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Studio Furniture

by Abraham Tesser

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 Personal Statement

Designing and building. For me, designing and building furniture is largely solitary and very personal. Advice and comments from others are welcome but in the end I am the final arbiter. I struggle with every detail of a design. Is this curve right? Is that part too thick? Will this kind of wood work with that in this context? Do I even have the “right” concept? And then I start again. Finally, when things look like they might work (I am never quite sure) I go from the drawing board to the shop.

Much of the building process is pleasure. It is hard to beat the feeling produced by guiding the transformation of a piece of rough lumber into an elegant, smooth part. And that feeling is dwarfed by seeing the parts come together, nicely and strongly. A bit of oil often makes the piece jump to life! With luck, the piece will be one that captures the eye and invites the hand to touch.

The construction process is not nearly as linear as this description implies. I am constantly redesigning as I am building. The finished piece is unlikely to be what I originally envisioned but a more or less different piece. One resulting from the dialectic involving the original vision and the feedback from eye, hand, brain, and heart associated with the construction process. Murphy’s Law is as applicable in the shop as anywhere else. When things go poorly, yet another design opportunity emerges. And when things go well, when a hand plane produces the perfect shaving, when a beautiful shape emerges on the lathe, when a piece of wood that has just been surfaced shows a figure or character that is better than expected, it is indeed thrilling.

There is also a social aspect of designing and building furniture. Others are a source of inspiration and motivation. Interacting with a patron with particular needs and preferences often results in designs that might never otherwise have come to mind. When that works it is a joy. Many others have a very good eye, whether they be design professionals or not, and their suggestions are often invaluable.

Almost nothing pleases me more than learning that others appreciate my work. I want my furniture to be engaging. I’m elated when someone sits in one of my chairs and can’t help smiling because the chair is more comfortable than expected; or, when someone reaches down and touches a surface and then reaches down again or asks their partner to touch because it felt good. Wow. Sam Maloof, one of the world’s great furniture makers, claims that his favorite piece is always the one he is currently working on. And, so it is for me. Each piece is, for a time, my baby and it is difficult for me to let it go. But it is also gratifying to know that someone likes it enough to have it in their home or office.

On esthetics. If you have seen my work you have a pretty good idea about my esthetic. I build furniture that I hope is beautiful. Perhaps it is interesting enough and built so cleverly that some might consider it art. Indeed, I am particularly concerned that the piece be esthetically pleasing. However the goal is to produce functional furniture, not what Art Espenet Carpenter calls “artiture”.

Over the years I have developed a set of preferences that almost always find their way into my furniture. The beauty and sensuality of wood drives much of the enterprise. Often wood is so beautiful that it is a pleasure to look at and touch with only a minimum of chemical surface treatment. When I find a piece of wood with a particularly nice character or sensational figure it makes my day or even week to bring it home (even if it jeopardizes the budget.) Much of my work revolves around showing such wood to advantage; the craft is always there, I hope, but the wood takes the starring role. If I am successful the craft goes unnoticed. It is the beauty in wood surfaces that invites me to appreciate and incorporate unusual and exotic veneers into my work.

The surface of the wood always plays a leading role but sometimes its shape plays the starring role. When we think of objects made of wood the default is a rectilinear image: Straight lines and right angles. But that need not always be the case. Wood can be sculpted. Sculpting might be responsible for a seat bottom that creates interest and provides comfort. One might sculpt a draw pull that feels good to the touch and is also unique. Sculpting allows joints to maintain their strength and flow smoothly into one another; for example, allowing table legs to flow into aprons in a single, continuous smooth line. Sculpted parts can often be found in my work.

Bending wood is another way to shape it. Curved pieces of wood can be produced through steam bending or bent lamination. These techniques facilitate the use of curved furniture parts such as legs, stretchers and supports. I have a distinct preference for curved rather than straight parts and curved members are integral to much of my furniture.

Furniture is built on many scales. Medieval European furniture is usually associated with massive parts such as table legs or turned posts. My own preference is for a light look; more like a ballerina on the tips of her toes than a sumo wrestler stomping across the ring. While I do not find a model in the esthetic of the sumo wrestler I am very much influenced by the delicate lines and curves of Japanese (and Chinese) furnishings.

A labor of love. I love building furniture. I enjoy the solitude of the design and construction process as well as the critical and motivational influences of others. My esthetic is driven by function and a deep appreciation of wood. I like fabricating and consuming carved and curved parts. I prefer a delicate scale to a massive scale and find great beauty and inspiration in Japanese and Chinese furnishings