Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What's a bespoke?

A term I’ve heard used for tailors, for the most part, it’s a word one of my favorite clients likes to use for the work I do, and I think I love this word. It basically means “custom-made,” but it carries with it so much more, at least for me. As an example, a good friend turned me on to this wonderful Saville Row tailor’s website, which has become a model for how I’d like this site to progress (with my own silly/appalled/passionate twist, of course).

Many people/businesses in my trade do custom work, ranging from architectural elements to cabinetry to furniture. It’s not unusual, especially in a city where space is at such a premium, and people’s homes are arranged in odd ways, to need something that’s made to fit in a particular space. What makes me different? I’m so glad you asked, it saves me from ruining a perfectly good chair with all the duct tape I might have otherwise needed to strap you in.

Most often, people come to me because they want something made especially for their home, not because they need a thing that must fit in a pre-existing space. Engineering an efficient way to utilize an existing space is a skill that hundreds of custom cabinetmakers posses, if only because they’ve been asked to do it so many times, they can’t help but learn. While I feel fairly confident that I’m about as good as the next guy, it is not a skill that I would use to sell myself, ever. I have to confess that I hate to do math, and will frequently draw full scale on the wall or the floor with chalk or crayon, before I’ll think to grab the calculator (in his initial interview, my assistant told me, “I love to do math,” and I stood up on my chair and shouted, “say that again!” immediately followed by “welcome aboard!” [ok, I never actually said, “welcome aboard,” that would be too cheesy.], and I often ask him to do much of the actual engineering.). What I am especially good at, if I do say so myself, is mixing my own opinions and tastes with those of my clients, finding a design that we both love, carefully selecting incredible materials, and building a piece using traditional techniques that would bankrupt the most efficient of manufacturers. People come to me because the style or the lines of my previous work speaks to them, or because they trust that I will make something for them that will last forever, or because they fall in love (as I have) with the methods or materials I use to make a thing (more on each of those in future posts), or any combination of those.

Hence, “bespoke,” rather than “custom made” – the other term I’ve used is “commissioned,” if only because it’s a more universally understood word. But bespoke says so much more, it implies the opulence and luxuriousness I’ve come to love, it carries with it the textures and the colors, the shapes and the curves and the depth of the materials that make it impossible not to run your hands over the surface or to sit across the room letting your eyes glaze over as they pore all over the thing, wondering how delicious it might be if only you could eat it…


So. Bespoke. I’m a bespoke furniture designer/maker. That’s kind of a mouthful, I guess, but so be it. If it helps people to understand what I do, and what I can do to make their lives more interesting,* then rock on with the mouthfuls of awkwardness.

*I realize that is a seemingly preposterous claim to make, but think of it this way: if you buy an original painting or sculpture by an artist who's work touches you, and you place it in your home where you can gaze upon it often (please excuse the old world cheeseball dorkiness), it makes your life more interesting, no? It improves your awareness, it alters your moods, it fills you with emotions, simply with its presence in your life. Now interact with that thing on a daily basis. Sit in it, or sleep on it, or eat dinner at it, or put your belongings inside it, touch it and move it around or use it as a place to put your favorite bowl or to do your taxes or take that well deserved nap.

That’s why it’s called “bespoke furniture,” and it’s what I get to think about while I make it, and when I get that wonderful moment, that little piece of time when it’s late at night, and everyone has gone home, and the shop is empty and the buzzing of the fluorescents is mixing with the Motown that’s likely to be playing, and I can stand back and look at the thing, and walk around it, and feel like trying to make a living doing something this ludicrous is a really, really excellent idea.

Monday, August 21, 2006

paradigm shift

If you haven't read the earier posts, consider this your official warning that some of them are likely to disappear.

I've been thinking about this thing, this odd thing I've decided to do. Why am I doing this? What's the point? Who is it for, besides me?

Well, at first I thought it was a way to revisit the old angry writings and mix them up with the 'now thoughts,' but I've realized that the "how do you reconcile the dark rantings of the young man with the thoughts of the older, wiser, more established and allegedly legitimate man" question actually has an answer. "You don't." Each may have value, in its own context, but each needs and deserves its own context.

As I read back through old writings, in the context of the time period, and surrounded by other pieces from the same frame of reference, some of it is pretty good, and some of it is not. But most, taken by themselves and catapulted into the present, naked and separated from the early 90's, are just drivel. Absolutely boring and juvenile.

So. Plan B. It occurs to me that the real point of creating an online presence beyond my own 'look at my work, see what a genius I am and proceed to buy said work' website, is to share my outlook, to inform people about the concept of bespoke furniture, and help the layperson weed through the assault of deceptive marketing and shoddy design and/or craft.

I'm something of a believer that a website such as the one I use to show my work should be simple, and about nothing but the work. Not filled with all kinds of text and such, opinions and adjectives, essays and hype about myself or my ideas. Simple. Look at what I've done. Does it touch you? Excellent. Call me, perhaps we can work together to make something beautiful happen, something that you can see, touch, a thing you can live with and enjoy for the rest of your life. No? Ok, feel free to look at the pretty pictures and move on.

But here, here in the world of the word - here, I can (and will) blather on about all the things I think and see and the ways I think it could be better, or worse, or different. I can talk about what I do, explain the process, help people make decisions about what they're looking for. I can talk about my friends, the designers and craftspeople I respect, and critique them for you. I can talk about the evils, the deceptions, the sound bite driven fast food of the design world, and even the ways in which the "high end" furniture world is often misleading and overpriced, or how there is so much that is either poorly designed and beautifully crafted, or beautifully concieved and poorly crafted, but not enough that achieves the goal of being a well thought out, graceful idea, crafted with skill and an attention to detail that makes a piece successful.

I can talk about all those things. And more.

And I will.

Please stay tuned.

Oh, and by the way, enough with the anonymity. Hi, I'm Scott Braun. Here's my work: