The Multilingual Metalsmith

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Images courtesy of Kaitlyn McQuaid

Covered in brass shavings, Christopher Gentner stands in front of a milling machine. The dust, coarse leftovers from what will eventually become lean, elegant candlestick holders, flies out at tens of miles per hour. “Careful!” he shouts, closing the furnace doors that he later apologizes for having left open. Sometimes, Gentner says, he enjoys pausing for a moment to watch the sparks fly.

Ever since Gentner Design first opened up its doors in Chicago’s River North neighborhood three years ago, the response has been voluminous. The secret? Gentner, a New York native with more than two decades of experience in metalsmithing, continuously looks for new ways to innovate. Between sips of freshly brewed espresso, Gentner paces up and down the annals of his workshop at 37th and Kedzie, mulling over various ways he can improve his upcoming collection of eight pieces, simply titled 2014.

He’s also redesigning the espresso machine in the break room. “I tend to get wrapped up in rebuilding and refurbishing old machinery,” he says. “These things range from Swiss watches that I rebuild to an old dentist chair to a 1968 MGB GT and a 1973 Lotus Europa, and—” he catches his breath, “a 1973 BMW motorcycle.” It’s the classic style, he says, that harkens him “back to a different time in design and technology.”

The world of design is one that, today, consists of many moving parts, and Gentner, who is involved in every stop of the design process, runs an operation that is as austere and honest as the art it yields.

“I think what makes my furniture different,” Gentner says, “is that I really have a foot in both worlds. I have the language of designers and builders, but at the same time I can just as easily talk to some guy who runs a shop that specializes in laser cutting. It’s a lot like somebody who grows up being bilingual—they switch back and forth between the two languages without even thinking about it.”

Harmony, Gentner says, is what inspires him to create. Whether he’s casting a limited run of candlestick holders, dreaming up new ways to construct wall hooks, or simply polishing a bottle opener to call his own, harmony is key. “I enjoy putting dissimilar forms together and the tension they create,” he says. “It’s almost like atonal music. Together, they create this great harmony.”

Gentner’s upcoming collection, 2014, will be showing at ICFF and later this year in showrooms in Chicago, New York, LA, London, and Paris. For more information, visit

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