Furniture With Soul
Brian Boggs handcrafts each piece of furniture with the vision of an artist
Photography by Kevin Barnes
When furniture maker Brian Boggs sees a chair, he sees more than a place to sit. He sees the soul of a tree, its long life, its place in the forest, the strength of its grain, the value of nature. He folds all of those elements into his functional art to connect people to trees.
When he made his first chair in 1982, Boggs was on a journey of discovery. He’d wanted to be an artist since he was eight years old. He’d picked up the book Make a Chair from a Tree, by John Alexander, and the process resonated with him on a deep level. The experience of selecting a tree, deconstructing it and then reconstructing it in an entirely new form helped him emerge as an artist. His perspective deepened through reading James Krenov’s The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking.
“There was this new world that opened up to me that was taking the tree apart fiber by fiber, taking the tree apart structurally, to honor the material, but also to have the foundation for something we use in our daily lives,” recounts Boggs.
Brian Boggs works with a steam bending jig to form a detail for a furniture design.
Boggs says that the chairs he makes today are drastically different from that first simple ladderback. He has developed custom tools for his work, received many prestigious awards, and expanded his range beyond just chairs. To that end, he is prone to jumping up from the dinner table or from a deep sleep to sketch the lines of a design that formed spontaneously in his mind.
The Grand Lily armchair, 41.5”H X 20” W X 21.5”D, won the 2016 “Good Design Award.” Itis ergonomically designed for comfort and elegance.
“In order for that inspiration about a design to blossom, it’s got to have a place to land,” he explains in his soft Kentucky accent. That landing pad is his Asheville, North Carolina, studio, where ideas form quietly, where the perfect hardwood to carry that idea is hand-selected carefully and the sculptural shapes of furniture are crafted meticulously by his team of craftspeople. Brian Boggs’ company now designs and builds a range of furniture from dining chairs to kitchen cabinetry to outdoor swings to coffee tables.
The live-edge Lily table features a delicate wood-slab top and subtly curved legs for a juxtaposed natural modern design.
Boggs envisions chairs that are meant to last and become heirlooms. For Corey Madden, artist and a longtime collector of Boggs custom furniture, the chairs she commissioned three decades ago have become an essential part of her life. In her twenties she discovered Boggs’ work at his original workshop in Berea, Kentucky, and ordered six ebonized oak chairs at $250 each, as well as a custom-made dining table from another artisan for her wedding.
Brian Boggs details a chair in his studio, clearing dust with an air hose.
“It was a phenomenal amount of money for me at the time,” she recalls. “But since then, I’ve always designed my house around that table and chairs; they define my aesthetics. They have been beautiful for 30 years and will be beautiful for 300 years,” she says reverently.
Today, handcrafted pieces from Brian Boggs and his team of craftspeople average about $8,000, with single items such as the Cio side chair starting at $2,500 and a larger custom table selling for $16,000. That original ladderback chair that Boggs crafted decades ago still sits in his house. Its form grounds each new design and reminds him of where things began for him as an artist.
The Cio chair represents Boggs’ intuitive ability to apply state-of-the-art chairmaking to create an elegant structure that fits the body perfectly.
What hasn’t changed is Boggs’ source of inspiration: the life of a tree. He tries to bring the living essence to each design.
“To me the most important part of what I do for a living is to transfer the love of the work, the form, the creativity, the passion into the chair,” Boggs says.
As seen in the March/April 2019 issue