgamation of his dual heritage – American/Brazilian – combining rustic and industrial, wood and metal, beautiful and powerful.
amauri aguiar director of operations, Espasso showroom
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David’s furniture combines an often surprising use of color, texture, materials, and high-tech processes with a solid grounding in the traditional craft of woodworking.
Artichoke table, zebrawood, cocobolo, acrylic, 21.75 x 20 in. dia.
dan mosheim furniture maker, Dorset Custom Furniture
Describing his approach to furniture, David Rasmussen says he strives for clean lines, prizing functionality and employing hits of bold color to set his designs apart – none, perhaps, more boldly distinguished than his Artichoke table, a collaboration with painter Scott Harris. Rasmussen, 35, designed the 040 american craft / furniture 2015
handcrafted table and came up with the concept for the surprising painted top; Harris “brought the design to life,” he says, employing a technique that involves building up coats of paint and then sanding the surface flat to reveal the many luscious layers. drdcustomfurniture.com
Photo: David Clifford Photography
David Rasmussen Design Carbondale, Colorado
Many artists draw inspiration from the natural world; Laura Kishimoto’s work speaks its language. Much of the 24-yearold’s work is inspired by tessellation, a mathematical form that repeats a module across a surface – think fish scales, pineapples, honeycombs. Her Saji chair was the result of a personal challenge to make a three-dimensional form
Laura Kishimoto Design Lexington, Massachusetts
from a single two-dimensional curve. “I always aim to strike a balance,” says the RISD grad. “If my hand is too heavy in the making process, the finished piece can appear contrived and unnatural. … However, if I give too much control over to my materials or techniques, the piece quickly loses all sense of intention.” kishimotodesign.com
The term ‘organic’ is overused today – it serves as an excuse for randomness. Laura’s work is anything but random; her forms are the outcome of intense mathematical and artistic inquiry.
Photo: Laura Kishimoto
lothar windels associate professor, furniture design, RISD
Saji chair, ash, steel, 36 x 22 x 23 in.
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erin & nate moren
Tandem Made Minneapolis, Minnesota
I watched these two from their freshman days at MCAD right on through their graduation exit and beyond. Both of them possessed traits that a career teacher like me would love every student to have: curiosity, smarts, a great work ethic, and a neversay-die attitude.
Louis Cahill Photog
dean wilson professor emeritus, furniture design, Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Denmark lounge, powder-coated steel, 30 x 30 x 30 in.
“The Tandem Made motto is ‘Design, build, collaborate’ – we take all aspects of that seriously,” says Erin Moren. “We love good design and work hard to design well; we love to build things and greatly value making high-quality products with attention to detail; and we love to collaborate – with clients, friends, family, and other companies.” She and her husband, Nate, both 31, met while studying furniture design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The sleek Denmark lounge, in fact, is the fruit of a study-abroad program in Copenhagen. The duo launched their Minneapolis design/build studio in 2011. tandemmade.com
Erin and Nate Moren
I can recall Skylar’s early fascination with Droog and being the first among his contemporaries embracing the inherent beauty of discarded materials as a theme in his designs. At his core, he is a heartfelt minimalist, a craftsman sympathetic to removing what is not needed. bernard mccoy founding partner, Modern Atlanta
Chabench, walnut, powder-coated steel, 2.6 x 5 x 1.4 ft.
skylar morgan Skylar Morgan Furniture + Design Atlanta, Georgia “Furniture for me is instant gratification,” says Skylar Morgan. “I can think of an idea or a design, and then make it, refine it, start over, or move on to the next piece.” And when he says instant, he means it. The idea for the Chabench woke the designer, 33, at 4 in the morning. “I went to the shop and had to make it that day,” he says. Morgan began woodworking in
his teens, eventually apprenticing under Jeffrey Greene before launching Skylar Morgan Furniture + Design in 2004. The firm does high-end commercial and residential work – architectural woodworking and custom furniture – but also produces Doc., a line of playful furniture that brings craftsmanship to the fore. smf-d.com furniture 2015 / american craft 043
The Traveler, a chair designed by Burks for Roche Bobois, is available in a European version (top, bottom) and an American version (middle).
Shonquis Moreno portraits by
Stephen Burks works directly with artisans around the globe to create unique, high-end goods.
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above and right: Burks discovered basketweaving through a Senegalese vendor selling those wares on the streets of New York. He subsequently went to the vendor’s hometown of Thiès (above) to learn the craft.
above right: Works from the 2011 exhibition “Stephen Burks: Man Made” at the Studio Museum in Harlem, based on his experiences in Senegal.
Burks applies what he learns from these and other artisans in his Manhattan studio, Readymade Projects, to objects he designs for European luxury brands; among them are Moroso and Calligaris (which have origins in artisanal practices), and jeweler Harry Winston, for which he designed an alabaster jewelry box, carved in a basketweave pattern. “Using [artisanal] techniques to add value and build brand positioning in the market is what it’s all about,” he says. “These are ways we can use design to extend craft traditions into the future.” In fact, earlier this year he was recognized for his work bridging craft tradition and contemporary design by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, with its national award for product design. It was a commission for luxe fashion house Missoni in 2003 that first brought craft to Burks’ design practice, and his Missoni Patchwork vases, the first handmade objects produced in his studio, earned the designer his own fashion label, Missoni Patchwork Design Stephen Burks. (Today, a line of his wax-printed clothes is sold by New York retailer Opening Ceremony.) High-end brands tap Burks because he creates a unique, contemporary hybrid
Previous page chair photos: Michael Grimm Photography
new york designer stephen Burks has made a mockery of that popular pejorative reference to basketweaving as a remedial art. And it’s not just baskets he’s elevated. Since 2005, when Burks was invited by Aid to Artisans and “design with conscience” label Artecnica to visit South Africa, he has conducted a series of collaborations with artisans from Cebu to Senegal, Cape Town to Cuzco. At times working in rooms the size of workbenches, seated on hard-packed earth, shaded by tarps from the tropical sun, Burks has been helping craftspeople produce everything from furniture and lighting to baskets and fashion accessories, in a practical synthesis of hand and industrial making. Since that first trip, Burks has made a colorful career partnering with artisans around the world. He has worked in ceramics, macramé, crochet, and topawood in Peru (funded in part by the US government, offering locals an alternative to farming cocaine); mentored on product development in Colombia; created work for the Nature Conservancy based on insights gleaned in a visit with aboriginal Australians; and worked with the Clinton Global Initiative in post-earthquake Haiti.
