Reverent is a good word to describe City Joinery’s founder and master craftsman, Jonah Zuckerman. With a Masters in Architecture under his belt and an informed sensibility regarding the history of furniture making, Zuckerman has an unrelenting passion and great respect for his craft and the product he delivers. Creating a luxurious piece of furniture is not a gimmicky or trendy endeavor; at City Joinery, rather, the team believes craft is king and attention to materials and technique are valuable commodities today—a noble point that they successfully prove through the undeniably exquisite furniture they are producing at their Brooklyn studio.
We were lucky enough to chat with the talented woodworker about what it means to produce quality furniture, today, in America:
IC: What’s going on in Brooklyn in terms of design?
CJ: There’s been a resurgence of interest in pieces made-to-order—by a small studio, with a strong sensitivity to what’s going on in the art world. I’m kind of old school, though. My work references history and is focused more on what’s luxurious, beautiful and functional rather than what’s witty and concept-driven. For me, it’s really about the emotional value of beautiful materials.
IC: I read that you have a Masters in Architecture from Harvard. How does your knowledge and practice of architecture inform you as a furniture designer?
CJ: It’s funny, I’ve realized that what I love most about furniture design—the interesting lines of each piece—is the aspect of design that is most expressive of structural forces. I feel that I appreciate taut curves so much because they are both aesthetically and technically fundamental. Beyond this, there is no question that working for a large architecture firm right out of school gave me a solid understanding of design from a business perspective.
IC: You spent some time in Nepal, learning from traditional craftsmen. Does travel still influence your work today?
CJ: You know, I’ve got kids now so traveling has been tough. Our family has relocated to western Massachusetts, where I spend my time when I’m not working from our Brooklyn studio. I’ve been spending a lot of time out in the woods, and, as a woodworker, I see double beauty in trees. I’ve been particularly inspired by the forests of New England and the extent to which they have rebounded from twice-over de-forestation, firstfor agriculture and then again in the for industry. By most measures, they are bounteous and healthy. Living amongst such an utterly sustainable resource truly inspires me and validates the kind of work that I do.
IC: Who are your mentors?
CJ: I revere all of the Danish Modernists from the 1920s through the 1950s, many Italian and French designers from the mid-century on, as well as the American modernit,craft and studio furniture pioneers.
IC: If you had to set up shop in another American city, where would you go?
CJ: Well, as I said earlier, I haven’t had the chance to travel too much now that I’ve got children; but that said, I’m a sucker for old, depressed, formerly industrial places, through which nature is creeping back, especially ones that have the potential for revitalization. I dream of the day when industry really returns to America, wed to art and design, and crumbling old factories are restored as places to make things rather than just as luxury housing.
IC: What is your favorite piece of furniture at home?
CJ: In our old home in Brooklyn, I built everything. I think my absolute favorite piece was the staircase. I used a rich walnut and ash and I appreciated the strength and beauty of the wood every time I walked up and down the stairs. At our new home in Massachusetts, I am building a house from the ground up. Among the furniture we live with now, my favorite piece is the bed that my wife and I share which I made out of Flame Birch.