December 4, 2015
We can’t believe our Chicago Holiday Fair is already here! Just like that, it’s already December! Even though the year has flown by way too fast it’s always great fun to think back on all these moments we’ve shared with Makers and friends. Collin Garrity will be hanging out with us this weekend at Bridgeport Art Center, and we can’t wait to cherish all the inspiration that finds us.
I grew up in a small german town that was 20 minutes from the Vitra Design Museum, and 30 minutes from Basel, but my interest in Design was a lot more raw- My friends and I would break into abandoned factories and make sculptures out of the old machinery. It wasn’t until Warren Wilson College in NC that I picked up woodworking. I started out building an electric guitar, a fell in love with the trade. After a couple years of building guitars in the school’s woodshop, I tackled furniture, then lighting, and as I became more and more experienced, I became interested in making simpler and simpler things. Much of my motivation in designing objects comes from wanting functional, simple, and beautiful objects. If i find myself using something ugly (like a flyswatter) I find myself thinking – this doesn’t have to be ugly. One of my newest designs- which I’ll have at Renegade’s Dec 5-6 show in Chicago is my oak and walnut folding-table. it’s a beautiful and sturdy table, and it also folds flat. So it’s easy to store, move and hide. I try stick to a useful minimalist throughout my work. Almost everything is useful- but they aren’t show pieces. they are beautiful objects that are meant to be used- or held.
I mess up all the time. I do a lot of work on the lathe- which is unique to most machines because the wood itself spins as I carve away with chisels- and in my small woodshop – which has two small 4-pane windows, over half of the panes are missing because of wood flying off the lathe. I’ve broken coffee mugs this way, and of course hurt myself, but when you are working you have to stay focus, – so when you mess up you either have to keep going, or (and this is one of the hardest things to learn) you have to recognize when you need to switch tasks or take a break. you can undo a day’s good work with a foolish mistake, so sometimes taking the afternoon off is the best work decision you can make. you just might need to get an early start for the rest of the week.
Starting my business took a lot of sacrifices. – when I first started my own woodshop I found a building above a club in Savannah GA- it was loud and smoky and when I moved in it didn’t have any windows. several months into my lease, the club was shut down for having too much gunplay. and the reason I chose this building was that it was cheap- and I could work- and later live, there without needing a car- so I could work a part time job, and save money by not having a car, tv, internet, a smart phone, video games, furniture, or hobbies., This isn’t how most people start their business, but it allowed me to buy machines and wood – and to make a lot of product, so that eventually I started to turn a profit.
My advice to people starting out- especially with woodworking, is that you dont need fancy machines or a beautiful shop- or a perfect branding package- those come in time, but The most important thing is Getting work done. Design amazing work and them make a lot of it. it sounds obvious, but a lot of people get into debt before they’ve started- and if you have to pay your own bills, there’s no other way.
My proudest moment was one of my finest ones – collaborating with LEMAIRE the french fashion house.
While I was a senior in college, they contacted me- with a photo of one of my spinning tops photoshopped onto the wrist of a model.- saying they wanted to work with me. Once I decided it was not a joke, I realized that I could do woodworking- that it wasn’t just a hobby. I’ve worked on several pieces with them that have shown up during Fashion Week.
It’s encouraging to remember collaborations like these when I get discouraged- and anyone who works for themselves will tell you that you get discouraged. it’s good to have to trick to staying inspired.
One of the things that I often turn to are other makes- but not woodworkers- that gets overwhelming. sometimes it’s great to search the web for incredible designers using clay or yarn or metal- and delve into their collections. It helps me remember the limits of woodworking- and it helps me defy them.
but most of all I am inspired by my family and partner. One of the driving forces I have is the hope of going home to Germany for christmas- and this year I hope to bring my partner (she hasn’t yet been) so when I’m discouraged I remember that the longer I work today, the more realistic it will be to fly home for christmas and spend a few weeks there.
And thinking about Christmas each year has helped me come up with a lot of my designs- the first chess set I made was a christmas gift for my dad. – and it’s true about several of my designs. When I’m home, each year we go to the Vitra design museum to the Colmar Christmas Markets- to the Basel Cafes – and I always come back to the states with a journal full of sketches and itching to get back into the woodshop.