Toronto based furniture maker Stephen Dalrymple on creating relevant work, 3D models and the pitfalls of figured wood.
Q & A with Stephen Dalrymple
How long have you been building furniture?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Seating, objects, lighting.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life
I spent eight years as a high school English teacher in Toronto. In my spare time I’m an avid collector of jazz records from the 1950s and 60s.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
A graphic designer.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
A pen, a measuring tape, headphones for music
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. I enjoy the meditative, considered approach that comes with hand tools, but am equally excited by a power tool’s… well… power. It’s amazing what you can do, and how efficiently you can do it, with modern, powered machinery.
Solid wood or veneer?
Figured wood or straight grain?
There are occasions where you want to accentuate a piece by using straight grain, and there are times when you want to accentuate the luxury of materials by using a well-considered composition of figured boards or veneers. The pitfall in using figured grain is that it can be used as a substitute for skill or refinement. It’s easy to plane a board of curly maple and pop the grain with a coat of oil – people will be impressed! – but in the end, this only highlights the contribution made by the tree.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Inherited Stanley Sweetheart.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Geometric shapes. In general, I like reducing my ideas to simple, striking forms.
White oak. I love how it smells when I cut into it, and I love the variety of visual textures it can offer. I also cook with oak offcuts in my barbecue. White oak smoke imparts a beautiful flavour to a roasted chicken.
This end grain white oak tray was Dalrymple's first real experiment with CNC fabrication. The body of the tray is quite thin, at about 1/8".
Huntin' Season Barstool
Dalrymple aimed to create a visually and physically light chair, and he succeeded. The frame is hard maple, while the seat is woven with an orange and grey paracord he found online. The colour of the cord is called "Huntin' Season", hence the barstool's name.
Quotes from Stephen Dalrymple
I do a lot of design work from the “thinktank” – a studio I share at home with my partner. It’s on the third floor of a Victorian commercial building in Parkdale, Toronto. The studio has an abundance of art supplies, and a computer that I use for digital design and 3D modelling. The walls are covered with sketches that I’ve been working on.
I work full time as Director of Creative Development for Coolican & Company. I typically spend evenings and weekends working at home on my own designs. I often work late into the night, and shuffle off to bed when I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.
I love chisels. When I was in school I spent a year amassing a full collection of E.A. Berg socket chisels with Karelian birch handles. They are lovely to hold, a delight to sharpen, and, of course, a pleasure to use.
I get inspiration from the human body. Plants. Animals. Buildings. Furniture. Music. Art. Anything, really...
My work often has a strong narrative element; It probably communicates my interest in hearing and telling stories.
I spend a lot of time on Instagram, looking at the work of a broad range of international designers.
In terms of design, be open to every idea that pops into your head. In doing so, try to discover the voice and vision that is uniquely yours. If you can do this – if you can create work that is personal, genuine, and in some way original – it is more likely to attract others.
Usually when I pay too much attention to aesthetics and too little to function, some of my designs fall short of my expectations.
Some people just want to make hand-cut dovetails all day long, while others find great pleasure in driving screws. I say, if it feels good, do it.
Since beginning as a woodworker I now use more digital design and fabrication processes, and I am more likely to work in materials other than wood.
I’m interested in how to make the woodworking community more diverse. Most woodshops are dominated by white guys, and while that’s okay I think it would be really interesting to hear the voices and see the work of more women, people of colour, and anyone else whose voice is less represented in creative fields.
Unless you’ve done it, it’s hard to imagine how much time it takes to design, prototype and build a custom piece of furniture.
I think the onus is on the maker to create relevant work. I believe it’s important for makers to understand the cultural, economic and technological trends of their time, and to respond to that. There’s truth to the adage, “if you build it, they will come”, but if you build things that are anachronistic or out of touch, people will not be interested in what you are doing.
Sergio Rodrigues, Hans Wegner, Patricia Urquiola, and Egon Schiele have all influenced me.
I think furniture makers will become increasingly aware of sustainability when choosing wood, opting for domestic, responsibly harvested species over flashy tropical stuff.
I want to design more lighting.