Born in Pennsylvania and raised around a salvage yard of his grandfathers, it was only natural that Sam himself would use reclaimed pieces to craft his beautiful designs.
Sam's Studio which is located in an old building downtown LA is the perfect set up for his workshop where he makes his one-of-a-kind custom pieces.
Following are some questions I asked Sam about how he became a furniture designer and his experiences thus far...
How did you come to be a furniture builder?
Backwards. Or that is, I backed into it. I worked a lot as a kid, with my grandfather, who owned and ran a junkyard, in Pennsylvania. I helped use a gasoline-powered log splitter to split wood to heat our house. I went to school with the Quakers. I made a couple of different carved pine shelves with Mr. Pearson in shop class in grade school, which my mom kept. In high school I took furniture making with Carter Sio (http://www.woodworkersjournal.com/ezine/archive/142/todaysww.cfm http://www.taunton.com/finewoodworking/Gallery/GalleryImage.aspx?id=4668). He was a wonderful teacher, supportive, but in no way restrictive. I think that's where things really got rolling. But like a lot of things with me, it took awhile to set in. It took meandering through college, and working on old buildings, it took living in New York City and working in an office job, moving to LA for love that didn't last. It took all of that for me to really start making furniture like I was meant to.
I never look at anything without wondering how it comes to exist, how it stands up or why it falls down. I think making furniture is an extension of this obsessive way of seeing the world.
What are your favorite materials to work with and why?
Well, I like using Chestnut and Walnut. Chestnut is this incredible wood that was really prevalent in the U.S., especially in the Mid-Atlantic states of the East Coast right up until the early 1900s when a disease accidentally brought from Asia attacked the trees. They had no resistance to the disease, the Chestnut Blight, as it's called sometimes, and they just died. Like crazy. Whole forests. All at once. (It is estimated that the total number of chestnut trees in eastern North America was over 3 billion, and that 25 percent of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains were American Chestnut. The number of large surviving American Chestnut trees over 60 cm (24 inches) in diameter within the tree's former range is probably less than 100.)
And walnut is really lovely to work. I always say it is buttery, but like cool butter, so it gives, but not too much. It's especially nice to handplane. I love the idea that I am perpetuating something that is rare and no longer exists in a way that we all take for granted. Trees, I mean. We take trees for granted, and we should not.
What are your least favorite materials to work with and why?
I'm not crazy about plywood. It's beautiful, at times, and interesting, and I appreciate the physics of it, but I miss the connection to the organic, to the living. The beautiful thing, to me, about furniture especially wood furniture, is that it never dies, really. It's extremely porous and absorptive, so as the moisture content of the air changes, the wood moves.
Imperfect. Organic modern? Personal? One of a kind? I was just at this big exhibition in Germany, the largest exhibition space in all of Europe, I think, and people would come by, and I found myself saying that the thing I loved the most about the furniture is that it is imperfect. That is, I leave a lot of cracks, and checks, and weird bits in there. I use more of than most furniture designers, I bet. I love those weird parts the most. And I think, deep down, we all recognize our own imperfection, and that's why this furniture speaks to people, because it is not trying to hide that it is imperfect. Rather, it is putting that imperfect "foot," as it were, forward. And you know, the thing that we most try to hide, is the thing that is our strength. As they say in the Bible, and in the Bob Marley, "the stone that the builder refuse, will always be the head corner stone."
Which architects and or furniture designers, past or present, do you most admire?
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Antonio Gaudi, Thom Mayne, Heather Woofter, George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick. I love the Eastern Columbia Building, here in downtown LA, designed by Claud Beelman. Frederick Law Olmstead. Eric Sloane, Edward Tufte is amazingly inspirational, disciplined, scary! How can one live in LA and not love Richard Neutra? These are some of the giants on whose shoulders I feel privileged to stand.
What so far have been the biggest challenges in crafting apiece?
I really like to challenge myself and the materials I work with. And I also love to try and make my furniture as transparent as possible. By that I mean I love to try to reveal the ways that something stands up, that the problem of resistance to gravity has been solved. I love to see living physics. A particular piece comes to mind, a left-right side tables, were sort of a puzzle I made for myself, to see whether a cantilevered side table could work. I made them in a sort of a "z" shape, and let leverage and gravity do the rest. I wanted to see how thin I could make them, too, for delicacy. And it all worked out.
If you could build/design your own dream project what would it be?
You know, I think buildings are big pieces of furniture, and furniture is a small building. I'm working on restoring a 1909 house designed by Alfred Bennett Benton right now, and that's pretty great. I also just totally rebuilt the chicken shaq (come on, we are in L.A.!) in the yard. These are both great projects. It's what I do in my spare time.
If you hadn't become a furniture builder what do you think you would be doing now?
Oh man. Shrimp boat captain? I love writing, but it's kind of scary and hard to get work (not that furniture making is not like that). I still might try to write a book.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I just got back from Europe and I could really see myself there at some point in the future.