The desire has to start somewhere. A moment or person ignites a passion within you, and from that point onward you have a completely different outlook on the world.
Some get the passion at birth, and, for as long as they can remember, have always been passionate about a particular subject or an activity. For Brooke M Davis, an artisan and furniture designer based in Austin, Texas, those moments of ignition occurred more than once, each time bringing her closer to being the professional she is today. In May 2019, the Dornob team had the privilege of discussing her work with her in person at Wanted Design in New York City.
“We can create objects that people are drawn to and should strive to create new and exciting things that people want to investigate further,” says Davis. “I create objects that challenge me, and I hope that others gravitate to them with the same enthusiasm.”
Above all else, Davis is passionate about wooden pieces. She’s previously designed furniture using rich maple, walnut, mahogany, cherry, birch, and several other woods, with the quality of each one depending on how long a piece is suppose to last.
“When learning to make furniture by hand, it is often a long and tedious process when you do it the first time,” she describes. “I often tell students, if this was the only piece you ever made that demanded this much of your attention, wouldn’t you regret not choosing a nice wood to make it out of?”
With so many television shows and websites devoted to do-it-yourself furniture making these days, it seems like an increasing number of people are forgetting to take the time to search for good quality wood. Only the surface-level color of the wood is seen and compared to others, but of course a superficial judging of materials will never satisfy the person looking to design something truly special.
“If you’re going to make an heirloom piece, expand beyond your limited knowledge of the hardware store,” suggests Davis. “Anyone can get pine from the hardware store, but going to a lumber yard to choose rough lumber and discover the beauty of its pattern is a bit of a zen experience.” Most people wouldn’t even think to take that step, going only as far as the end of the lumber aisle at the local home improvement store.
“My two personal favorites are mahogany and walnut for the depth and richness in the wood textures,” she adds.
The passion that Davis has for these rich woods is a response to what she saw as a child. But rather than draw direct inspiration from what she saw during those years, she had a desire to go in another direction.
“I’m kind of a purist that loves the depth and richness of the wood grain seldom found in cheaper materials,” she describes. “I grew up in Texas in the 1980s, and it seemed like the decorating rage was to do terrible things with red oak, and to (try to) make it interesting by whitewashing it. It’s probably why I will never use oak in any of my designs.”
Although she had seen wood all around her growing up, and even had a critical eye for its application, Davis swears that her childhood was still not the time when her passion for furniture design started. That began much later in life.
“I got into making furniture in college as an elective. There was something very satisfying to see an object sitting there and thinking not only did I make that, but hey, I can use it too,” she explains. As a result of that one course, Davis stirred desires, experiences, and curiosities within her that were being reinforced pedagogically.
“The allure of furniture is that it can [either] be this mass-designed product or a very personal piece. Furniture connects to us at a personal level that reflects our sense of self. It can be an expression of the self, tell a story through history, or it can reflect who we want others to see us as. Unlike cars though, the buy-in for this reflection is a much more tangible price point.”
For a furniture designer, sketching is every bit as important as working with software. After all, it allows the mind to create a piece line by line. Davis uses sketching and software in her design process too, but another passion of hers which began during her days in college became a much more integral part of her process early on.
“I was this artist that was studying photography but really enjoyed getting my hands dirty,” she describes. “I started taking my electives in furniture and industrial design and learning different processes. I was surrounded by car designers and they were making clay car models as part of their process. At some point, the influence through friends, classes, and professors creeped in.”
It didn’t stop there, either. Even later on in her academic career, the idea of sculpting as part of the design process was hard to escape.
“While doing my Master’s at Purdue University in Industrial Design, I had a professor who was a former car designer and he shared his processes with us as a class for car design. From that point on, it seemed that every model image involved pushing clay around as part of the process to make the idea evolve three-dimensionally.”
Since then, she has been using clay to test out forms for furniture in between sketching and actually building it.
“There’s something very natural and instinctual about physically adding and subtracting materials to communicate an idea,” explains Davis. “We have been [making things like this] since we were little kids.”