Contemporary furniture design and designers

Introduction This page focuses on practising designers and designer/makers (1) who create contemporary furniture in Canada and the United States (US). The emphasis on North America (NA) allows for the compilation of manageable lists of designers (see below) and answers to questions about how we define "design" and "contemporary" here, compared with other regions, particularly Europe.

Collage of furniture

Categories The inclusion of designer/makers (2) reflects furniturelink's long-standing support of sustainable local manufacturing and belief in the importance (and somewhat uniqueness) of this sector in NA. Designer/makers tend to be full-time creators of mostly home furnishings. Writing in 2000 in Contemporary American Furniture (3), Marisa Bartolucci, now creative development director at Cultureshock Media, states the motivation for young American designer/makers as "a yearning to create desirable, intelligent, honest, necessary and reasonably affordable furnishings." By contrast furniturelink's "practising contemporary designers" lists include a large proportion of studio-based "industrial designers" who tackle furniture projects (often office furniture) alongside a wide range of other consumer product commissions.

furniturelink provides additional content about the history of industrial design in Canada and a searchable gallery of images of Canadian designs and designers, 1945 to 1985.

Definitions What is good design ("good design" defined as synonymous with "contemporary design" or "modern design")? For decades the answer to this question has been the holy grail of design commentators. In the 1950s architect and curator Edgar Kaufmann Jr. answered, "The best its designers produce" (in any period). In the early 1980s industrial designer Dieter Rams contributed his 10 principles. In the 1990s design critic Alice Rawsthorn makes several observations but omits a precise answer.

Criteria To compile the list of designers for this page, furniturelink's publisher (see About Us) — with over 50 years' experience as a furniture designer, educator and retailer — used criteria (in addition to nationality and Web presence) that reflect his personal definition of "contemporary." Without the credentials of the observers listed above, furniturelink defers on a written interpretation and suggests instead that readers "reverse engineer" (4) the listings. By scanning designers' work in the four tables, readers will discern furniturelink's aesthetic and ecological values that collectively represent a definition of "contemporary" (with apologies for designers overlooked).

Office and Home Canadian and American "practising contemporary designers" compiled by furniturelink lists a preponderance of office furniture designers. Many design commentators agree that North America offers well-designed office furniture (if not always by Canadians or Americans). Home furniture by designer/makers listed here also maintain a level of good design.

However, Stephen Burks, founder of Readymade Projects in New York, describes much of today's Canadian- and American-designed home furniture (notable exceptions include Bensen, Bernhardt Design and Blu Dot) as stuck in a time warp of "bad overstuffed La-Z-boys." (5)

Collage of photos of designers

More damning evidence of this "dearth of design" (to paraphrase Alice Rawsthorn) can be found in the 2009 quote from Greensboro, NC–based furniture industry consultants Anderson Bauman Tourtellot Vos (ABTV): "Style changes [in the US furniture industry] can trigger demand, but wood furniture styling moves with glacial velocity. In the last 50 years, casual styling has moved from Colonial to Country, a short trip, and formal styling has moved from early 18th-century to late 18th-century reproductions." (6)

In 1993 the late American artist Donald Judd (who designed furniture in his later years) recognized this predominance of "traditional styling" in the NA marketplace as "junk." He placed the blame on consumers looking for "status" through furniture "invoking a higher [sense of] class." (7)

Solutions What can be done to solve the conundrum of why "traditional" defines the North American domestic furniture marketplace when consumers eagerly adopt the "design-led" products of companies such as Apple? The answer could be in convincing the consumer to become less "indifferent to the category" (8) — through industry-sponsored marketing initiatives, more design-led programs in high schools, new products spawned by incubator centres and recent furniture design graduates promoting innovative, well-made and affordable ideas (see education).

