Furniture and Fixtures as Art
Indie makers change the nature and use of everyday objects.
Alison J. McLennan of AJM Furniture makes cabinets, tables, lamps, and jewelry cases among other artisan items.
Wood sanders buzz and power tools whir wildly as the USS Hornet hulks in the distance and a vision of the San Francisco skyline shimmers outside a warehouse on Alameda’s former Navy base. Inside, furniture maker and designer Florian Roeper casts the mold for the bronze metal legs of a commanding dining table, his latest commission. His studio space is a former jet-engine testing cell for the Navy, transformed now into a creative making-space for independent craftsmen and designers, though it retains its previous gritty, industrial qualities.
Roeper is part of a growing number of independent furniture makers in Oakland and Alameda establishing names for themselves locally and internationally with unique creations. Meet a handful of local designers taking furniture design, furniture building, and furniture making to a new level. They share a passion for creatively combining form and function into works of art.
Kevin Vincent Carter
Gates, lighting, doors, shelving
Kevin Vincent Carter doesn’t stick with one or two materials when creating furniture pieces. Instead he works with metals, woods, and glass and is constantly looking for other materials to manipulate, warp, and fuse. A pioneer tenant of the American Steel Studios in West Oakland, Carter has set up his office in a cargo container inside the massive warehouse full of other metal- and wood-working artists and craftsmen who create, twist, and meld materials by hand. With a degree in architecture, Carter takes an interesting approach. Firmly convinced that surroundings and objects affect moods and feelings, Carter wants his pieces to encourage human interaction. Inspired by Olafur Eliasson, he is a big believer in the crossroads of where art, movement, and space come together in an almost scientific and social-experimental way. Carter combines function and intricate details with organic design in his gates, railings, and lighting installations, including the steel-and-glass bubble chandelier he created for retailer Good Stock on Piedmont Avenue. His current attention-grabbing collection of shelving and benches-they feature twisted and gnarled tree branches made of metal-may hint about what his studio, Artifact, will do for the 50-foot archway entrance to The Hive, the latest mixed-use development project coming to Uptown. American Steel Studios, 1960 Mandela Parkway, Bay 7, Oakland, 805-704-6627; Artifact, 3814 Canon Ave., Oakland, www.ArtifactFarm.com
Alison J. McLennan
Cabinets, tables, lamps, jewelrycases
Having shown more than 23 exhibitions of her furniture, Alison McLennan is well-versed in creating statement furniture with just the right amount of visual information to make it art. Her guiding principle with furniture is that it interacts with users by "serving and supporting our bodies and our domestic activities in both personal and social ways." Wood is her material of choice; however, she uniquely combines it with other materials such as brass, copper, aluminum, Plexiglass, and PVC. Artful but not ornate, McLennan’s work focuses on furniture lines and overall composition, resulting in hidden joints and clean shapes.
Her inspiration comes from nature, the interaction of shapes, and harmonious tension. Her pieces showcase her own handmade hardware: She solders silver, brass, and copper hinges and drawer pulls that are electroplated locally with gold, silver, and/or bronze. A Cornell University grad with an entomology degree, she likes to incorporate insect designs in her handiwork. See her work at vintage home store Lost & Found in Rockridge, which she co-owns, and SpacePop on San Pablo Avenue, as well as in art galleries on the East and West coasts. 510-685-0248, www.AJM-Furniture.com
Tables, seating, art installations, residential landscapes, restaurant designs
A recent exhibit at Impact Hub Oakland showcased ingenious yet simple well-designed stools by Branden Adams. The shaker stool is visually straighforward and versatile, as it can be used as seating, a side table, and even a percussion instrument. Embodying what Adams considers a successful piece, the stool encapsulates balance, proportion, and composition and is deceptively elementary. After opening an architectural metal fabrication shop 11 years ago, Adams moved toward creating a furniture line. Over the last three years, Adams and his wife and business partner, Jennifer Ivanovich, integrated their design interests into BaDesign, which produces custom pieces for landscape design projects, furniture, and architectural furnishings.
Most recently, Adams’ PALLET furniture collection has been gaining popularity. Made with reclaimed wood and artfully and meticulously crafted with a balanced proportion of precision and luxury, this collection was inspired by making furniture from a reclaimed source to be design-based rather than material-based. "For me, design comes first. The green aspect of my work is something that is hard-wired," Adams says. "In my work it is often hidden beneath the surface and only revealed if you are able to see deeper into my daily practice and lifestyle." His designs grace spaces as varied as the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino; Healdsburg’s Medlock Ames Winery tasting room; the Exigen Group offices at Rockefeller Center in New York; and the HITT Contracting headquarters in Falls Church, Va.; as well as numerous residential locations. 1601 32nd St., Oakland, 510-444-2922, www.BaDesignLab.com
Dining tables, small tables, benches, wall art, sculptures
Florian Roeper brings meticulous design with an organic aesthetic to his high-end custom tables, benches, chairs, and artwork that incorporate black walnut, elm, redwood, and other California native trees with metals such as zinc, copper, and bronze. His trademark is metal patina artfully combined into each piece he creates at Studio Roeper, which includes a sawmill. When we visited the studio, an imposing 14-foot redwood tree, cut lengthwise, was juxtaposed against the industrial metal walls. A conversation piece in the making, the soon-to-be dining table showed off the striking reddish-tinted woodgrain, and the plan for sturdy, robust metal leg supports were to be hashed out with the client. Most recently, Roeper created display tables for Louis Vuitton stores.
Roeper does commissioned pieces for residential use as well as for boutique hotels and other companies within the hospitality industry. A graduate of the California College of the Arts, Roeper learned some of his craft through an apprenticeship with a local first-generation California craftsman who focused on custom entry doors. Since then Roeper has evolved his style to create furniture and art that reflects his German background, and he seeks inspiration from design and art from all over the world, including pieces from San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. www.StudioRoeper.com, 415-216-5714
Figuring out how things work is Emily Winston’s passion. With a degree in mechanical engineering, Winston worked at some large corporations, including General Motors, before deciding she wanted to explore making things by hand. During a part-time gig at St. George Spirits in Alameda, she came up with an ingenious and functional way to use the empty bottles as a light installation, and one graces the tasting room ceiling. Winston has worked with glass blowing, machinery, and metal welding at places such as The Crucible, and in her creations mixes a bit of industrial with a retro vibe but keeps the primary focus on functionally. View her chandelier, entitled "99 Bottles," at Toast in Rockridge and see lighting installations at American Oak restaurant in Alameda and Hog’s Apothecary in Oakland. Lately she has undertaken residential projects that use clear bottle chandeliers and pendant lights, though Winston likes working with clients on creating customized light pieces that use all types of objects or media. www.EmilyWinston.com, 530-400-3221