“Man Made” photo: Daniel Håkansson / Lamps photo: Patricia Parinejad / All other photos: Courtesy of Stephen Burks
of crafted and commercial products. To do so, he takes traditional materials, forms, and techniques, and transforms or finds new expression for them. He continues to explore both artisan and industrial production: His Anwar LED pieces for Spanish lighting company Parachilna are handmade, while elsewhere, for French furniture company Roche Bobois, he has been experimenting with new ways to weave leather cord over a steel chair frame. Born in Chicago in 1969, Burks studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and product design at IIT’s Institute of Design, with graduate work in architecture at Columbia University. With his generous, gap-toothed smile, boyish features, and lanky frame, Burks comes off as simultaneously laid-back and earnest, an idealist as much as a realist. Similarly, his work in developing countries is equal parts idealistic and pragmatic. Burks collaborates with artisans because he has a product idea that he needs help executing, the artisans have a technique that lacks a product expression, or both. For the artisans, the work can help drive local economic development; working with Burks shows them the possibilities of a wider market, and
above: Burks’ New York studio, Readymade Projects, is a hub for prototyping and experimentation. right: We Are All One, a site-specific installation at the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures in Senegal in 2010. Burks took photos documenting visitors encountering the work. below right: The single basket lamp and triple basket lamp, both made in collaboration with Senegalese artisans.
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helps them develop their design skills and understanding of trends so that they can aim their products toward that wider market. And when Burks leaves developing areas, he generally leaves behind a local organization that will continue to support smallbusiness development.
Cape Town-based Willard Musarurwa was a street vendor, making wire souvenirs for tourists. Then, through a local design institute, he met Burks and together they created TaTu wire outdoor furniture, which Artecnica launched in 2007. Musarurwa was able to start his own business, Feeling African,
left: Burks at work with staff of French company Roche Bobois on the Traveler chair. below: The Anwar LED lighting collection, designed for Spanish startup Parachilna in 2014. Anwar is the Arabic word for “luminous” and the name of Burks’ son.
Photos: Courtesy of Stephen Burks
move into a studio, and hire nine people to continue developing his furniture. This kind of collaboration, with Burks marking up prototypes with a pen, going back and forth with artisans as they work out a detail or concept, can establish a feedback loop of skills and ideas that can not only bring international attention to a brand but also promote craft and industrial design in tandem. Burks’ collaborative mindset and method sustains him as a designer, too: A polyphony of voices saturates the designer’s work, from perfume bottles to colorful packing tape, rope chairs, home textiles, and even a couch with upholstery pleated by kilt-makers in Scotland. For Burks, the problem with today’s conventional industrial processes is that they keep designers and, therefore, innovation at a distance. “The closer designers can get to the process of making,” he says, “the more we can understand and create unique results.” Work predicated on such hands-on proximity to the artisanal process – product development that happens while making the product – has demonstrably broadened his own knowledge, skills, and creativity. When ATA and Artecnica invited Burks to Cape Town, his work for luxury brands had been feeling superficial for some time. He describes his first trip to South Africa as a “design boot camp”; he worked directly with several artisan groups for a couple of weeks, using mostly recycled materials, from wax and mosaic glass tile to plastic bags, wire, and tin cans – material otherwise headed for the landfill. “I found their immediacy of making fascinating,” says the designer. He developed the recycled glass and silicone bowls and vases on that trip that would be picked up by Cappellini Love, along with the first prototype of the TaTu table series.
That first visit to Africa also left Burks struck by the design world’s lack of diversity – “not just in the faces of the designers, the companies, and the consumers, but also in the forms, materials, and references in the products,” he explains. “I saw the work with the artisans as a collaboration that gave a unique
Weaving experts in the Philippines work collaboratively to build the Burksdesigned Ahnda lounge chair, designed for Dedon in 2014.
above: Burks’ Missoni Patchwork vases, released in 2004, were his first foray into handmade objects. above: This ottoman, part of the 2012 Dala collection for Dedon, comes with a strap to make it easy to carry or drag.
The Ahnda chair showcases what Burks calls “transparent upholstery.”
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In early 2014, Dwell magazine exhibited work by Burks during Milan Design Week. The show featured a mix of Senegal-based works and other design collaborations.
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same sewing technique but with They’re creative people like me, different materials such as who spend hours and hours nylon technical climbing rope; manually solving problems.” and were used as molds to shape Working on outdoor furnisecondary materials. ture brand Dedon’s recent Dala Burks was not just sampling and Ahnda collections, the a sensibility, but innovating designer arrived in the Philiptechniques and materials, foldpines with only general sketching them into his design praces and no idea how the final tice. Whether it’s African weave would be developed basketweaving or Peruvian over the multiple intersecting papier-mâché, he doesn’t let parts of the chair – but within sentimentality about a craft days artisans had resolved most tradition or a blind loyalty to its of the details. “It still takes “Africanness” or “Peruvianness” nearly a week to weave one limit him. chair, but this is where the luxuThe artisans often lack the ry truly lies – in the authenticity formal vocabulary learned in of the hand,” Burks explains. design school, which, Burks “Brands like Hermès leverage says, can sometimes make and celebrate this kind of apprehashing out an idea more of ciation for making every day, a challenge, but the wealth of so why can’t artisans in the knowledge they possess about Philippines?” their material and craft is immeasurable. “We try to learn as readymadeprojects.com much as we can before we go, Shonquis Moreno is a freelance but often are surprised by the journalist and design consultant reality,” he says, “and that’s the who lives and works in Brooklyn fun part. The best projects are and Istanbul. She contributes those that leave space for the to Wallpaper, Dwell, and imagination of the artisans. Frame magazines.
