Short interview with Los Angeles Modern Auctions, Aug. 28, 2015 | unedited
LAMA: You wear a lot of hats in addition to that of a furniture designer--visual artist, photographer, graphic designer, musician. Do you drink a lot of coffee? Seriously, how does furniture design differ from other types of creative work?
CF: haha! Yeah, coffee definitely helps. Honestly, I don't think I've ever really compartmentalized any of these endeavors or distinguished between them, creatively speaking. So I don't see designing furniture as any different. Whether it's to solve a problem, or to communicate a message, tell a 'story' or to simply make something aesthetically pleasing, the same creative act and process can be applied to designing a table just as it can to writing a song or taking a photograph. Sometimes it's a purely intuitive pursuit, other times it's more of an analytical one, I find.
Describe your furniture process: Do you begin by seeing a need and work toward a product that fills it? Or do you begin with an aesthetic conception that eventually finds expression as a piece of furniture?
I wish I could say I was clever enough to spot those needs in terms of furniture design, (as far as residential furniture, which is what I tend to focus on). Outside of integrating current technologies into our furniture, there's only so much new 'need' in home furniture, beyond style/fashion, economy or novelty. Humans aren't really going to change their physiological relation to a chair or a table or a lamp - so whatever those changing needs are that occur I think would be in the way that new technologies impose / integrate into furniture life. Which is interesting, but I tend to steer away from that sort of tech full-immersion. Like that SNL skit with Christopher Walken, MORE COWBELL!!, it seems we're shouting, "More Technological Distraction!!" I've tended to go for more of a "subtle is more", traditional approach, but 'more' impact with a strong design. One that will, hopefully, have some meaningful longevity. So to answer your question, many times I'll approach a design from an aesthetic angle, being prompted by a particular form, or informed by a particular material, or by wanting to see a particular form in a particular material. Creating something evocative, emotional. But there's also a conceptual angle too, with the series appropriating existing objects and redefining their final use (i.e. Low Tek table, 32/30 Seating Unit, 40sq. Yrds, Ghost table...)
And touching back on your first question, sometimes my other work will inform an idea for a furniture piece as often times I'm working on simultaneous ideas. So for example, a graphic design project or some bit of typography might give me an idea for a shape to use in a design, or some material that I'd been using for some artwork might inspire me to use it in a furniture piece, and a furniture piece might inspire a design for a guitar amplifier. And vise versa. Sort of a "synesthesia" of a creative process.
Tell us about the evolution of this table, please.
Well, believe it or not, a vintage thermos inspired this table. I had been collecting vintage thermoses from the 1950's and 60s since the mid-90s, and one of the first thermoses I found that started that collecting kick was this really cool aluminum one that had a hammered surface, sort of like the pattern on a golf ball. The original idea for the Hollow Table, instead of being all wood, was bent sheet aluminum with that hammered surface pattern. It was also originally designed with the top cut across the center so it could be slid open, right side or left, for storage. The Hollow table was one of my first significant designs that was actually built, so at that time, 1998-99, being relatively new at designing furniture, the task of trying to figure out how to make that original aluminum design proved too difficult. So, like the thermos that inspired it, the original idea sits on a shelf. But out of that limitation, something more elegant and timely, in my opinion, came out of it.
I read that the felt ottoman that you co-designed while with 521 Design was influenced in part by the art of Joseph Beuys. How do you distinguish between art and design? Or do you?
True art is a synthesis of craft and innovation that challenges our perception, creates a 'transformative experience' and, at its most effective, inspires us, positively. I'm not sure that bench falls anywhere close to that criteria, but I think anything that can do that effectively and positively is art. A Slinky, an Eames chair, a Rothko painting, Mont Saint Michel, the Grand Canyon,...or for me, any number of Jerry Lewis movies (haha); each has its own level of affect on an experience. Each of which, its own form of art.
Name your top three favorite pieces of 20th century modernist design.
Only three? Man, that's cruel. Ok it's going to have to be something absurd like this -
Reader: Pick any three of these :
the graphics of Piet Zwart
Norman Bel Geddes' desk for Simmons
the graphics of Herbert Matter
Jean Prouvé's Cite lounge chair
Charlotte Perriand's Bibliothèque
Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes
Eames Rosewood LCW
Eames Aluminum Group lounge & ottoman
George Nelson's Thin Edge series
Bertoia Bird Chair
pretty much anything by Dieter Rams
the graphics of Vaughan Oliver / 4AD
any number of Marc Newson's designs