Tried and True

Tried and True

Tried and True

December/January 2016 issue of American Craft magazine
Mediums Furniture
Reed Hansuld, Rocking Chair No. 1

Rocking Chair No. 1 (2014) seems almost to float, thanks to a steel frame under the walnut. And because it’s cantilevered, the chair moves laterally as well as forward and back. Photo: Reed Hansuld

Reed Hansuld has spent nearly 20 years exploring wood. For a devoted craftsperson, that’s not an unusual figure until you factor in his age: 28. A rising star lucky enough to have found his vocation early, Hansuld began carving at 7 or 8. At 12, he built a wooden boat. “Finally, in high school, I had woodshop,” he says. “The shop and music – I played the trumpet – were the only things I was attracted to.”

These days Hansuld works out of a communal shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn, producing primarily commissioned studio furniture, as well as designing for production and tending to Harold, a line of household goods he and a partner launched in March. “Part of what makes this career interesting and enjoyable to me is that I can be utilizing the skill set I have in so many different ways,” Hansuld says. It’s a constant juggle, but that’s not a bad thing. “I think that’s sort of what keeps me sane.”

Not long ago, on the studio furniture side, Hansuld finished a valet chair – a customer request. “I offer a customer three designs,” Hansuld explains, “knowing I’d be happy to produce any one of the three.” In this case, the client wanted Hansuld’s take on Hans Wegner’s iconic 1950s valet chair. The finished piece incorporates all of the elements – a seat that folds open for draping trousers, a clothes hanger back for a jacket – but surprises, too. With an elegant kite-shaped back, Hansuld’s walnut chair looks equally at home at a dining table as in a dressing room. 

Hansuld grew up in Toronto; after completing a two-year woodworking program with a production focus in Kitchener, Ontario, he went to work for Canadian designer-maker Michael Fortune, who introduced him to studio furniture. “I was 20,” Hansuld says, “and I went out into the boondocks to work with Michael. His high expectations presumed a level of expertise I didn’t quite have but wanted and worked hard to get.”

Ten months later, in September 2008, Hansuld made his way to the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, one of the top US furniture schools. He spent nine months as a student, and another nine as a studio fellow – developing his aesthetic, building his portfolio, and taking on his earliest commissions. (Hansuld has since returned there to teach, one of the youngest instructors in the school’s history.) In fall of 2010, armed with skills and experience, Hansuld returned to Toronto and began working full time in the studio.

Before long, his next step became apparent. “The majority of my work was heading to the United States,” Hansuld recalls, and with New York the biggest designer-maker community in North America, it seemed “the natural destination.” He relocated in 2013. Two years down the road, and with enough commissioned work typically booked to carry him anywhere from three to 12 months, Hansuld still recognizes the challenge. “It can get hard,” he says, “the economics of New York. Then I think: I’m in my 20s and living in one of the world’s greatest cities. And the inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes you have to eat peanut butter while doing what’s right.”

Harold, the fledgling line of household products and furniture, is part of that effort. It began by chance. In November 2014, Hansuld moved in with a new roommate – designer Joel Seigle. They began creating items for their space, with no notion of selling them, until more and more people pushed them to produce on a larger scale. The company has come to give Hansuld a sense of balance – the opportunity to make high-quality goods he himself could afford and the chance to engage in a creative process completely different from his intensive studio furniture work. 

“My place in the market will come from a growing, adaptive practice,” Hansuld says. “I seem to have more options every day.”

Patrick Downes’ novel, Fell of Dark, was published in May.