Burks has a line of wax-printed clothes available through New York retailer Opening Ceremony. Photos: Courtesy of Stephen Burks
voice to the products I began making, a voice that was less interested in the end result and more interested in the story of getting there.” It was his 2011 “Stephen Burks: Man Made” exhibition, the Studio Museum in Harlem’s first industrial design show, that epitomized and broadcast Burks’ rare fusion of craftsmanship and contemporary design: The basic unit of the show – baskets constructed from spiraled Senegalese sweetgrass, stitched together with colorful strands of recycled plastic – stemmed from a chance meeting in New York with a basket vendor from Thiès, a city near Dakar, Senegal. Burks and his assistant learned the weaving method on a visit to Thiès, where the women sat on the ground, legs stretched out in front of them, to work. Back in Burks’ studio, the baskets were augmented with a mirror or a light bulb; were used to fabricate new objects, such as a beanbag chair, employing the
Burks with artisan Willard Musarurwa, who introduced Burks to the technique behind the wire TaTu furniture (below).
â€œThe closer designers can get to the process of making, the more we can understand and create unique results.â€?
Past PerĆ’ect Woodworker Ariele Alasko gives old lath new life. story by Patrick Clark
left and right: At her 9,000-squarefoot studio in Queens, Ariele Alasko transforms humble lath into art. She also carves one-of-a-kind kitchen goods (right). Photos: Ariele Alasko
above: When Alasko’s father opened a restaurant in California, he knew just who should build it out – his daughter. She collected wood on her drive from New York. left: Alasko has a knack for materials. She reupholstered this chair in linen printed with a stamp she carved.
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above: Headboards were among the first pieces Alasko made of lath. She built this one with “spatially challenged” New York apartments in mind.
assistant. She quit (“because I love quitting things”) and was in the process of refiguring her life when she got a call from her dad. He wanted to open a restaurant near Alasko’s hometown of Monterey, California. His daughter always had been a natural maker, gifted with tools and materials. Would she come out west and build it? So in March 2011, Alasko loaded a 16-foot U-Haul with every piece of wood she could find and made her way across the country. Over the next six months, she labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to build out most every detail in the 2,500-square-foot restaurant – called Il Vecchio (“the Old One”) – constructing everything from tables and
Alasko doesn’t use dye or stain, relying instead on lath’s natural variations.
Landscape has been among Alasko’s inspirations for her work with lath.
Photos: Ariele Alasko
a hundred years ago, brooklyn homebuilders erected walls by hanging lath – 3/4-inch strips of unfinished wood set parallel to the ground – and covering it in plaster. A century later, contractors are refurbishing buildings in New York City’s largest borough to ease the progress of gentrification. Old walls come down, drywall goes up; rents rise, and new people move in. The lath winds up in the Dumpster. Unless Ariele Alasko spots it first. Since 2011, the industrious woodworker has made a practice of collecting lath from New York’s work sites and has turned it into wall panels, headboards, and tabletops decorated with handsome geometric designs. She makes smaller goods, too – not of lath – including carved utensils and serving boards. Her woodworking career started by chance. After graduating in 2009 from Pratt Institute’s School of Art and Design, where she studied sculpture, Alasko worked as an artist’s
“I want to take something that doesn’t look great when it’s sitting in the pile and turn it into something beautiful.”
Alasko’s mantel display, including a goat she carved from foam and covered in vintage rabbit pelt.
above: Alasko’s previous studio, with a collection of antique rulers. left: Mr. C., the shop cat, cozies up to a panel. far left: A narrow dining table, designed to fit in a small Queens apartment.
chairs to paneled walls and the bar. Her task finished, Alasko returned to New York, determined to stick with woodworking, and discovered that lath has several advantages. It’s free, when she can find it, and years under plaster work on wood in mysterious ways, coloring it all shades from oxblood to ash. Lath is also relatively easy to work with. Alasko planes 056 american craft / furniture 2015
pieces to consistent widths, cuts them to the desired angles, and uses a nail gun to affix them to sheets of plywood, the only material in these pieces she uses that isn’t reclaimed. Best of all, perhaps, is that her work can serve as a Trojan horse to return pieces of the city’s past to its newly modernized homes. “Brooklyn’s being gutted left and right,” she says. “A lot of time, the
above: Alasko began carving spoons in 2013. Her line of kitchen goods also includes cutting boards, bowls, and serving pieces, some of them collaborations with other artists.
Photos: Ariele Alasko
left: A custom wall panel, spanning 6 feet.
people who buy from me are the same ones moving into the gutted houses.” Surrounded by neat piles of lath and works in progress, Alasko reflects on change, which in her part of the world is ever-present. Until recently, her studio was in a large industrial building in Brooklyn across the street from the housing projects where rapper Jay-Z was raised.
One floor below is a factory that makes coats for the Hasidic Jews who live in the neighborhood – for now. When Alasko and studiomate Amelie Mancini (who also works in wood, as well as letterpress) moved in, they remodeled the space but watched warily as the landlord began giving old tenants the boot and creating more space for people who will pay higher rents.
Their caution was wellfounded: She and Mancini moved in the spring of 2015, as the rent more than doubled – “priced out of Bed-Stuy in three years,” she notes dryly. The pair are now renting a 9,000-squarefoot warehouse in Queens – the entire floor – where they spent a couple months cleaning, painting, and building walls. “People tear out everything that has any character to make
things easier and cheaper,” Alasko says. “I want to take something that doesn’t look great when it’s sitting in the pile and turn it into something beautiful.” arielealasko.com Patrick Clark is a writer and lifelong New Yorker who has forgiven the real estate developers for gutting Brooklyn.
