My love for furniture making has always been driven by my hands and my head in equal parts. I’ve always put my hands to work through carving, forging, knifemaking and silversmithing, but after finishing my Abitur, I felt it would lead nowhere. I needed some direction, a broader view - this led me to study philosophy at Hochschule für Philosophie in Munich. While I enjoyed being immersed in a world of books and thought, I also realized that I was and will always be primarily interested in bringing things into being: material objects, works of the hands that invite others. My whole philosophical endeavour only seemed balanced when I put my hands back to work again.
Once I realized this, my asking and searching found direction, and through a series of strange coincidences, I ended up studying at the Inside Passage School of fine Cabinetmaking in Roberts Creek, Canada. The school turned out to be just what I was looking for: an uncompromised vision of quality furniture. This was combined with a healthy mistrust of novelty for the sake of novelty, a strong emphasis on hand tools and most of all, the conviction that the human hand is superior to a machine when it comes to precision and freedom of expression. My teacher there, Robert van Norman, is a true master of the craft and part of a long tradition: he himself learned from James Krenov, who again was trained by Carl Malmsteen in Sweden. The question of creation, whether of object or thought, seems a human and a personal one. In so far as it is human, it also transcends the individual: everyone becomes part of a long search for quality, for answers and solutions.
The right tool in curious and skilled hands transcends being a mere tool: it becomes an extension of the hand, the body – in a way, it disappears. The hands sense through the tool: they sense the type of wood, its hardness or softness, direction of grain, but also the slight radius of a curve, the flatness and shimmering quality of a surface, the soft and friendly but still crisp feel of an edge.
Only if it doesn’t work properly will the hands become aware of the tool again. Perhaps the cut surface is not as clean, the sound of a shaving not as smooth and dry. Or perhaps the plane needs more energy to be guided than usual. And often all it needs is a re-sharpen. A sharp and well-adjusted tool that fits the hands is crucial for this subtle conversation between hands and material. This is one of the reasons why I use a lot of self-made tools; tools that are made specifically for certain tasks and to fit my hands.
Machines can also be tuned to some degree and definitely have an important place in my workflow, but their feedback is always limited, since the hands are (for good reasons) as far removed from the process as possible. In this absence of the hands, machine made surfaces bear the marks of their origin, they share the traits of the machine: monotony, rigour, and a lack of expression. Machines help me with the rougher work and therefore leave more time and energy for the subtle touches and details, the final surfaces and joinery. Not only are these surfaces finished by hand of higher quality and visually more interesting, they also change the appearance and the feel of a piece of furniture.
Furniture as an object of daily use is something very intimate and personal; we keep it close at hand. It can offer rest without being boring, can be beautiful without being obtrusive and sensational and can be useful without being uninspired. The fingerprints of tools and maker add to this restful beauty in a way machine-made goods can’t.
I mainly work with domestic hardwoods like maple, oak, ash, as well as fruit wood, some which I milled and dried myself. Being involved in the whole process, from tree to finished furniture, is something deeply satisfying and exciting; it adds to the mystery and attraction I feel for this material. The variety between trees, even within one species, is tremendous. Depending on age, climate, location, soil, our various domestic species are so rich and interesting to work with that Wharton Esherik said, “if you don’t find the wood you need in your backyard, there is no sense in being a woodworker.”
That being said, I love wood in general and so I also enjoy incorporating exotic woods. The smells and textures of exotic wood is unique; their weight and hardness can almost resemble stone or ivory. I like to add them as accents, small details or veneers rather than solid surfaces. I think that a careful and sensible use of these woods can help to raise awareness for their disproportionate (mis)use that depletes whole forests.
The wood, the specific plank with its qualities and limitations, will always be my starting point. Certain woods ask for certain treatment and tools. These limitations, in combination with the woods colours, textures and specific grain pattern result in unique dimensions, proportions and construction.
Often the most beautiful woods are rare or only come in small quantities. Techniques like veneer allow to stretch a precious and limited material to bigger dimensions without compromising the integrity and durability of the piece. Still, none of my pieces are particularly large. They are, rather, attempts to do justice to a precious piece of living material that is rare and, as James Krenov put it, doesn’t grow on trees. The result are small pieces, carefully made, a joy to use and a compliment to the precious things that find their home inside.
With wood as the starting point, my hands and the help of tools I make furniture that is truly individual in bearing the marks, the fingerprints of its maker. Every piece is as good as I can make it right now: the endpoint of a search while also being a starting point for the next. But this process is also bigger than me, is it also a manifestation of a long tradition of craftsmanship, of passed on techniques and classic forms. In this tension between individual expression and tradition, I hope my furniture will be located in the meeting point between art and crafts.
Put to purpose, placed in a room, I hope they also have the qualities of both these worlds: That they change the atmosphere in a room, are an unobtrusive object of interest, interaction and enjoyment, from far away as well as close-up, and that they are functional, made to be used and enjoyed:
Doors, opening with a light touch and closing with the defined but subtle sound of the wooden hardware.
Drawers, sliding out effortlessly but tightening up in the end, preventing the drawer to drop.
Hand cut dovetail joinery that is beautiful but also strong and durable.
Fragrant woods for drawer-bottoms and interiors, released when the cabinet gets opened.
The back of a drawer, as carefully finished as the front.
A chair, graceful but strong and comfortable.
Pulls and other little details, that invite the fingers and reveal subtle marks of the tools and the hands that shaped them.
Shimmering, hand-planed surfaces, not only beautiful but also very resistant to wear.
I hope all of these things will be discovered over a long time of living with and around the piece: small discoveries and pleasant surprises, the joy of a quiet object in unquiet and hurried times.