HAUTE LIVING'S FIVE + 3 / INTERVIEW WITH DESIGNER JOHN FORD
Simple and sophisticated; understated and daring; minimal and substantial: These seemingly antithetical descriptors, often difficult to come by in the world of contemporary furniture, are as on-point as any when talking about the work of Los Angeles-based designer, John Ford. Though an experienced lecturer, artist, and skilled craftsman, John’s work has been hiding behind private clients’ walls for over a decade. It wasn’t until last May at ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) in New York that he decided to exhibit his designs publicly for the first time. Haute Living’s founder, Jeff Smith, knew instantly that he was looking at something special, and that he wanted to introduce Ford’s work to the public on his showroom’s floor. According to Smith: “I thought the design and workmanship were exceptional. I believe we are seeing the beginning of a great American furniture designer.”
Haute Living is delighted and proud to have John Ford as our first candidate in a new series of interviews called Five + 3.
HL: What is your background in furniture design?
JF: My background is just that – the background. I have been in the world of furniture design for over 10 years, but most of that has been as a fabricator for other designers. While I have been involved in building/woodworking since I was seven, I went to Art Center College of Design to study drawing and painting – mostly the human form. It was only in the last couple of years that I decided to show any of my designs to anyone besides private clients.
HL: Having a fine arts education, how are your designs informed and inspired?
JF: Inspiration, I find, comes in all kinds of ways and moments. Many times I feel like something finds me – usually it is in the form of a living thing. Abstract concepts are interesting, but not really inspiring to me. I tend to work with the visceral.
HL: Describe the process of taking a design in your sketchbook to the final product.
JF: It’s actually really simple. Once I have an idea, I sketch a bit like a calligrapher – as little as possible – and I try to make the most of every line. From there I take it to the computer. Just about every design these days is built in a program called SolidWorks, and it’s at this stage where it can take weeks to fully realize the final design. Preliminary prototypes are being made during this time. Once I feel like it is ready, it goes to the CNC (computer numerical control) machine for milling, and then assembly.
HL: What are the origins of the WB Chair, the SK Table, and the KR Sideboard?
JF: The WB Chair came from watching my 6-year-old son’s fascination with gazelles. So as I looked at them closely to try and appreciate what it was he saw, I was really taken by their profile. I sketched a chair on the spot, and basically had the chair worked out right away, the basic form at least. The challenge then was to make it entirely out of solid wood, which provided a new technical challenge for me in the bending of the backrest – which is only possible thanks to a relatively new technology.
The SK Table was a design that came from exhausting a lot of other ideas. I had done some projects in the past that used very thick glass, and I was thinking back to how strong glass is once you have it in a certain thickness, and I went for it. Once the first one was put together in the shop, and realized how ridged it was, I felt pretty good about it. Then once it was placed in the clients house, and I saw how it gave the wood top such a floating effect above the chairs, I felt even better about the design.
The KR Sideboard was really inspired by a number of different residential projects that I was working on at the time. I have been fortunate to work with a number of very good architects, and I feel that the homes I was spending so much time with really show up in this piece. It’s all landscape and modern architecture when I look at it.
HL: What is next on the table for John Ford?
JF: I have a few different things that I am really excited about. Chairs more than anything excite me. I feel like I have for some years now been holding a lot of designs in my subconscious, while I’ve been helping other designers with their projects – and for whatever reason they are coming forward.
What are some of your favorite designed objects within the last decade?
That's a tough one. There are a lot – but like a favorite film, I can never think of the exact one on the spot. So with that said, my all black Das Keyboard – it is literally all black. No letters, numbers, symbols, etc. on the keys so you really have to know how to type. It keeps people in the studio from using my computer!
What is your favorite work of architecture in Los Angeles?
Pretty much anything that John Lautner designed.
If you were given a plane ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I would like to fly to the furthest point I could in Alaska, and then hike all the way back. I’ve always wanted to do that; getting to see the wilderness, the fear of the unknowns, the quiet, the physical demands – all of these things I find very reenergizing, and, I believe, helps re-center a person.
John Ford’s designs, among other American and international furniture designers’ work, can be seen at Haute Living’s showroom in Chicago, or here.
Interview by Nathaniel Ross