The founder of Rhode Island design firm Studio Dunn shares his passion for problem solving, adventure, and collaboration.
According to his parents, Asher Dunn was a maker long before “maker” was a word anyone used. “My mom and dad remember watching me take things apart and put them back together using my Sesame Street screwdriver,” he says. “I was eighteen months old.”
He laughs. “I guess I’ve always had a fondness for problem-solving.”
Many years later, as founder of the Providence-based Studio Dunn — a firm that's turned out hand-crafted furniture and lighting since 2010 — this longstanding skill continues to serve the designer well. "Studio Dunn is a company that thinks differently when it comes to challenges," he says. "Most things other people regard as obstacles, we see as exciting — to us, they're opportunities to solve a problem. It's a little like a game: we sit down and we think, how can we learn from the problems we encounter, and use them to create an even better product? How can we make things that can be used in people's homes in the most effective way?"
For Dunn and his team of seven, the answers to these questions — or at least, the beginnings of answers — lie in the most primary of sources. Each piece borrows inspiration from a phenomenon that occurs in nature: the Stillwater Club Chair, for example, mimics the balletic curvature of tree branches; the Kujira Coffee Table parallels whale skeletons and river stones; the slender legs of the Newport Table resemble newly sprouted tulips. Their latest project, the American Heritage Throw Pillows, are inspired by color studies created during visits to the coastlines, harbors, woods, and mountains of New England.
“If I had to narrow down a mission statement, I’d say our furniture is meticulously crafted and timeless…and that it’s heavily influenced by a respect for nature and an appreciation for ingenuity and adventure.”
Adventure, it seems, is a key word —and it’s something the Studio Dunn team works hard to cultivate day to day. The group embarks regularly on manufacturing field trips, visiting the shops of fellow craftspeople for a dose of inspiration and creative conversation. They visit local museums, studios, libraries. They experiment with materials, seeing what each can achieve, or how far they can be pushed. (For the record, wood’s the winner: “It can be so many things, in so many ways,” says Dunn. “It can be extremely rigid, but then you can steam it and make it pliable. You can turn it into pulp. You can sand it, shape it. It’s multifaceted.”)
"But what makes me proudest, above all is our team. We’re very much a family, and we find so much happiness in the fact that people are loving our work. My pride really lies there — in knowing that I have an amazing creative team to work with every day, and that I get to go home every night feeling fulfilled and accomplished and excited about whatever tomorrow holds.”
And true to every great adventure story, this one has love at its core: “I absolutely fell in love with woodworking in school,” Dunn says, “and in the end, I always return to it. I’ve come to love it more and more over time."
From the looks of it, that’s many things: deeper explorations into the natural world, for one. A first foray into textiles. Ever more problem-solving.
And— of course, always — adventure.