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WEST byMID~ WEST
After a spiritual journey, Geoffrey Keating found his way back to the craft of his forebears.
it makes sense that geoffrey Keating, a fifth-generation woodworker and furniture maker, was drawn to an 1897 grocery with turn-of-the-century character, which he transformed into his studio and home. In a less direct way, it makes sense that Keating finds inspiration in the music of Justin Townes Earle. Think about it like this: Earle starts with the venerable traditions of American folk, blues, and country music, and combines them into his own sound. For Keating, a similar transformation takes place when he works with wood. His furniture is suffused with time-honored qualities: patient, well-honed craftsmanship, a classic aesthetic, and a deep love of wood, along with 21st-century functionality and a twist of contemporary design. “But aesthetically it’s not strictly modern,” Keating says, speaking from his home/studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he and his wife, Anna, and their 4-year-old son settled
Gussie Fauntleroy portraits by
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Photo: Matt Cashore
Geoffrey Keatingâ€™s Horace desk (2010) and spindle-back chairs (2009) display his focus on traditional forms and contemporary details.
“I love bringing back a sense of warmth, durability, and longevity in office furniture.”
above: A 16-foot pedestal table surrounded by spindle-back chairs, commissioned by an attorney in Colorado. Keating’s in-laws liked it so much, they commissioned one, too.
right: Keating’s Wharton line is an homage to Wharton Esherick. “Esherick has really inspired me, as he was an artist turned woodworker, gracefully combining elements of both.”
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in 2012, to be close to Anna’s family. (Their second child, a daughter, was born a year ago.) “I like figuring out when to get out of the way and let the wood do the work for you. I like leaving enough space for simplicity, so the focus is on the wood itself.” Despite woodworkers in the family going back to his greatgreat-grandfather, Keating’s
focus growing up in Amarillo, Texas, was not on wood. He knew the family lore, of course: His forebears built churches around West Texas and Arkansas, in an era when such work meant not only framing, but also hand-carving interior details such as altar railings and wooden pews. By the early 1990s, his uncle was the only one still
occasionally practicing the craft. A typical willful teenager, Keating had other things on his mind. For two years after high school he traveled the country as a motorcycle mechanic for his brother, a professional racer. Later, after earning a master’s in theology at the University of Notre Dame, he considered a teaching career. He earned
Lathe photo: Kirsten Boyer / All other photos: Matt Cashore
a second master’s in theology from Yale and was back at Notre Dame, well on his way to a PhD, when woodworking stopped him in his tracks. “In school I’d started doing it to keep my sanity and do something with my hands,” he explains. Living in South Bend, Indiana, Keating began building desks and other office furniture for
professors, keeping busy through word of mouth. He soon realized his interest in teaching was waning as his passion for woodworking grew. (“Religion still plays a prominent role in my life,” though, he notes.) By 2008, after leaving academia, he was creating heirloom-quality furniture full time. From the start, Keating has worked from his own designs. The 40-year-old artist is especially drawn to traditional lines and shapes – early American spindle-back chairs, sideboards, and high writing desks among them – to which he adds a subtle, sophisticated flair. With his academic background and love of books, Keating has a particular fondness for desks, incorporating elements from an earlier era, including map, apothecary, and printmakers’ drawers. “I love bringing back a sense of warmth, durability, and longevity in office furniture,” he says. “We put so much time into the living area, but oftentimes our work space gets left out of the mix.” Almost all the wood Keating uses is American black walnut or claro walnut, and it’s salvaged or certified sustainably harvested. And, as was true of his forebears’ craft, sustainability also means furniture whose
left: “I like figuring out when to get out of the way and let the wood do the work for you,” says Keating.
top: Joseph high desk, 2008, claro and black walnut, hand-rubbed oil finish bottom: Spindle-back #5, 2011, black walnut, ash, handrubbed oil finish
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Ideas are also stirred up by sources as varied as haystacks in a field, antique library furniture, forms from nature, and the creative energy of artists in many genres. When not in the shop, Keating spends time in art galleries and museums, and in the mountains near his home. “It’s good to clean your eyes from the daily routine and do things
above: Keating has a deep reverence for his materials. The wood he uses is reclaimed or certified sustainably harvested, and he finishes his pieces so that the natural beauty shines through.
above: Eleanor hutch (detail), 2009, claro and black walnut, hand-rubbed oil finish
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right: Wharton hutch, 2012, salvaged claro walnut, black walnut, hand-rubbed oil finish
to hit the reset button in the recesses of the brain,” he says. Keating’s move to Colorado was a major reset, which coincided with a surge of interest in his work, thanks to his participation in the 2012 Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York and inclusion in Architectural Digest Germany’s list of up-and-coming designers.
Keating and son portraits (2): Kirsten Boyer / All other photos: Matt Cashore
Keating started woodworking while pursuing a PhD “to keep my sanity and do something with my hands.”
enduring design and exceptional workmanship, including traditional joinery and hand-rubbed oil finishes, make it worth handing down through generations. The one woodworker Keating cites as an indirect influence is Wharton Esherick, particularly in such subtle aspects as edges with a delicately sculpted, organic feel.
(In 2015, Architectural Digest included him on its list of “New Wave of American Crafters.”) While his general aesthetic hasn’t changed, since moving to Colorado, he broadened his scope to include collaborations on upholstered pieces and bronze furniture elements. He initially worked with Texas multimedia artist Chau Nguyen on
upholstery fabric designs and teamed up with a local foundry worker to cast pedestals in bronze for his hardwood tables. He no longer uses the bronze work, but has continued his work in upholstery, now partnering with Wyoming artist Eleanor Anderson. He also plans to do more limited editions, so he can have
more time to work on some new designs, “some things I’ve been excited about for quite a while,” he says. Even several years after the move, Keating still marvels at how his career seems to have come together smoothly and quickly thus far, “so a big part of my goals is to continue what I’m doing,” he says.
