Erin: What are you curious about?
Ian: The thing that drove me to become a furniture maker was because I am always curious about the process of making things. Making furniture is a great profession for a person who loves puzzles and problem solving. To take an idea, maybe just a scratchy little drawing, find a few nice boards, and then create a piece of furniture to fit a precise function and space is always a fun thing to solve and the process of figuring out how to accomplish each of the many (many!) steps along the way is always interesting to me.
Erin: Describe your work and process.
Ian: The furniture I make could be described as country-inspired modern. I grew up in the countryside of New Hampshire, so somehow that beginning shows up in my designs, but I also love the simple lines of modern pieces. I love to use mainly wood because of its beauty, its great engineering properties, and because it’s the only building material that makes itself! It, after all, does grow on trees.
My process usually begins with a function to be fulfilled, ie: storage, seating, or seating with storage. Then I do lots of drawing while looking for inspiration everywhere. I walk a lot and try to look for interesting lines and shapes and colors in everything, from museums to movies. Over the course of sketching and re-sketching, a piece slowly emerges. The challenge of making something that balances what I think has beauty and fulfills its function and will last for lifetimes can be difficult and often keeps me up at night.
Erin: You received your Bachelor’s degree in furniture making and then studied wooden boat building. How has this formal training influenced your approach to woodworking?
Ian: Having had formal training in both furniture making and boat building has influenced my approach by giving me a deep base of knowledge and differing perspectives to draw upon and the confidence and ability to build absolutely anything and to make it in a lasting way. A wooden boat is very complex and it’s got to float, too!
Erin: You studied in NH and ME. How is building in Brooklyn different?
Ian: Building In Brooklyn is different in many ways. There is more of an excitement here, a feeling that you could make it happen, that you’re a part of something important happening. There is great woodworking community to talk with and commiserate with (especially about the lack of good work space!).
Erin: What is the first piece you ever made, what did it look like and who was it for?
Ian: The first piece I ever made was a small poplar end table as a final test project for the first wood shop tech class I was required to take my freshman year at art school. I was hooked the moment I realized I could turn a plain board into anything I could imagine. I made that crooked little table for myself, but it never made it home. Someone took it from the shop! I guess I should be flattered that they wanted it so bad.
Erin: You have a very specific style to your work. What inspires you?
Ian: Inspiration can come from anywhere and I try to be open to it all the time. I try to see and experience as much as I can and hope that parts of that stays with me. My wife (who has so many ideas!), travel, and art of all types are my main inspirations.
Erin: Tell me why you choose to use local wood and natural finishes in your work.
Ian: I choose to use local wood and natural finishes because I believe it is the right thing to do. I like using wood as my material because it just grows, there is very little manufacturing to make it useful, but I also recognize the importance of having living trees on the planet. In fact, it is absolutely vital to have thriving forests. They clean the air and help cool the atmosphere by processing carbon dioxide. The forests in our temperate climate are much easier to manage and regrow than those of the tropics, which once cut, have a very difficult time coming back. I think we should let the jungle lumber be, or use it much more sparingly. We have beautiful wood that grows in our backyard.
I use natural finishes for similar reasons. The most important clean air is that inside your home. I don’t want to make furniture that’s going to ruin your health.
Erin: The most important thing I’ve learned and from whom:
Ian: If I have to pick the one most important singular bit I’ve learned, as far as my career is concerned, is that to accomplish your dreams you just need to do the work! It is a simple idea, but I thought profound. Everyone has ideas, but it takes work to make it happen. I read that in an interview with David Londstreth in the Times. A little passage in a newspaper can go a long way.
Erin: What is the best piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Ian: The advice I’d give my younger self would be to take some time to learn the business side of art and make a plan and stick with it.
Erin: What is the one tool you cannot live without?
Ian: The best tool I have is my knowledge and experience. I know it sounds cliché, but there is no one most important tool in the woodshop. A pencil is as important as a saw, which is as important as a handplane, which is as important as a square. Without knowledge they are useless lumps.
Erin: What is the one tool you hope you never have to use again?
Ian: That would be a bus busket.
Erin: When we met you, we spotted you in a cool pair of screen printed Dickies coveralls. Tell us the story behind them.
Ian: I bought the bright red Dickies coveralls because red was on clearance sale and I needed the coveralls because in woodworking clothes are always the victim. I’ve ruined so many shirts! They’re the best (and most stylish) solution. The bright redness made them very noticeable so I thought the back would be a great space for an Important message to be printed. I came up with “Support your local furniture maker” after I read a short article of a woodworker who described his business model as just that, the local woodworker, and I related.
Erin: What would your dream project look like and with what materials?
Ian: My dream project is to build a murphy bed/ dresser combo for our own apartment. In it I would use cherry and white oak and poplar with touches of colorful paint. I’d have all types of storage solutions, drawers and doors and shelves and even a bench seat would be revealed when the bed was put up which would have storage for bedding. I’d include some curved elements to break up the straight modern lines and engraved pinstriping to accent the lines I like. It’s also dream project of mine to design and build an entire apartment’s worth of furniture or just a whole room or the interior of a yacht with free reign over the ideas and unlimited time and resources to do it. Any takers?