This Brutalist-Meets-Cozy Furniture Style Is Taking Over, and You Can Even Build It Yourself
Maybe it’s supply chain issues — or perhaps fueled by the resurgence of interest in post-World War II Brutalist architecture and forms — but DIYers (Gen Zers and millennials, in particular) have been shopping vintage en masse to furnish their homes alongside building simple furniture out of plain wood and even single sheets of plywood. With their sharp angles and simple, veneer-free finishes, these handcrafted pieces have a severe look but also read as cozy in new contexts, surrounded by disco balls, cloud-like leathers sofas, soft patterned rugs, and squiggle patterns.
Simple wooden furniture isn’t new, of course; people have been building it for centuries. If you’ve taken a spin on Instagram or TikTok lately — or checked out the House Tours section on AT — you’ve probably noticed furniture over the past few years has gotten curvier and more sculptural on the whole. This new crop of handmade, humble wooden chairs, tables, and daybeds don’t have particularly sinuous, complex silhouettes, but they’re still like sculpture in their angularity and raw in their stark, unstained forms. Build something sturdy to just-right specs, put it in a room surrounded by high-contrast pieces, and it’s going to command attention the same way a Pierre Jeanneret V-legged Chandigarh Chair or a Jean Royère Polar Bear sofa will — and for far less money, even though the price of wood has gone up, and lumber shortages, too, can make getting supplies a little trickier.
Amy Mazius and her partner, Davy Greenberg (both pictured above), know the advantages — aesthetically and practically speaking — that simple wood furniture offers firsthand. After founding metahaiku, their shared creative studio, back in December 2021, the Los Angeles-based couple moved into a 1,200-square-foot warehouse they intended to use as an office and gathering space. Furnishing pretty much from scratch, the couple used key pieces like Arne Jacobsen chairs and a Noguchi lamp to set the foundation for an almost Japandi meets modern industrial interior, underscored by the structure’s factory style windows and concrete floors. When it came to selecting true anchor pieces of furniture though, they decided to build their own simple wooden work table, shelving, and a literal platform stage of sorts from both pine and high-density fiberboard, often referred to as hardboard or HDF, a close cousin of MDF.
“We chose common pine and HDF because we like the rawness of the material, the lightness of the color, and creating something special from something not-so-special,” says Greenberg. Therein lies yet another appeal of this new wave of plywood, pine, and HDF furniture. Pieces can cost less than fancy, specialty woods because they’re bare and unfussy, and the point is to keep them that way. You can soften up these furnishings’ sparseness with what you surround them with, and even though affordability is paramount here, this style of furniture does have high-art underpinnings.
In fact, much of this latest wave of raw wood furniture harks back to the work of American artist Donald Judd, known for his simple furniture along with his Minimalist stack sculptures and box-like forms. Despite the artist’s passing in 1994, Judd’s furniture is still available for purchase through special order, and a retrospective of his work at the MoMA in 2020 (the late artist’s first in 30 years) has reignited widespread interest in his work, particularly from younger generations.
Even better for those looking to get a little scrappy, Judd’s construction techniques, required tools, designs, and materials (plywood being one of them) are all fairly accessible. Judd’s exact building specs are also in the public domain, listed online by the Judd Foundation and labeled in drawings of each piece, too. “The pattern-making style of Judd’s work was conducive for first-time builders like us,” says Mazius. “It was almost like a brain exercise; if you looked long enough at his furniture, you can eyeball where the screws and pieces go.”
Mazius and Greenberg’s furniture construction took about three weeks, which hammers home (pun intended!) yet another reason why simple wood furniture is having a moment: You can build these pieces pretty quickly because the plans are straightforward. Forget complicated bevels or fancy trim and finding the perfect wood stain or paint color; these pieces are cut, screwed together, and ready to go. If you don’t want to build, that’s okay, too. You can find unfussy, readymade unstained furniture at places like IKEA (their TARVA pine dressers are pictured above). The point wouldn’t be to hack or personalize these pieces though but just to use — and admire — them in their raw state.
For Mazius and Greenberg though, the plywood and simple wood furniture trend is all about the handmade aspect. “Sitting at a table that we built with our own hands and doing work is one of my favorite feelings,” says Mazius. Perhaps Greenberg himself sums up the appeal of this trend best. “I like that when someone looks at the furniture, they say to themselves, ‘I can do that,'” he says. “The only step they have to take is actually doing it.”