Wabi sabi: The unique beauty of imperfection. A deliberate flaw. It’s the bubble in hand-blown glass, the fly trapped in amber, lo-fi music and David’s tiny marble penis. It’s soulfulness.
Several years ago, Bryce Moore, then a student in the crafts department at College for Creative Studies, first encountered the term. A professor tossed it out to his class, telling them to look it up and return with ideas about its meaning. Sometimes, what a mentor teaches is not as important as the spirit that’s nurtured.
Moore is an instinctively curious wanderer. He’s a guy who flips chairs over at McDonald’s or the library to see how they’re made. For a while, he was a student at the University of Montana, but couldn’t find his place there. He did, however, meet a girl who lit his fire. Kerry Anderson was a journalism student studying video production; an award-winning documentarian and blossoming graphic designer, she was interested in icons, searching for the essence of visual communication.
They moved to metro Detroit, Bryce’s home turf, and Bryce enrolled at CCS. They married, and for some time they tried to unify their interests. Finally, 18 days before Bryce’s final student show in 2001, the Moores developed an idea for a relaxed armchair inspired by flat sheets of plywood lying on the floor of their studio. Like most great ideas, the concept was astonishingly simple, a reflection of shared values.
Now, the armchair is part of their Narrative collection, a line from Context, their furniture manufacturing company based in Royal Oak. The chair has recently earned them a coveted Good Design Award from Chicago’s Museum of Architecture and Design, a competition established in 1950 by the likes of American modern design greats Eero Saarinen, husband and wife duo Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll and George Nelson. Not bad for a small business barely more than a year old. The company’s new designs will be unveiled to the public at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York in May.
Context’s pioneering design process, in particular, has garnered attention. In a bare-bones two-dimensional outline, separate parts are drawn to fit like pieces of a puzzle, nested on one sheet of wood. Identical shapes — legs of a stool, for instance — can be cut by machine, then layered and glued together in succession, accounting for the pinstriped plywood look that gives the furniture a streamlined appeal.
But their trademark is the solitary strip of hardwood asymmetrically inserted in the layering process, interrupting the minimal look. It’s the wabi sabi — the artistic signature — added to every piece of furniture. Pieces of cherry, walnut, maple, mahogany, oak, red oak, lacewood, purpleheart, paduk or bubinga symbolize the revered tradition of furniture-making encapsulated within modern innovation.
“It attracts museum curators and carpenters,” Bryce says. “The guy with the drill gun and hammer can say, ‘I get that.’”
The Moores describe the concept as a marriage of craft with graphic design, industrial with natural, and mass production with hand craftsmanship.
Their choice of materials reflects a socialist sensitivity. Baltic birch plywood, which serves as the base of the collection, is durable and environment-friendly, utilizing 99 percent of a tree. The couple has a soft spot for unpopular materials, such as the soft fat rubber with no name that they use to create the dreadlocks hanging off “Rubber Soul,” one of their more experimental pieces.
Kerry, 32, and Bryce, 28, aren’t interested in industry trends. If they were, they’d be creating furniture with steel tubing, felt or bent plywood. They’d also be worried that their chairs aren’t stackable — mobility is the fad now with European and American societies on the move. Instead, the Moores rely on each other for inspiration.
“We’ve been together for six years, and Bryce still says things that amaze me,” Kerry says. “Besides, you know you’re doing the right thing if synchronicities keep happening to you.”
If they hadn’t moved to metro Detroit, they say they’d be making soaps somewhere. Chicago’s Museum of Architecture and Design would be less one solid chair, but Detroit would be less one couple, representing us internationally with the intention of a distinctly human touch. Their work is evidence of a life lived here and the creativity it has harvested.Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]