An affinity for forthright assembly and local industry shines through the American designer’s furniture and objects.
Portrait by Irene Casailas
Growing up, I was convinced I wanted to go into fine art, and I studied sculpture and graphic design. After a couple of graphics internships, I figured out I didn’t want to spend my career in front of a computer. I had an “aha” moment when I saw a 60 Minutes piece on the company IDEO. That was when I realized I could combine my interests in three-dimensional work and design.
I spent a summer in Denmark during college, studying furniture design and touring manufacturing sites, such as the production facilities for the Series 7 chair by Arne Jacobsen and the bent plywood furniture of Alvar Aalto. That sealed the deal. Exposure to that process and culture really cemented my fascination with object design. From there on out, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Turning the Table
If I had to name one project more formative than any other, it would probably be the Flint Table. It addresses space issues by being adaptable and flexible, transforming in about a minute from a dining table to a coffee table. I showed it for the first time in 2011 with the American Design Club in New York, in an exhibition called Use Me, about unapologetically functional design. It won Best in Show, and that exposure has done more for me than anything else. It was this first satisfying project where I had an idea, completed it, got it in front of the right people, and felt like I had done everything right.
Since then, I’ve naturally gone toward flat packing, to enrich self-assembly from a task that most people find frustrating to something more elegant that celebrates the process. In much of my furniture, the process of assembly and distinct parts is exposed.
Brown University was looking to fill certain spaces at its new Granoff Center, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with furniture wed to the new language of the building, which is different from any other on campus. The point person for that project, Richard Fishman, just happened to be a guest for an MFA critique in the department of furniture design at RISD. He responded to some of our work, and saw an opportunity to incorporate a local narrative as a part of the building and this new interdisciplinary story they were creating at Brown University. Scot Bailey, Ian Stell, Yumi Yoshida and I extended this narrative by including local industry; for example, Rhode Island has a rich boat building history, represented in the composite shell of the sofa, which we produced with local yacht builders Goetz Composites. Everything for this project was sourced within an 80‑kilometre radius. Brown University hired me as a product developer and sourcing manager. Over about a year and a half, we produced five sets of contract-quality sofas, five lounge chairs and 15 stools.
Much of the colour sensibility in the Granoff Furniture Project came from the other designers. I like to exhibit the beauty of the material I’m working with, but I also want to push my comfort zone, so lately I’ve been trying to work more with new finishes, surfaces and colours. My Truss coat rack uses this vibrant red that alludes to an industrial red from civil engineering projects, but you can still see the natural tones and textures of the wood coming through.
Working from Home
RISD exposed me to a great network of resources, whether other designers to bounce ideas off, or a fantastic network of manu-facturers, from wood turning and metal fabrication to full-fledged companies that produce furniture for high-end stores and galleries in New York. Rhode Island and Massachusetts are where the Industrial Revolution got started in the U.S., and there are still tons of resources here.
I do see myself eventually moving back to the Midwest, where there’s a lot of opportunity, especially in Detroit. You have this potential with dormant industry, people with vast knowledge about making things, and the affordability for creative people to take advantage of that situation. I hope to reach out to companies such as Shinola and TechShop Detroit, as they have a much better understanding of this potential than I do.
I’m working with an online retailer called Hatch Hub, a relatively new company; I have a silicone candle holder coming out this spring. I’m also working on some projects with Fab.com.
Providence, Rhode Island
Bachelor of fine arts in art and design, University of Michigan; master of fine arts in furniture design, Rhode Island School of Design
2014 Finalist in IMM Cologne’s D3 Contest
2011 Best in Show, American Design Club’s Use Me Exhibit
2013 Risk and Certainty in Uncertain Times, Milan and New York
2013 4 Years: an AmDC Retrospective, Museum of Arts and Design, New York
2012 Raw + Unfiltered, American Design Club, New York
2012 Super Design Gallery, London
Room 68, Brown University, Hatch Hub, Fab.com