Canada: Practising contemporary furniture designers
Douglas Ball Montreal, QC Neils Bendtsen Vancouver, BC
Tom Deacon Toronto, ON Paul Epp Toronto, ON
Thom Fourgere Winnipeg, MB Charles Godbout Montreal, QC
Patty Johnson Toronto, ON Andrew Jones Toronto, ON
Matthew Kroeker Winnipeg, MB Miles Keller Toronto, ON
Scot Laughton Toronto, ON Derek McLeod Toronto, ON
Philipp Malouin London, UK Patrick Messier Montreal, QC
Mark Müller Toronto, ON Luc Plante Montreal, QC
Karim Rashid New York, NY Christopher Wright Toronto, ON
United States: Practising contemporary furniture designers
Carlo Aiello Los Angeles, CA Joshua Aidlin San Francisco, CA
Brad Ascalon New York, NY Tod Babick Grand Rapids, MI
Jhane Barnes New York Craig Bassam New Canaan, CT
Matthew Bear Berkley, CA Jeffrey Bernett New York, NY
Edgar Blazona San Francisco, CA Todd Bracher Brooklyn, NY
Gregory Buntain Brooklyn, NY Bruce Burdick San Francisco, CA
Stephen Burks New York, NY Don Chadwick Santa Monica, CA
Derek Chen San Francisco, CA Ian Collings Brooklyn, NY
Mark Daniel Evanston, IL Peter Danko York, PA
David Darling San Francisco, CA Nicholas Dodziuk New York, NY
Stanley Felderman Santa Monica, CA Paul Georgeson Milwaukee, WI
Vincent Georgeson Milwaukee, WI Mark Goetz Brooklyn, NY
Cory Grosser Pasedena, CA John Kaloustian Detroit, MI
Brian Kane San Francisco, CA Nancy Keating Santa Monica, CA
Scott Fellows New Canaan, CT Richard Holbrook Pasedena, CA
Scott Klinker Bloomfield Hills, MI Gary Lee Chicago, IL
Jonas Milder Brooklyn, NY David Mocarski Los Angeles, CA
Bryce Moore Royal Oak, MI Nolen Niu Beverly Hills, CA
Colin Nourie Cincinnati, OH Jonathan Olivares Los Angeles, CA
Josh Owen Rochester NY Eric Pfeiffer Oakland, CA
Leon Ransmeier New York, NY Joe Ricchio Seal Beach, CA
David Ritch Venice, CA Mike Simonian San Francisco, CA
Jess Sorel Sunnyvale, CA Jonah Takagi Washington, DC
David Weeks New York, NY Chad Wright San Francisco, CA
Canada: Practising contemporary designer/makers
Loïc Bard Montreal, QC Evan Bare Toronto, ON
Miguel Brovhn Vancouver, BC Brent Comber Vancouver, BC
Bettie Cott Toronto, ON Kate Duncan Vancouver, BC
Heidi Earnshaw Toronto, ON Rick Ivey Oakville, ON
Thomas Klein Durham, ON Jerad Mack Edmonton, AB
Eugénie Manseau Montreal, QC Deagan McDonald Vancouver, BC
Zoë Mowat Montreal, QC Kelsey Nilsen Vancouver, BC
Shane Pawluk Edmonton, AB Lukas Peet Vancouver, BC
Shawn Place Prince George, BC Louis-Philippe Pratte Montréal, QC
Tomas Rojcik Toronto, ON Mario Sabljak Vancouver, BC
Robin Speke Durham, ON Sholto Scruton Vancouver, BC
Christian Woo Vancouver, BC  
United States: Practising contemporary designer/makers
Chris Ames Seattle, WA John Arndt Eugene, OR
Wonhee Arndt Eugene, OR Garrett Brooks Baltimore, MA
Mark Cooper Doylestown, PA Forest Dickey San Francisco, CA
Matt Eastvold Dennison, MI Joshua Friedman Los Angeles, CA
Michael Garman Houston, TX David Gaynor Milwaukee, NY
Paul Georgeson Milwaukee, WI Vincent Georgeson Milwaukee, WI
Sophie Glenn San Diego, CA Justin Godar San Francisco, CA
Piet Houtenbos Long Island City, NY Asher Israelow Brooklyn, NY
Rosie Kovacs Cincinnati, OH David Larabee Denver, CO
Sharon Khosla Seattle, WA Benjamin Klebba Portland, OR
Anthony Marschak San Francisco, CA Daniel Michalik Brooklyn, NY
Darin Montgomery Seattle, WA Daniel Moyer Brooklyn, NY
Chad Robertson Seattle, WA Emily Robertson Seattle, WA
Adrienne Romine Austin, TX Andrew Rumpler Brooklyn, NY
Hayes Shansey Cincinnati, OH Karen Soorikian Atlanta, GA
Matt Soorikian Atlanta, GA Dexter Thornton Denver, CO

(1) Also called designer/builders in the US.

(2) Includes only designer/makers who produce furniture in multiple quantities; excludes producers of one-of-a-kind contemporary furniture such as fine furniture makers, craftspeople and artisans. This sector is served by the following websites (not restricted to contemporary producers): Furniture Society, Behance, Custom Made.

(3) American Contemporary Furniture by Marisa Bartolucci, Cathy Lang Ho, Raul Cabra and Dung Ngo (2000) remains the most current book about designer/makers in America, though many of the designers cited are no longer in business.

(4) Reverse engineered defined as deconstucting an object (the list) to see how it works (what it means).

(5) Turning the Tables, ID Magazine, May 16, 2008 (courtesy Print).

(6) The American Furniture Industry: What Will It Take to Survive? page 3.

(7) It's Hard to Find a Good Lamp, Donald Judd, 1993.

(8) The American Furniture Industry: What Will It Take to Survive? page 4.

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