This Chef-Made Dining Table Comes with Dinner

Chef Chris Earl Photo © Denise Bovee
By Maren Ellingboe Posted October 06, 2014

Furnture designer Chris Earl shares his must-have tool, inspriration behind his pieces and what he's looking forward to in the future of design.

Chris Earl didn't exactly have a traditional career path. He started working as a chef in Chicago, but thanks to his childhood in Papua New Guinea, he was inspired to start making his own furniture nearly ten years ago. He now creates stunning, modern furniture, lighting and cutting boards in his LA studio, but continues to share his love of cooking by offering to host a dinner party for any customer that buys one of his wood and glass dining tables. Here, he shares his must-have tool, inspriration behind his furniture and what he's looking forward to in the future of design.

How did you get started as a designer? If you left a full-time job to pursue design, what made you make the leap? 
I've always been curious and very hands-on.  For me, designing and building furniture was a perfect way to blend my love of art with my need to physically create.  It's a very utilitarian trade which I've been doing for the past 8 or 9 years now. Getting married 2 years ago was the impetus for taking the plunge to leave my job as a personal chef and go full-time as a designer.  The schedule and lifestyle is much more condusive to a family lifestyle.

What inspires you?
It sounds a little cheesy, but I'm inspired by nearly everything around me. I enjoy catching glimpses of things that make complete sense, but seem just slightly extraordinary–anything from the way that nature can create unexpected geometric shapes, to the way an artist will use a material for an unexpected purpose, or even just stumbling upon some old commercially designed object that I've never seen before.  I think it's those little things that can really spark the imagination in new and interesting ways.

What new trends in the design world are you excited about? What's a trend you would never get behind?
I like that it seems people are finally coming around again to appreciating finer revisions and more properly-crafted items. Regardless of the exact personal style, folks are realizing that there is something truly sustainable in investing in pieces that stand the test of time and even appreciate over the years. Regardless of whether it's super modern, or decadently luxe, there is a gravitation towards products that will last and can be incorporated into a myriad of spaces. As far as trends I'm not too keen on: We need fewer rustic patchwork walls and pipe and flange edison-bulb fixtures in this world.

Have your sensibilities changed since you started your company?
I think your sensibilities will always change as you move forward, learn, and grow. I do believe, however, that there are core aspects that uniquely define individual artists and designers. Those things can be as simple as their innate sense of proportion or the unique perspective with which they approach a new work. It's that quality that lets you know, "Ahah...that's so-and-so."

Could you tell us a little more about the dinners you offer if a customer buys a dining table?
Absolutely! They're something I love to do. I still love to cook, and when it comes to building community, I believe that food and furniture go-hand-in-hand. To me, nothing makes more sense than helping to create a first great gathering for my new clients and their closest friends or family.

What, if any, changes are you planning on making for upcoming collections?
I always seem to have more ideas than time to do them in. It's usually not more than a day or two after completing a piece that I have notions of how to change it up a bit or the spark to make the next item. Right now, I'm working on doing a number of my pieces in ebonized oak with brass accents. I also have plans to expand the kids furniture component.

What’s an interesting Mad Genius Tip you use while designing your pieces?
Always keep a bottle of super glue close at hand! It's good for everything: from fixing minor wood chip-outs to suturing your own hand in a pinch.

Do you have a mentor and if so, what’s an important, useful or funny lesson you remember?
I had the amazing opportunity to apprentice with a master woodworker, Steven Ritson. He was gracious enough to teach me some of his skills and even a few of his granddad's old tricks.  He used to tell me, "My hands are itching...and it means we're about to get paid today!"

What other talents, artisans, entrepreneurs/designers in America do you admire and why?
Oh man, there are too many to list! I feel lucky to be working in a time when there is a real resurgence of American designers, craftsmen, and artisans.  There is a domestic boom right now in everything from design to the culinary world to  fashion. I love that the entrepreneurial spirit seems to be truly alive in my generation and I really respect those that are making it happen.

What new innovations or technologies influence what you do?
When it comes to physically building pieces, I tend to be more in the old school of traditional methods. Recently, however, I've been fascinated by more and more by technologies like 3-D printing. I think these new innovations have the potential to really push design to its furthest limits. I also think there's a real possibility of technology and innovation aiding in bringing back production and trade-type work to the U.S.

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