A photographer’s studio is dark and empty except for several items of furniture standing near a bright white backdrop. In this setting the furniture appears as silhouettes. Profiles, elevations, look flat and black, defining shape and form. The lines are clean and cut like sculpture.

From initial sketch, refinement in design, and thru the process of millwork, these are the lines that in balance, scale and proportion, preoccupy my mind’s eye. Working with lines – curves, angles or just clean straight lines – there is nowhere to hide a compromise of craft, or flaw in design.  When the elements of design, coupled with the skills of craft are integrated successfully, a piece can seem almost simple.  Often, this simplicity conceals the complex design, the unseen challenges demanded of tools and  materials.

Modern and progressive. That is as I like furniture the most. Dynamic and different. Furniture as art… as sculpture. Sculpture with purpose, utility and function.  Useful objects of art designed to enrich, to elevate the living experience and summons a sense of spirit and beauty to the human environment.

Although primarily a woodworker, I respond to the mix, union of materials such as stone, metals, and hides. Color brings life. Humor brings spirit. I try to build both into a design, providing the colors, whim and humor does not give a sense of ‘gimmick’ or, more importantly, compromise the architectural, structural integrity to a piece.

Inspiration? I am humbled by the genius of architect, John Lautner. I marvel at his work with gravity, his cleverness with the element of cantilever.  Tracing the evolution of modern furniture, I am amazed at the awesome body of work funneled through the Herman Miller house.  Designers, Geroge Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Verner Panton and Charles and Ray Eames remain as legends.

Today is a great day to have a hand or interest in furniture as an art form. In rural/urban studios and workshops across America, talented artists, craftsmen and women are busy creating innovative designs, expressing art through the language of furniture. I am glad to have a voice amongst them.

Stephen Courtney is an accomplished furniture designer/maker and fine art photographer. In 2003 The Smithsonian Institution secured Stephen’s ‘Secretarial Desk’ for inclusion within the National Gallery of American Art.

Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.


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