Handmade Modern Furniture Features New Construction Techniques

Secreted away in a rural valley in upstate New York is a nondescript building, situated between a swath of trees and wild grassland, featuring a few free-range chickens. From the outside, there’s no indication of what’s going on inside: The design and creation of amazing modern furniture that’s in demand from coast to coast.

Acrylic "Argon" table. Photo by stockstudiosphotography.com.View in gallery
Acrylic “Argon” table.

Furniture designer Peter Harrison combines modern materials with his own nontraditional joinery techniques to create exceptional limited production pieces that feature innovations of his own design such as aluminum brackets, draped cables and concrete components.

The Galway buffet has a door design that uses aluminum to focus the wood movement into a groove in the center.View in gallery
The Galway buffet has a door design that uses aluminum to focus the wood movement into a groove in the center.
The Argon Coffee Table features a Mobius-like wave of stainless steel cables in a base that supports a glass top. Photo by stockstudiosphotography.com.View in gallery
The Argon Coffee Table features a Mobius-like wave of stainless steel cables in a base that supports a glass top.
The Neptune table is available in Mahogany, Walnut, Sapele dyed black and Maple. Photo by stockstudiosphotography.com.View in gallery
The Neptune table is available in Mahogany, Walnut, Sapele dyed black and Maple.

Homedit met Harrison at the Achitectural Digest Design Show 2016. We were immediately drawn to his work, particularly the Divergence Table and the Oahu table. The latter is one of the pieces in his newest line, featuring unique aluminum joinery. We had the privilege of visiting Harrison’s studio where we saw the work in progress and talked with him about his process, his designs, and how his work has evolved.

The Divergence table uses an exposed aluminum corner bracket. The sweeping curves of the cables evoke movement.View in gallery
The Divergence table uses an exposed aluminum corner bracket. The sweeping curves of the cables evoke movement.
In the studio we got a closer look at the Divergence Table in a warmer wood tome.View in gallery
In the studio we got a closer look at the Divergence Table in a warmer wood tome.
A glimpse of the artistic joinery that Harrison has developed to create the piece.View in gallery
A glimpse of the artistic joinery that Harrison has developed to create the piece.
A close-up of how elegantly the cables are attached to the side of the table.View in gallery
A close-up of how elegantly the cables are attached to the side of the table.

Homedit:  Where do you get the inspiration for your pieces?

Harrison: Different pieces have different origins. The latest series came about because a client in Hawaii asked me to design a table that could easily be shipped to Hawaii, but not via freight service. I had to bring it with me on a flight, so I had to design something where the longest piece would still fit in standard luggage.  The client’s apartment is on a high floor with an ocean view so it had to be light and airy. This led to my developing the aluminum brackets that hold pieces of wood.  The bracketing is a whole new direction and is very different for me.

You get one little thing that pushes you off in some direction and then you follow that tangent.

A table in progress at Harrison's studio, destined for a client in nearby Saratoga Springs.View in gallery
A table in progress at Harrison’s studio, destined for a client in nearby Saratoga Springs.
This is another look at an iteration of the aluminum joinery Harrison has developed.View in gallery
This is another look at an iteration of the aluminum joinery Harrison has developed.
The completed Oahu Table. Photo by stockstudiosphotography.com.View in gallery
The completed Oahu Table.

Inside the studio there are several pieces that are clearly prototypes. “Before I make a piece I build a full-size mock-up. It allows me to compose in an entirely different way. If I encounter a new problem along the way, I can develop a new component to overcome it,” he explains

Mock-ups of new table bases.View in gallery
Mock-ups of new table bases.
Mock-up with the glass top in place.View in gallery
Mock-up with the glass top in place.

Furniture designer Peter Harrison PictureView in gallery

Furniture designer Peter Harrison StudioView in gallery

Homedit:  You’re known for your unique joinery techniques. How did you decide to pursue this avenue?