But one thing has changed. His tongue-in-cheek tagline, which for years placed him in the Midwest, now reflects his new geographic status as well as his continued allegiance to the values of his craftsmen ancestors: “Made in the American West with My Own Bare Hands.” geoffreykeating.com
above: Keating’s son sometimes joins him in the studio. “We got him some mini ear-protectors, and he’ll walk around ‘working’ on things as long as I’ll let him.”
Wharton high desk, 2011-12, salvaged claro walnut, hand-rubbed oil finish above: Harriet side table (detail), 2011, salvaged claro walnut, handrubbed oil finish top center: Harriet writing desk, 2009, cherry, poplar, walnut, paint, handrubbed oil finish
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Faced with a tough post-college job outlook, Asher Dunn made his own space – and a name for himself.
Joyce Lovelace portraits by
never underestimate the usefulness of a good, sturdy wooden stool. Furniture designer-maker Asher Dunn built a business on one. In 2009, a year after he’d graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and opened his own woodshop in Pawtucket, Dunn was struggling to establish himself in the midst of a dismal economy. He’d been chasing commission work to pay the bills but itched to do his own thing. His dream was to create original furniture and accessories, in sustainable American hardwood and other “honest” materials, with the look and feel of the midcentury modern classics he loved: clean
and streamlined, yet warm and familiar, with a contemporary twist. That’s what he was going for when he built his first selfinitiated design, a little round wooden seat with slender, tapered legs. He called it the Coventry stool. “That piece sat in the shop for a couple of months,” Dunn, 29, recalls. “It was a very simple piece, kind of a rethink of a classic milking stool. It kept getting compliments, and people asked where they could get one. That inspired me and gave me the
Structurally Sound motivation to design a whole collection around it.” Within a year, that line of tables, stools, chairs, shelves, and accent pieces – The Rhode Island Collection by Studio Dunn – won him Best New Designer honors at the 2010
International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. Dwell called the Coventry stool “a feat of woodworking.” Elle Décor called his Barrington chair “sleek and modern while recalling exquisite New England craftsmanship.” Studio Dunn was off and running. Today, Dunn has a solid team in place – three full-time and two part-time employees who help design and craft the
left: Barrington chair, 2010, cherry, 2.4 x 1.4 x 1.4 ft. right: Corliss chair, 2012, cast aluminum, maple, 2.6 x 1.5 x 1.5 ft. below: Coventry stools, 2010, ash, cherry, walnut, 1.5 x 1.1 ft. dia. each
pieces, plus a network of freelance artisans and fabricators, many of them friends and former classmates. And he is immersed in the challenges of growing his young company. In 2012 he moved his base to Providence, an art-centric city that calls itself “the creative capital.” Along with Studio Dunn, his operations there have included Keeseh Woodshop, a community space offering members access to machinery, classes, and a gallery. It fed his passion for teaching, Dunn says. (Keeseh, which means “chair” in Hebrew, is a thank-you to his parents for his strong Jewish upbringing.) 066 american craft / furniture 2015
Kingstown barstool, 2010, walnut, 2.5 x 1.6 ft. dia.
Photos: GSP Studios
With Matt Grigsby, he also ran Anchor, an incubator space where artists and designers can rent studios as they begin their careers. The three enterprises shared a 13,000-square-foot building – a synergistic, creative environment that, Dunn says, has given him balance and a foundation. With the departure of Grigsby for the West Coast, however, and the growth of Studio Dunn, Dunn is now devoting himself full time to his main enterprise and is building out a new 25,000-squarefoot facility in Rumford, about three miles from Providence.
For Dunn, it’s the blend of self-determination, resourcefulness, and collaboration that is key to surviving and thriving as a maker. “There’s a lot of entrepreneurship that rises to the surface during hard times and high unemployment. People feel less secure about the job market and are more willing to invest in themselves,” he observes. “Our generation, with the economy, we have to come together to support each other,” he adds. Also essential is the connection to the larger design community and to his clientele via the internet.
“What’s nice about a lot of young companies that have started out in the last couple of years is this newfound level of transparency,” he says. “We put a lot of pictures on Facebook and on our blog to show people what’s going on in the studio, and I think the consumer really responds to that.” A born craftsman, Dunn was always curious about how things were put together and how they worked. As a toddler, according to family lore, he dismantled the household ventilator system with his Sesame Street screwdriver. His parents, both doctors, loved art and filled
their Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, home with it. His father was an avid amateur woodworker with his own basement shop, where Dunn learned basic techniques. Copies of American Craft (yes, the very same) were always on the shelves, and Dunn would regularly thumb through them. “My dad got on my case about dog-earing his magazines, so I got into this terrible habit as a child of taking an X-Acto knife and cutting out my favorite pages.” The Dunns encouraged their son’s creativity and nudged him toward RISD, a school they felt would nurture and challenge him. furniture 2015 / american craft 067
Studio Dunnâ€™s airy, open complex in Providence. For his growing company, Dunn is in the process of building out a new, 25,000-square-foot facility in Rumsford, about 3 miles away.
Console and lamp pho
tos: GSP Studios
“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” he says of his time there. “RISD was all about a mindset. You come there with a level of raw talent and abilities, and they help to mold the way you think about it and approach it and apply it.” As an industrial design major, he received a wellrounded education in the creation of a product, from concept to making to marketing, with RISD’s signature emphasis on craft. He leaned toward jewelry at first – “My mentality was ‘I’m not gonna do what my dad does’ ” – but changed his mind after taking an introductory woodworking class: “I fell in love instantaneously.” In the year following his breakout debut, Dunn deliberately introduced only a few new products – a careful, considered approach he describes as “testing the field, trying things out, seeing where the response is, to learn and grow.” Now he’s ready to devote more time to designing. “We’re on a good track with new pieces, sticking to our goals of continuing to work with very honest and traditional materials,” he says. That doesn’t rule out pushing woodworking’s limits, as in his Corliss chair, which smoothly fuses a sculptural cast-aluminum back to a wooden seat and legs. Recently, the studio has ventured futher into lighting, with their hand-blown Cumberland pendants, large-scale Olympus fixtures, and sleek, baton-like Sorenthia lights. The latter, especially, “has been a big hit, and we’re doing many custom
Bristol console, 2012,walnut, 3 x 3.8 x 1.25 ft.
