Posts Tagged ‘ Designer Q & A ’

Fin Art – Behind the Scenes

Last Friday afternoon I headed over to the Fin Art studio to meet with modern furniture designers Ben Olson and Rob McGowan.  As I arrived and stepped out of my car I was greeted by huge smiles, a resounding “Hey, Jenna!” and was immediately offered an ice-cold beer.  Talk about a warm welcome!  I took a moment to admire the Fin Art mural/sign on the studio’s exterior before entering through one of several open overhead doors that line the front of the building.  Previously an auto repair garage, the studio’s interior was carefully modified by Rob and Ben to be the perfect workshop for their handcrafted creations.  As I enjoyed my frosty brew, Ben and Rob gave me an in-depth tour of their amazing space which boasts a private office space/artist’s retreat, many large work benches covered in antique tools, custom storage shelving for finished pieces, and a protected/ventilated area specifically intended for paining and coating furniture.  After exploring their space in wide-eyed wonder, I was lucky enough to spend some time with both Rob and Ben, picking their brains and discussing Fin Art.  Lucky for you, I like to share…

Fin Art Studio

Outside Fin Art's studio in downtown Denver - Check out Ben's bus and Rob's truck!

Fin Art Studio

Inside the Fin Art Studio - See the handmade wooden fins along the windowsill?

Jenna:

Rob, how did you and Ben come to start designing and building furniture together?  And how did you develop your design style?

Rob:

Ben and I would just kind of get together to hang out and would talk about our personal tastes.  We’d talk about what we thought was cool or what we didn’t like and we kind of started to find our own style which has very much developed over time.  Our style really started out as straight surf culture; Fin Art got its name because of our love for that genre.  I mean, the first table we built was Ben’s surfboard table, which was a piece for his home.  Beyond that we eventually started doing other things; we used a lot of stained wood and stuck to really simple designs.  Eventually we started to get more modern, and once we were there we dove into things that are much more modern, like our white lacquered boxes.  And then we eventually started digging around in salvage yards, and that’s when we started mixing modern and industrial.  We landed where we are and Fin Art really started to develop.

Jenna:

What got you turned on to visiting the salvage yards?  Was it just an idea one of you had?

Rob:

Well, the girl I was dating at the time was working at an ad agency in downtown Denver and the agency owner wanted a new receptionist’s desk.  He asked us to design and build it for him but wanted it built completely from re-used materials: nothing new, all re-purposed.  We had a bunch of ideas but he didn’t really like any of them.  Finally, he took us to the salvage yard.  We had no idea what we were looking for; we just walked around for a while and came upon these conveyor belts and decided to use them.  Once we finished the receptionist’s desk, Ben and I went back to the salvage yard a few times and got to know our way around.  We started finding all kinds of great stuff, like fans, old light fixtures like the ones we installed here in the studio, etc.  That was really the spark that got us going on the whole re-purposed thing.  We do enjoy re-using things and like to be able to recycle, but our desire to use re-purposed materials is more for a love of how well things were made years ago.  Things were so real and thick, like the studio lights.  There is no plastic; it’s all glass and it’s really heavy.  There’s no bullshit about it.  Back in the day, things were just made so differently; things were made to stand the test of time.  For us, it’s fun to take these old things and mix them with modern design.

Fin Art Studio

Old conveyor belt - this is like the one used in Rob & Ben's first commissioned furniture piece.

 Fin Art Studio

Salvage yard finds - These miscellaneous scraps will be used in Rob & Ben's future pieces.

Jenna:

Tell me about your sketchbook, Ben.  Do you always draw things out ahead of time or do you sometimes just play with materials and start putting things together without a realized plan?

Ben:

Sometimes it depends on what the client wants.  If they ask for something specific and request a visual, I will draw out a plan for them.  We don’t have time to create plans digitally so I’ll just draw out our designs and we go from there.  Nobody hand draws like this anymore, and I enjoy seeing the difference between the drawn plan and the completed piece.  We’re going to try and have computer renderings done sometime in the near future so we can put designs up on the website.  It will be nice and will make things easier for potential clients.

Rob:

For many of our pieces we don’t do any drawings; we’ll maybe make a few sketches but nothing major.  Sometimes having that quick sketch helps us to visualize what we plan to build.

Jenna:

I want to know more about the pieces you’ve created using airplane wings and other various plane parts.

Ben:

The first plane piece we did was made from and old tail wing and walnut ply.

Jenna:

This is one of the pieces shown on your website, right?  I love how it almost has a sort of half nautical/half aeronautical feel to it because of the wood you used.  It reminds me of the oiled teak you might find inside an old sailboat.  It’s so warm feeling and beautiful; absolutely gorgeous.

Ben:

You know, that’s a lot of our design approach.  We like taking things like that ugly, mean looking, old airplane wing and tying it in with something that has a softer look, whether it’s metal against wood or something different.  That contrast really adds a lot of character to a piece.

Rob:

We’re all about taking things that are naturally beautiful and combining them with rough, man-made things to get that nice contrast.

Jenna:

I love that you two take things that are abandoned, cast aside, discarded… things that are old and unwanted because there’s a societal shift towards whatever is new… you are re-purposing and re-defining these old materials so they have purpose again; it’s almost magical.

Ben:

Yeah, there’s definitely a nostalgia that comes with these re-purposed items.  Aside from building furniture this way, we have lifestyles that mimic our work.  Take Rob’s old truck for instance, or my VW bus; this is the way we enjoy living.  People are always asking us to explain our approach and I really don’t know how to answer them; this is just who we are.

Jenna:

I know the desire for the industrial look is definitely in high demand now.  Everywhere you look, people seem to be (figuratively) reaching back into the past and looking for ways to mesh the vintage or antique with the up and coming.  You and Rob are very much pioneers in what you do; you started this whole kick!

Ben:

Haha, we try.

Jenna:

You two are very good at what you do.  I think it would be difficult for many people to walk into a junkyard, find some discarded hunk of metal and be able to visualize it becoming part of a piece of furniture.  You’re definitely extremely talented and I know much of Denver is anxiously awaiting your show opening at z|modern!  Thanks for taking the time to give me a tour of your studio space and tell me more about Fin Art!

Fin Art Studio

Private artist's retreat and office space - this is also where they keep the keg!

Fin Art Studio

Studio tool collection - this is only the tip of the iceberg!

Fin Art Studio

Painting parts of future pieces - here's Rob hard at work.

Fin Art Studio

Mixing chemicals for furniture coating - Ben is giving me a science lesson.

Fin Art Studio

Sanding, sanding, sanding - James helps with Fin Art's works in progress.

Fin Art Studio

Finished pieces - if you come to Fin Art's upcoming show at z|modern you'll get to see these in person!

 

This FRIDAY – September 23rd – FIN ART Show Opening at z|modern – BE THERE!

 

 

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