To Portland woodworker Chris Held, furniture is a way to connect with a past that’s disappeared from much of America. “I work with old materials and weathered finishes to infuse my furniture with nostalgia,” says Held. “I grew up in the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta where everything old was torn down to make room for the new. My furniture represents a yearning for the old, for something that doesn’t smell of fresh asphalt.”
When it comes to woodworking, Brian Pietrowski is a jack-of-all-trades. One day he’ll craft a conceptual art piece made from plywood and Formica; the next, he’ll build period-authentic studio furniture. And that’s the way he likes it. “There are so many different ways to approach furniture and design and construction,” says the Portland artist. “I find myself dabbling in everything. I just like making things, that’s what it comes down to.”
For most furniture designers, it can take years, decades even, before awards and accolades come their way. But for Portland furniture designer Ryan Thomson, the first time was a charm. Thomson entered the prototype for his Res Table (below) into Show 2006, a local furniture design competition and exhibition sponsored by fix studio and held at Design Within Reach, and he walked away with best of show honors. “This was the first show I’ve ever entered,” says Thomson, 36. “There are so many people out there doing furniture design, and what they’re doing is great. It was nice to talk with other people who are using different techniques and materials and who are solving everyday problems on a human scale.”
Yeah, you could buy your sweetheart a store-bought card with a poem printed on it, but think how much more permanent a sentiment could feel if it were hammered onto a piece of art furniture. Kate Grenier’s Te Amo Square (right), a handmade aluminum table with a hand-hammered stanza from poet Pablo Neruda’s “Love Sonnett XVII,” does just that. “Some people buy my tables for wedding or anniversary gifts because they’re romantic and unique,” says the Portland artist.
You might not want to live with Crayola-colored living room furniture, but you just might pine for primary colors in your great outdoors, as furnituremaker Wayne Cordrey found out when he took his hand-painted furniture to the Saturday Market in Hood River, Ore. He sold it all before the market opened. “Not being someone who needs to be hit over the head, I quickly made some more,” he says.
To make the legs of his tables black, furniture designer Ken Tomita uses sumi, Japanese calligraphy ink. He got the idea while studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. “We were given an assignment to come up with 10 different ways of making wood black,” he says. “I used the ink for one of them. I discovered that it has the right amount of gloss, and it’s a deep black. It’s like painting a void.”