Cumberland lamps, 2010, handblown glass, 5.75 x 4.75 in. dia. each
versions and installations of it,” Dunn reports. These are still Dunn’s noseto-the-grindstone years, more about building a brand than reaping financial rewards. He’s starting to see some returns, though, and has been gaining recognition; he was listed in New England Home’s 2012 “5 Under 40” design and architecture names, Vogue’s “Ten Contemporary Designers to Collect Today’ in 2013, and Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in 2014. He hasn’t quite abandoned his own description as a “starving artist,” however. “But it’s a mix of choice,” he says. “I have a passion for my business. I like to see it grow. I reinvest a lot in seeing us develop new designs and pursuits. And I have a very minimalist lifestyle, luckily for me.” One day he’d like to explore licensing his designs to others to produce. For now, he’s more than happy with the hands-on work of creating objects that customers live with and love. One of his favorites is the graceful Bristol console. “People are so passionate about that piece,” he says. “When we complete one and we’re packing it up, we know it’s going to a really good home. I think that’s what fills us with such pride in the studio.” studiodunn.com Joyce Lovelace is contributing editor for American Craft. furniture 2015 / american craft 069
THE HOUSE THAT ROY BUILT
An Oakland, California, home is an art-filled, fuss-free collaboration between aesthetic soul mates.
Elaine Smith by Deborah Bishop photography by Mark Tuschman
left: Elaine Smith and Lucy, her harlequin Great Dane, in front of a watercolor by David Moreno that Roy McMakin chose for her. below: Smith paired her shocking-pink McMakin writing desk with an oak Missy chair by Piet Hein Eek.
elaine smith’s relationship with the Seattle-based furniture designer and artist Roy McMakin began some 20 years ago, when she searched in vain for a bed she liked. After finally spotting one in a magazine, she went to visit the designer’s showroom in Los Angeles. “I walked in, and I was literally shaking: I loved every single thing I saw. Roy’s aesthetic was so me, I almost couldn’t stand it. I was swooning.” Smith and her then-husband found the style and scale of his furniture an ideal match for the big, squarish rooms of their recently purchased 1893 Victorian (not to mention for 070 american craft / furniture 2015
their two active young boys) and embarked on a collaboration with the designer that resulted in more than 30 pieces – from tables and chairs to lamps, couches, and cabinetry. Says Smith of McMakin, “It wasn’t surprising to discover that we were born on the same day – down to the year – or that we share a high-school obsession with Fritos. We just seemed so much in sync.” I’ve never seen this many pieces by Roy McMakin in one place, outside of an exhibition. And yet it does not feel crowded or cluttered. When we bought the house it
right: “Roy said we had to have some oak in the house, since we live in Oakland,” Smith says. The ebonized oak table is topped with vases by Charles Catteau (18801966); the chairs are oak and Spinneybeck leather. The green McMakin chest is topped with Vases about Language and Redemption, a limited-edition set he created for Heath Ceramics.
left: A McMakin side chair in wool, velvet, and painted wood. right: This lamp by McMakin alludes to kitschy lighting made from reclaimed pumps.
opposite: A silk velvet couch has a matching bear by Mau Raynor, a former McMakin staffer. The McMakin coffee table holds a ceramic hand grenade by Smith’s son, Owen, a ceramic cake slice by Smith’s younger son, Willem, next to a ceramic iron by Christa Assad and ceramic tools from Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center.
was a dark Victorian and crammed full of stuff. The previous owners were antique and junk dealers, and I had a dream one night that there was a hole in the wall that opened up and stuff just started pouring out. Was McMakin the antidote? It seemed to be the right kind of furniture for our house: durable, heavy, and not precious. There’s something in the lines that’s so sensible and real. The Simple chair, for example, is such an iconographical representation of a chair. There’s maybe something childlike about the simplicity of his work, like a child’s drawing of what a chair or a couch or a desk would be, but not in a naïve or silly way. Sort of the Platonic ideal of chair-ness? Exactly. His pieces come into your house and feel as natural as family members or good friends. People tell me that my house is comfortable, and I think it’s because his work doesn’t scream to be noticed. There’s the design, of course, and some of the verbal jokes, like my bed made of holly – thus the Hollywood bed – or a drawer knob as big as a baseball. But also his approach, like the obvious patches in the wood to cover knots and imperfections. It’s sort of his trademark, and maybe the echo of an era, the patchwork jeans and hippie vibe. The patches are part of the artistry, as are the mismatched knobs, and layering different shades of color together. Somehow it makes you feel instantly at ease.
middle: The color of this McMakin chest was inspired by the sea at Catalina Island. The lamp is Dutch art deco. On the far wall is a Lynn Geesaman photo.
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above: McMakin nesting maple coffee tables. “In a funny way, these sort of remind me of [fashion label] Comme des Garçons, where you wonder: Is something missing, like a sleeve? It’s a similarly ingenious construction.”
Kind of like the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. Right. And it’s nice that everything doesn’t have to be so perfect. A guest at a dinner party slipped in my kitchen recently and sheared a knob right off a drawer in the island. I had an extra from one of the tables, and it fit right on.
furniture 2015 / american craft 073
Two McMakin Simple stools rest in front of the Douglas fir kitchen island, which features trademark McMakin wooden patches.
below: McMakin’s circular theme was expressed as an egg shape in the ebonized oak kitchen table, which nestles into the bay window along with two Simple chairs and a bench painted subtly different shades of cream.
right: A sampling of Smith’s prodigious collection of pottery by Charles Catteau, an artist she discovered while living in Holland.
