Amazing wood grain designs and impeccably clean lines — these are among the most striking features of pieces by Skram Furniture. Homedit encountered the company’s offerings at ICFF 2016 and decided we needed to know more about the products as well as the designer and craftspeople behind the brand.
Skram Furniture Company was founded in 2001 and is led by designer A. Jacob Marks, who was recently named one of the top 50 young designers of the Americas (Young Designers: Americas, Daab). Marks’ designs for have “distinctive austerity and warmth and a timeless quality accentuated by the use of natural materials like timber, leather, stone, and metal,” explains the company’s website.
Homedit asked Marks about his designs, inspiration and background:
How did you get your start in design?
I’m self-taught. That process began after college, when I lived in San Francisco. In college I studied history and after graduation I was on a path to pursue graduate work in that field. But it was during that time that I encountered the world of fine furniture. I was drawn to it immediately, for the same reasons that I was drawn to historical research and writing. Both require a careful balancing of precision and creativity. Both require discipline, restraint, and devotion to detail. But designing and building furniture was more gratifying than writing, so I went that route.
What drew you to set up shop to make modern furniture in North Carolina — long associated with traditional furnishings?
North Carolina offers proximity to our primary markets in the Northeast and easy transport of our goods to Europe and the Middle East. It also has a great network of suppliers related to the furniture industry. One of our goals as a company is to present a model of sustainable manufacturing for a new generation of craft-based industry. This model is organized around a really wide interpretation of sustainability. In this view, sustainability encompasses environmental responsibility (Skram installed a solar array atop its workshop in 2015) but also design integrity, community engagement, and employee well-being.
So, here in North Carolina, against a backdrop of massive job losses in manufacturing–particularly the furniture industry–Skram offers a contrast to the existing industry in process and in product and grows steadily year after year, focused on creating heirloom quality products with sustainable practices and rejecting the idea of built-in obsolescence.
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs? Do your ideas come first or are they more often the product of a specific commission or challenge?
For me, design comes first and materials (burls, timbers, leather, metal, stone. . .) exist to accentuate and adorn. I believe that design should stand on its own without reliance on a particular material, so while we use all manner of precious and lovely materials, every product we make is prototyped in black so that there is minimal distraction from the form and function.
In terms of inspiration, I draw from relationships I see in the world around me. These can be natural or man-made.
The wood you use, particularly for pieces like the Piedmont collection sideboard and chests, is absolutely gorgeous. Where do your source your woods?
Thank you. In terms of wood, all of Skram’s solid timber options are sourced within 500 miles of our facility. These are Appalachian hardwoods like Walnut, Cherry, Rift Sawn White Oak, and Ash But for reasons of structural requirements and aesthetics more than cost, part of our product range is offered in hardwood veneers. These may be domestic in origin or exotic, like the Pepperwood Burl that we presented on our Piedmont Collection casegoods at the product launch this Spring in NYC. This material comes from Chile.
The concept of mirror image is very popular right now in the engineered design of many textiles…how did you come up with the idea to try it in wood?
I can’t take credit for bookmatching, which is the term in furniture making for this particular arrangement of the individual leaves of veneer, in sequence, as we present them on the Piedmont casegoods. All of our veneer work, not just the Piedmont assortment is done in this manner. Bookmatching is a long-established treatment, dating back centuries.
Do you have a favorite medium to work with when you are designing?
Not really, but I do like to explore a wide range of materials. I’m drawn to natural materials like wood, metal, leather, cork, and stone. These could be intense and graphic, like the Pepperwood burl noted above, or they can be understated and neutral. In any case, the idea is that the material should be the best possible option in structural terms and also should reinforce–visually–the overall design intent.
While these pieces may be clean or minimal, they have plenty of interest thanks to beautiful wood grain and unexpected design features, such as the legs of the Altai series or the elegant curves of Skram’s wooden chairs and zen-like Tigris bed.