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Material Man

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

To architect and furniture designer Eugene Stoltzfus, design comes down to nature's basics

By Kathryn Freeman Rathbone
Images Courtesy of Eugene Stoltzfus 

For Eugene Stoltzfus, good design comes naturally. That's because the designer looks to the natural characteristics of materials like bamboo and cork to provide beauty, structure, and finish in his furniture and spaces. Stoltzfus gives a raw account on designing in the material world. 

KR: How do the materials you work with shape your designs?
Eugene Stoltzfus: We have a saying in our office, ‘No veneer here.’ We work with the natural beauty of natural materials to really bring out their patterns and textures. They’re so tactile, and I’ve always felt they’re better for both the Earth and for humans. Our furniture deals with the same structural issues and showcases the beauty of connections, details, and materials that our architecture does. For example, with the Double-O nesting table, the details of the connections serve as the decoration of the piece.

KR: Right now, you’re working a lot with bamboo. Why is it one of your go-to materials?
ES: I feel that when you look at furniture from any angle, it should be as beautiful from the top as it is from the bottom. Bamboo is ideal because it has incredible structural strength and natural beauty due to its patterning.  

KR: Is it hard to work with?
ES: Bamboo, for me, just requires collaboration. For the Sundial House, I wanted to do a credenza using bamboo. I had the design but didn’t know how to build it, so I partnered with cabinetmaker Doug Lance to make it. It’s made of sheets of bamboo strips that are laminated together. The sheets wrap around the front, top, and back of the piece—it’s just beautiful.

KR: Does this type of collaboration and experimentation translate to your architecture, too?
ES: Yes. I don’t separate the values and aesthetics of my furniture designs from my architecture. They’re just done at different scales. Furniture is about ergonomics, and architecture is about circulation. But in all my work, when materials, structure, and ergonomics come together, the object comes together. You can read all the forces at play, and it’s wonderful to see. Everything’s revealed. 

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