You had a lot of rooms to fill. Was there any overriding concept going in? One of Roy’s initial ideas was focused on circles and how they would morph to fit the rooms. There’s a circular dining room table, and a big round ottoman, and detailing on the fireside cabinets, and so forth. By the time we got to the kitchen, he made an egg-shaped table that slots perfectly into the bay window. And there were less deliberate strokes. Roy picked out that large painting by David Moreno with the motif of circular knobs at a gallery in New York. But I don’t think the connection occurred to him or me at the time – it’s part of the great collective unconscious of the house. Your shocking-pink writing desk was in an exhibition at MOCA, yes? Yes. I had seen it originally in Roy’s gallery, and remember thinking, “This desk is amazing, but it’s hands down the ugliest pink I’ve ever seen” – I likened it to Pepto-Bismol. But I kept thinking about it. I needed a writing table, and a while later I contacted his studio manager, and probably because I’m impatient, I decided to buy the pink one rather than wait for another color. The strange thing is, I have several times in my life had the experience of being disturbed or repulsed or indifferent to something or someone, and then suddenly, I’m smitten. Now I love this desk so much the shade has almost become an obsession. And it’s in my bedroom, close to me, where I can arrange things on it and above it, and always look at it. You do have many striking tableaux of all kinds of objects arrayed on surfaces and hanging above. Do you consider yourself a collector? I’m not exactly comfortable with that word, but I grew up in a family with a lot of artists, and
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there was always something new being framed and hung. You also seem to have a connection to Holland, from the art books to the upholstered chair by Piet Hein Eek to the oil painting of a tulip by Michael Gregory. I went to Holland as an exchange student, and we lived there 18 years ago for a bit. I feel as if there’s a piece of Holland in me. I love the quality of light – that dark, sort of rich, layered gray light you can recognize from paintings and photographs by people like Hendrik Kerstens and Hellen van Meene. I think I feel things more intensely there. I loved the sense of art history, and how much more the average Dutch person cares about such things. And my younger son, Willem, was born there. Is that when you began collecting all of this pottery? Yes. It’s made by Charles Catteau, who was an artistic director at Boch Frères Ceramics. I first became aware of it by going to museums. Then one day I was in Haarlem for a wedding, and we stumbled into a shop filled with collectible pottery and decorative arts pieces. I was originally drawn to how stylized it was, and intrigued that although I really didn’t like art deco- and art nouveau- and arts-and-crafts-era stuff, somehow Catteau’s pottery worked on me. With all of your art, do you have a favorite piece? This raku hand grenade my son made in a ceramics studio when he was very young. The top is separate and the empty space inside fits wooden matches perfectly and you can strike them on the inside of the lid. That was completely unintentional, needless to say. Deborah Bishop is a writer in San Francisco.
The island is illuminated from above by pendants from Droog. Rope, a print by Ryan Donegan, hangs on the wall.
OTOR CITY MODER
Design duo Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer bring architectural savvy to fashionable furniture in Detroit. story by
Joyce Lovelace portrait by
Furniture photos: Ara Howrani
hen abir ali and Andre Sandifer design a piece of furniture, they take all aspects into consideration. What problem does it solve? How will people interact with it? How will it be put together, and look? Every detail matters, even the name they give it. “We talk about the name throughout the process, actually. It’s one of our favorite things to do,” says Ali, 36, who partners with her husband, Sandifer, 42, in their Detroit studio, Ali Sandifer. “Because we spend quite some time prototyping before release, we feel like we know each piece like a character. It’s like waiting to name a baby until he or she is born. You bounce around ideas, but until you meet him or her, you aren’t totally sure.” Their select portfolio – just a handful of basic designs – includes a credenza called Edith, a refined beauty with hidden depths of cabinet and drawer space. George, an upholstered club chair, is a sturdy fellow possessed of a quiet wit and sophistication. Zaide, a coffee table, is angular and clever, with a three-legged wishbone base and built-in storage all around her sides. Then there’s sleek Sheila, a long, low storage unit, the current bestseller of the bunch. Made to order in walnut (the most popular), rift white oak, maple, or ash, each piece is a thoughtful composition of boards of different grains, textures, and colors. Instead of staining, Ali and Sandifer achieve their varied palette by using darker, mature wood in combination with younger, lighter sapwood, celebrating the natural beauty of the 078 american craft / furniture 2015
material, finished with natural oils and waxes. “We hear the word ‘handsome’ quite a bit,” Ali says of feedback from their customers, who have placed orders from all around the United States, and from as far as Great Britain, France, and Hong Kong. “Honest” is the word she likes best to describe their furniture. “I think there is a certain honesty about the sensibility, because the design is so married to craft, and that is such a part of our prototyping process.”
George club chair, ash, microfiber flannel suede, 2.5 x 1.8 x 2.6 ft.
Zaide coffee table, walnut, 1.5 x 5 x 1.5 ft.
Both partners were trained as architects. Not surprisingly, they are admirers of that other architect couple who designed furniture, the iconic modernists Charles and Ray Eames. “They’ve been such an inspiration, in terms of their studio and the life that they had, and how those melded together. It’s a much-loved model among designers,” Ali notes. “It doesn’t hurt that their furniture is gorgeous as well.” What drew Ali and Sandifer to furniture making was the instant gratification. “You didn’t have to wait years for a project to happen. We could conceive of the idea, work
together, design it, figure it out, and instantly test it out in the shop,” Ali says. “Furniture is such a lovely scale for doing that, and that workshop environment is so crucial to the way we work.” It’s their intensive, monthslong collaborative process that gives Ali Sandifer furniture integrity, soul, and great functionality. The two conceive each piece together, starting with conversations and hand sketches. They strive for smart storage solutions for a range of objects and lifestyles. “Andre and I tend to be organized in very different ways, so we’re never producing storage for
Zaide photos, this page: Ara Howrani / All other photos: Abir Ali
“We feel like we know each piece like a character.”