Harrison: In 2003-2004, I was looking at the furniture I was making and asking myself what was limiting me.  I decided that it was glue, and that if I could do it without glue, I could theoretically do it faster. There’s no downtime for pieces and finishing things flat is easier…Over time, the pieces have become more complex. The joinery has become so insanely complicated because it’s so different from traditional joinery techniques.

Furniture designer Peter Harrison Wood working area and machineView in gallery

Harrison’s studio is divided into a woodworking area and a machine shop, both of which hold numerous vintage machines that have been refurbished and repurposed. “I have been buying pieces of machinery ever since my senior year in college. For me, more machines mean more creative freedom,” he explains.

After earning his BFA from the furniture program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Harrison launched into making art and furniture full time, first in the Hudson Valley of New York and then in upstate, outside of Saratoga Springs.

“I like the older machines because they have a design to them. The newer ones are boxy.  That said, the machines are a means to an end. Also, the used machines are cheap and well-built. I have rebuilt three-quarters of the machines in this room.”

In his machine room, Harrison has an amazing array of tools that allow him to cut and mill pieces to extremely precise measurements. He also has an incredible stock of of hardware.

Furniture designer Peter Harrison Cutting machine studioView in gallery

One of the machines that Harrison acquired and rebuilt is this cutting table that he calls a very “sweet” machine. It came from the Hershey chocolate factory where it was originally used to cut printed materials. He converted the pica-based measurement tools on the machine to inch measurement tools, which are much more useful for a woodworker!

This is one drawer -- of many -- of micrometers that come in graded sizes.View in gallery
This is one drawer — of many — of micrometers that come in graded sizes.

Homedit: How do you decide what form a new design will take?

Harrison: Most of my new designs are on spec, where I get to push my imagination. I look to sculpture, architecture, industrial objects, and materials for inspiration. Occasionally commissions push me in a new direction- as the Hawaii client. Most of the time my pieces develop around ideas strung together and I try not to miss taking abrupt turns as they come together.

Harrison has also created large-scale commissioned art works for public spaces.View in gallery
Harrison has also created large-scale commissioned art works for public spaces.
Harrison's Redux chair is his approach to Rietveld’s classic Zig Zag chair, using aluminum joinery series in a highly visible way. Photo by stockstudiosphotography.comView in gallery
Harrison’s Redux chair is his approach to Rietveld’s classic Zig Zag chair, using aluminum joinery series in a highly visible way.
Inspired by rustic barns, Harrison also made a series of objects playing off the shape of the structures he saw in the countryside.View in gallery
Inspired by rustic barns, Harrison also made a series of objects playing off the shape of the structures he saw in the countryside.
This version of the nebula table is made of Parallam, a composite wood typically used for architectural structures.View in gallery
This version of the nebula table is made of Parallam, a composite wood typically used for architectural structures.
A closer look at the Parallam.View in gallery
A closer look at the Parallam.

Nebula table made from 683 stainless steel cablesView in gallery

The Nebula is actually made with 683 stainless steel cables tipped in Red Rubber.

The cables that dangle from this piece are dipped in colored rubber.View in gallery
The cables that dangle from this piece are dipped in colored rubber.
Harrison has also created several wall hangings using the cable design, along with engineered concrete corners.View in gallery
Harrison has also created several wall hangings using the cable design, along with engineered concrete corners.
A closeup shows the precise installation that creates the elegant wire design.View in gallery
A closeup shows the precise installation that creates the elegant wire design.
A newer piece, called the WS3, has a more freeform design and features aluminum corner joinery.View in gallery
A newer piece, called the WS3, has a more freeform design and features aluminum corner joinery.
A closer look at the unique joinery.View in gallery
A closer look at the unique joinery.
This wagon-wheel wall piece features another style of aluminum joinery.View in gallery
This wagon-wheel wall piece features another style of aluminum joinery.
This kind of element adds style and interest to the piece.View in gallery
This kind of element adds style and interest to the piece.

Furniture designer Peter Harrison wheels and chairView in gallery

The Barossa wine rack holds twelve bottles of wine.View in gallery
The Barossa wine rack holds twelve bottles of wine.

Few images from saratogaphotographer.