Asher israelow and his team of craftsman are obsessive, and they like it this way. From concept to completion, each step in their process is meticulous and each new piece is born from the material with which it's built. the resulting work is something that you have to experience in person to fully understand, but it feels fair to say that it's more than just furniture, it's a conversation with the elements.
You studied architecture in school. At what point did you begin exploring furniture?
My education in studying architecture was the beginning. Although architecture has focused my perspective, the design process is the same as furniture. I look at a lot of buildings and landscapes for hidden details, joint connections and those refined elements only possible with contemporary construction. I appreciate modern buildings years after their construction. The unintended consequences of design and the tension created between buildings and nature; the changes in materials from their pristine finish to a weathered and worn quality or the movement of buildings from the subtly shifting land and extreme weather, is really wonderful.
Furniture tells a very similar story. The materials move and shift in unintended ways but it is our job to understand this movement. When designing a chair or a house, the form is often an expression of its materials and how they come together.
Your material vocabulary is really classic, but your work seems to focus on pushing the possibilities of these materials and their interaction. Was this your goal from the outset or did you begin this way simply because these were the materials you favored most?
I really enjoy working with solid wood. There is something so elemental, ancient, and refined within the practice. It is an age-old craft that is constantly being redefined and elevated with new technologies. Similar to my fascination with buildings' weathering, trees retain the entire story of their growth within their rings. Droughts, fires and mineral content of local aquifers can all be seen within the wood after its been felled. Their entire lives can be read within one slice.
We recently completed a dining table from a single slab that was saved from a California forest fire. The sawmill actually dragged this giant log half-burnt from the fire to save it for furniture. I decided to leave the burnt edges on the piece to commemorate this event, and the tree's life prior to it becoming a table. Every good piece of furniture should tell a story and this one wrote itself.
The studio strives to experiment with material and construction limitations. We are always learning new and ancient techniques as potential answers to questions we have not yet asked. We are often hindered by our access to tools, but never our technical prowess.
Given the degree of precision required to produce your designs it seems like building a design and fabrication team would be a critical and selective process. Could you tell us a bit about your team, their backgrounds and what they bring to table as designers and builders?
Everyone in the studio comes from different backgrounds, but we are all passionate and often obsessive about what we do. Growing the studio from just myself designing and building everything into a team of extremely capable makers was a process of trial and error, but always collaborative. I’ve been very lucky to find people who care about how things are built, almost as though it’s a way of life. We value craft above all else, and that takes a very particular temperament.
How much is storytelling a part of your design process?
I really enjoy learning about early natural history and contemporary astronomy. Both fields at the forefront of exploration during their times, requiring a lot of imagination in order to theorize scientific principles. Learning the limitations of our own understanding has always compelled me to create. I love looking at the old drawings of Albrecht Durer's Rhinoceros. There's so much speculation and misrepresentation, after all his information was from a written account of the first sighting. Astronomy is very similar in this way. We're just starting to realize how little we know about the universe, and even though they're probably wrong, scientists will continue to model the stars and dark matter despite this. They both push the frontiers further, which I appreciate.
Moving forward how do you see your work evolving and what are you most excited about for the coming year?
I am currently working on a couple different collaborations, which should debut during design week this year. I am excited adventuring into new materials, and working with other artisans deft at their craft.