Sheila storage unit, walnut, 1.7 x 5.4 x 1.5 ft.
Mag coffee table and Tele side table, ash, 1.5 x 5 x 1.5 ft. and 1.7 x 1.3 x 2.5 ft.
just one type of thing,” says Ali. Where she might picture a stack of dishes, he’ll see a row of vinyl LPs – so they’ll make a shelf to hold both. Sandifer, a mostly selftaught woodworker, then builds a full-scale prototype, which might go through three or four iterations as the couple work through their ideas. He uses traditional techniques (hand-routing, dovetailing) to disguise joints and carve out hidden, sculptural details (“the sexier, integrated moments,” Ali calls them), such as a subtle indentation where fingers fit perfectly to open and close a door. For all its complexity, the finished product ends up with their signature clean, 080 american craft / furniture 2015
simple look. “Actually,” Sandifer says, “the challenge is to get it to the point where someone will say it is simple.” Finally, the design becomes available for direct purchase from their studio, or through various drop-ship retailers (YLiving and Smart Furniture among them). Sandifer crafts each order himself, which takes eight to 10 weeks for delivery. (He’ll sometimes hire help for a larger custom project, such an office conference table.) As a small operation focused on quality control, Ali and Sandifer typically take on a few orders a month, “a comfortable amount that we know we can handle.” Contemporary as the Ali Sandifer aesthetic is, neither
designer was raised in a home with modern furnishings. Sandifer grew up in Grand Rapids, coincidentally not far from the headquarters of leading furniture manufacturers Herman Miller (producer of those classic 1950s Eames designs), Steelcase, and Haworth. Though unaware of that heritage then, he was somehow destined to make furniture anyway. “My mom still makes fun of me,” he recalls, “because as a kid, I would always try to ‘fix’ our dining room table. I think I just wanted to take it apart.” He earned a degree in facilities management and architectural technology from Ferris State University, then a graduate degree in architecture at
the University of Michigan. There, through making models, he fell in love with woodworking. He also met Ali, a native Detroiter who was earning her undergraduate degree in architecture. (She later went to graduate school at the University of Toronto.) The couple opened their first shop together in Ann Arbor in 2003. For a while they worked in pre-finished plywood, making rectilinear pieces designed mainly to showcase the surface of that material. By the time they moved to Chicago in 2006, they were eager to experiment with curvature and “get a little more organic,” so they gravitated to domestic hardwoods.
Heiss and small Edith photos: Ara Howrani / All other photos: Abir Ali
Heiss desk, walnut, 2.5 x 6 x 1.9 ft.
Edith credenza, walnut, 2.4 x 5.8 x 1.5 ft.
“The design is so married to craft.”
Ali remembers the revelatory visit they made to Pike Lumber, the family-owned company in Indiana that continues to supply their wood. “It’s the best thing we ever did. It really exposed us to the process of tree-to-hardwood board, and gave us a deeper appreciation and understanding of what our piece was before it got to us. That became crucial to the way we evolved.” While building up their studio during their formative years in Chicago, they gained experience and perspective from their day jobs. He designed and managed projects for a furniture fabrication company; she designed affordable housing. “Our pieces were relatively
higher-end, but it became really important for us to understand efficiency and economy,” she says; “how to make our furniture not just a piece of art, but also something accessible for folks to purchase.” Then in 2011, Ali was awarded a Detroit Revitalization Fellowship. They picked up and moved to her home city, where today they operate out of the old Russell Industrial Center, in what Ali describes as “a bare-bones space that allows us to get our work done.” Just five minutes away is the century-old foursquare-style house they bought in the BostonEdison historic district. They’re happily learning to adapt their modern tastes to a vintage
interior, and it’s a great place for their three sons, who range from a preschooler to a 15-yearold. “They have definitely clocked their studio time,” says Ali, who used to create a slumber-party environment in the woodshop, with blankets, cushions, and a TV, so that the kids could hang out while she and Sandifer worked. Now that the boys are older, and with home, work, and school all close by, life is dovetailing neatly. “We meld family and career quite fluidly, because it’s the model we know, as married business partners and co-designers.” And they’re excited to be putting down roots in Detroit. Despite the city’s well-publicized economic woes, Ali and
Sandifer see its other, promising side. As a revitalization fellow, Ali is connected with a community of colleagues “who are committed to physical and economic change in the city, folks working hard to get things done.” Detroit, she believes, offers creative people “a real opportunity to kind of make your mark, and also see the city evolve. So it’s a very interesting place for designers.” And it’s the little opportunities along the way – whether for the city or for furniture designers – that can make a big difference. alisandifer.com Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor. furniture 2015 / american craft 081
The Spark guided by her father, the young Judy Kensley McKie learned how to use tools to make things. In the early 1970s, she mastered the fundamentals of furniture as a member of a Boston-area co-op. But neither fact explains how she came to be one of the most inventive furniture makers of our time. (She was named to the American Craft Council’s College of Fellows in 1998.) McKie’s vision is distinctly her own, unfolding from hours spent contemplating the basic anatomy of furniture. At one point, a few years into in her career, she would sit in her living room and stare at her 082 american craft / furniture 2015
furniture. It was furniture she had made, with straightforward lines inspired by the Bauhaus. It was also, she’d come to believe, sterile. She gazed at her work a long time, pondering. “As I stared at a table and saw its four legs, I would start to see the four legs of various animals,” she says. “And I would then start to imagine a head and tail connected to the piece, which suddenly turned it into an animal and brought it to life.” Bringing furniture to life, finding the spark and the intimacy in it, has been McKie’s mission for almost 40 years. And few can rival her.
Photo: Courtesy of Gallery Naga
Judy Kensley McKie Dragon Settee, 2013, carved and painted mahogany, upholstered seat, 2.8 x 7.5 x 2 ft.