Seth Rolland On Design and
Describe your design process.
Seth Rolland: My designs
usually start with an idea which can be a motion I want the piece to
have, or a stance with a particular balance. It can be the way
certain forms will look when they intersect or are placed next to
each other. These ideas are most often derived from forms I find in
nature - the way a tree branch joins to the trunk, the way a bird
stands, or the shape of a whale's tail. Other designs begin as an
exploration of a particular technique which I will push to a limit
to work wood into unusual forms. I enjoy seeing what shapes I can
make with certain techniques (most often laminating and steam
bending) and then figuring out how I might use these forms in a
WN: After creating a new
design, what is the process for moving the idea forward eventually
resulting in a finished piece?
SR: My designs usually
start with small thumbnail sketches, then I turn them into quarter
scale drawings. Often I will make a quarter scale model so I can
look at it from various sides. I also use these models to check the
stability of a table with an overhang. Then I draw the piece out
full scale to refine the shapes and proportions, often moving a line
here or there on the drawing for a week or two as it sits in the
shop. I use the drawings to make any templates I might need for
repetitive parts and to figure out all the joinery. At this point
construction usually proceeds pretty smoothly.
WN: What is the fascination
with curves in your work and how do you think they impact the
reaction someone has when they view a piece?
SR: I think straight
lines, grids and geometry are great ways to organize space. They add
order and calm to our universe. Photographs are a great example: the
rectangular edge organizes and enhances the mostly organic forms
inside. A free edge photo might be unsettling. I like straight lined
and geometric furniture for its serene and unimposing presence.
However, almost nothing alive has any straight lines. When I add
curves to a table or chair leg they no longer just sit on the floor,
they touch it lightly, or spring from it, or are anchored to it. For
me, sitting in a curved chair is much more comforting than a shaker
style chair: I am not trying to fit into a grid, but am embraced.
The curves are more fun to touch and run fingers along. It has more
the feel of sitting on a log in the woods than sitting on a brick
wall in the city. In my experiences when showing my work people
always need to run their fingers along the curved pieces first and
talk about how warm wood is, but I think it is really the curves
they are talking about.
WN: Is it possible to take an
existing design that utilizes straight lines and reinvent it by
altering the design and introducing curves?
SR: Absolutely. In
fact, most of my pieces I design within a rectangular grid, as there
is usually a required height, width and depth to the piece. So I
start within a rectangle and always leave quite a few straight
lines. If every line is curved a piece will look too wiggly. The
curves usually need some straight lines to work off, to help show
them as curves. So starting with an existing geometric design is
easy. You just need to picture it with legs curved this way or that,
or with a curved top or apron and see how it changes the feel of the
WN: Describe your shop and the
tools / equipment that you feel are critical.
SR: My shop is 800
square feet. Not overly large, but organized and not too filled with
large tools. Empty workspace is the most important part of my shop,
though it is hard to keep any space empty for long. I have a radial
arm saw, a joiner, planer, table saw, bandsaw, router table,
stationary belt/disc sander, a large air compressor, and 2 dust
collectors which I use every day. I also have a lathe, oscillating
spindle sander, and a vacuum bag which I only use for specific
projects. For small electric tools my 4 ½" grinder is my favorite
and I use it for carving out seats and shaping large curves and
WN: What recommendations would
you make for someone that is in the process of putting together
their first shop?
SR: Your shop needs
to be a fun place to work. Think about what tools are most fun to
use and start with those. For me that would be a bandsaw, some
chisels and gouges and rasps. I'd also want some dust collection
because dirty shops aren't fun to work in. Then worry about those
other tools you may or may not need to get the job done like table
saws, joiners and planers.
WN: What resources, books etc.,
were instrumental in the development of your style of
SR: I grew up with a
lot of exposure to art, design and museums. I've always been
attracted to both Scandinavian and Japanese designs in the way they
combine organic and geometric elements so differently and
successfully. So I do have a few books on those. I have always liked
"Designing Furniture" by Seth Stem. Otherwise, looking through books
like "1000 Chairs" and books on the works of Gaudi, Brancusi, David
Nash, and Andy Goldsworthy are inspiring.
Rolland works from his studio in Port Townsend, Washington. His work
can be seen by visiting him at: www.sethrolland.com.
View a slideshow of Seth's work