Furniture maker Rob Diemert from Dundas, ON, on shaping solid wood, interacting with creative people, and new digital technologies in woodworking.
Q & A with Rob Diemert
How long have you been building furniture?
I started making furniture in 1975 as an apprentice in a one-man shop with a Swiss master cabinetmaker near Collingwood, Ontario.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I like all sorts of furniture, especially chairs.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
Luthier or musician.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Solid wood or veneer?
Both, depends upon the design. Lately it has been more solid wood.
Figured wood or straight grain?
Most of my work uses straight grain, but sometimes the design has allowed for more texture, contrast, and figure.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
I enjoy both, old and new, the quality of some hand tools being made today is better than the vintage.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Most of my work incorporates curves as a design consideration and challenge.
Diemert made these bubinga and ebony cabinets for a solo exhibit, after being inspired by a piece of furniture one of his clients had. That same client bought these pieces afterwards. (Photo by Jeremy Jones)
Fun to Make
One of Diemert’s newest creations is ‘Jack in the Pulpit’. It took him a long time to make, but he always enjoys the challenge of working with curved parts. (Photo by Owen Colborne)
Quotes from Rob Diemert
“I’ve been fortunate to work in a couple of very well equipped co-operative studios over the years, but today I’m shoe-horned into a 16 x 32 ft. garage that I rebuilt. In making the transition I had to sell most of my larger equipment. Most people presume I use the studio at the college to do my own work, but college policy strictly forbids this.”
“When I was designing and making furniture for a living, I was very regimented. I worked non-stop, seven days a week.”
“I really enjoy shaping solid wood by hand with carving chisels, rasps, and spoke shaves and designing specialty jigs that produce accurate joints. I also enjoy making curved forms, making specialty jigs and using the veneer press.”
“I get most of my design inspiration from nature, architecture, furniture history, music, and interaction with creative people.”
“Living within the GTA, with its arts and design scene, has influenced my work.”
“I usually start the design process with drawings, accurately scaled models, and full-size mockups.”
“Don’t start making the object until the design has been thoroughly problem solved and true to its concept.”
“I think “California round-over style” is basically a lazy and over-used edge treatment.”
“Most of my business came through publicity, referrals, word of mouth, and exhibitions.”
“I would usually invite the customer to my studio during fabrication so I could show them some of the complex forms or jigs I made that enabled me to produce a single component of their project. If they couldn’t visit, I would send them pictures to help keep them informed of the complexities and reinforce their commitment to the project.”
“I think on-going studio furniture exhibitions, displays, magazine articles, books, on-line exhibitions, etc. will help spread the word of studio furniture in Canada. Unfortunately, most commissioned studio furniture goes directly to the customer’s home without ever being seen or appreciated by the general public.”
“There is a community of recent Sheridan furniture graduates who are pumping a lot of new energy into the Toronto scene as designers and makers. I have a lot of respect for any maker who has the passion and drive to tackle such a demanding business in today’s economic climate. Canada has some of the world’s best studio furniture makers. A prime example is Heidi Earnshaw. She has reached a point in her career and she exudes confidence and mastery with her sense of modernist design coupled with an unrivalled skill as a maker. Scott Eckert also has that same comfortable stance, an incredible designer with impeccable skill as a maker. Rob Akroyd is another Toronto maker who has done remarkable work in a small studio within the Distillery District. I also like the work of Robin Speke and Tomas Klein, who moved to Canada 15 years ago with a sound furniture business plan.”
“In the near future, makers will learn to use and adapt digital technologies in new and more creative ways, which will also influence their design work, as well as their production. Hopefully, global opportunities and markets, and the increase of internet sales and promotion, will also benefit Canadian makers in the future.”
“Critical design awareness in general, the encompassing digital revolution, and ethical choices that demonstrate respect for the environment have all been big changes to the world of studio furniture making in recent decades.”
“I still enjoy the hands-on nature of the work, working through the concept, design, and fabrication of an object, bringing an idea to fruition.”
“A prototype for a chair that I recently made, ‘Jack in the Pulpit’, was a very self indulgent piece that took a long time to complete; however, I ended up surprising myself and enjoying the drawn-out process for a change. I usually go through a stage in which I hate a piece that takes too long to complete. This chair, like others I’ve made, went through quite a few iterations at the mock-up or prototype stages. The concept was simple, a lounge chair that looks comfortable and inviting enough to make the viewer want to test it out. Design influences ranged from the common Muskoka Chair to Finn Juhl’s ‘Chieftain Chair’.”
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.