Furniture Designer Asher Israelow Creates Timeless Pieces for the Modern Explorer
Have you ever dreamt of having the constellations engraved into your dining table? Architectural and furniture designer Asher Israelow turns this magical notion into a reality by mapping out the stars as brass circles engrained into his stunning hand-crafted designs. This is only one of the many products of this New York-native’s highly aesthetic imagination. Inspired by lore and designing for the “modern explorer,” the works of art he sculpts from a wood palette as rich as his creative eye are meant to tell a story. At Asher’s hand, the wood appears to come alive, as if touched by magic.
“I would spend far too long in lumberyards, looking for the perfect piece of wood. I love that each board is different, with a distinct personality. I would smell and touch each piece until the right piece of wood would present itself for a particular project.” – Asher Israelow
Asher’s designs are creating quite a stir from his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio to the pages of publications such as The New York Times, Huffington Post, Times Magazine, to name just a few, in addition to being featured in Forbes Magazine’s prestigious “30 under 30” list. Most recently, his designs have appeared in the David Koch Theater for the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center as a series of tables that map out the history of dance through the brass stars engraved into their walnut tops.
Trained in architecture and fine arts at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Asher has since expanded upon this knowledge to create pieces that blur the line between art and function. He has a distinctive eye for balance; his creations exude a sense of tranquility which calls upon the harmony of the designs of George Nakashima.
Asher Israelow has a deep respect and feeling for wood in all its variations. This respect runs from using ethically and locally sourced materials to allowing the unique beauty of the wood to guide his design vision. Grains, textures, and even perceived impurities are brought into a harmony with the sleek and elegant hand-carved shapes. Cracks and knot imperfections are maximized and fixed with wooden joints and brass embellishments. Asher’s designs are a collaborative effort with Nature as artist. With his innovative eye and occult feel for the story of the wood, could this young creative be the next Nakashima?
“I am attracted to most art forms and have a hard time distinguishing art from design. I think when design is done well, it becomes art.”– Asher Israelow
CM: What attracted you to design over other art forms?
I am attracted most art forms and have a hard time distinguishing art from design. I think when design is done well, it becomes art. The main difference to me is considering the function and user. I really enjoy creating scenarios of how objects will be used, and designing within those constraints.
CM: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue this?
I’ve known my entire life that I wanted to pursue art. My mother was a sculptor, and we often went to museums together. She would surround me with beautiful works; sculptures, paintings, and even furniture, and let me explore.
Before college, I did not know what “design” was, but the more sculpture I made, the larger it got. Eventually I was making architectural drawings of the sculptures I wanted to build. At that point, I decided to study architecture.
CM: What do you consider your first professional, creative success?
I was in school studying architecture when I began playing around in the woodshop. At that point, I did not have any formal training in woodwork, but really loved the precision of the process. Taking hours to set up one cut on the tablesaw, or spending days on a small stool. The pace really spoke to me.
Then I started to learn more about wood, and everything changed. I would spend far too long in lumberyards, looking for the perfect piece of wood. I love that each board is different, with a distinct personality. I would smell and touch each piece until the right piece of wood would present itself for a particular project.
I think the first tiny stool I made was a great success. It taught me a lot, especially patience.
CM: Can you tell more about the materials you use?
Right now I have been experimenting with wood and brass. It is a really rich combination, with a lot of history and precedents. I’ve been looking for new ways to combine the materials, either through inlay/marquetry or with joinery. The brass is very versatile and can express many different qualities. It can be robust and solid when used for structural elements, or very thin and delicate.
Wood on the other hand has a lot of personality and integrity. It will let you know how to use it, especially if you are using it wrong. A lot of the fabrication process is about being sensitive to the material and allowing it to speak for itself.
CM: Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. I love looking at buildings and thinking about them as furniture pieces. I also really enjoy finding and learning new ways to use materials.
CM: Which artists inspire you?
There are a lot of artists and architects I often look towards for inspiration. Peter Zumthor and Eduardo Souto de Moura are my current favorite architects. They both seem to have a sensitive, almost mystical understanding of materials and their effect on people. This is something I think about often.
CM: What do your designs usually begin as? A sketch? An idea?
I try to hold off from drawing for as long as possible. The idea has to mature as long as possible until I start sketching. I am often thinking about something for months, sometimes years before I start drawing it. When its drawn, it takes on a new life, and becomes a reality. Then a will sketch the same object over and over again until it sings. A lot of people cannot tell the difference between the sketches, but I know.
CM: What do you find most challenging in the design process?
Expressing subtlety. I often start with very bold and unruly ideas, then have to pare them down and refine until they’re quiet and elegant.
CM: If you find yourself blocked, what do you do to overcome this?
Start back at the beginning. I always find myself blocked when I’m trying to accomplish something that’s not the right direction for a project. I will go too far down the rabbit hole, and then have to dig myself out.
CM: Do you listen to music while you work? Top five songs on your work playlist?
I listen to a lot of books on tape. It really depends on my mood.
CM: Do you work better during the day or during the night?
I design better at night, but craft better by day. The precision and craft required for quality woodwork, is definitely a daytime activity. I design best when I feel entirely calm, and everyone else is asleep.
CM: Who do you collaborate with during the design process?
Architecture is all about collaboration, and I really enjoy working with friends, challenging each other, and testing out ideas. I am currently working on a library design and apartment renovation with my close colleague William. He and I worked together a lot during school, and have very different but compatible processes.
CM: How would you describe your artistic style?
I try not to. I will leave that to others.
CM: Would you say your style has evolved since you first began?
I hope so. My process has definitely evolved. I am less timid to experiment with new materials and ideas, find their limitations, and then push them.
CM: What advice would you give aspiring designers? Or that you wish someone had given you.
This is the fun part.
CM: What are you currently working on?
A lot of different projects. The most exciting is a new series using Anamorphic Projection to create site specific inlays into furniture. It is definitely blurring the boundaries between art and design. I am also just starting to collaborate with my wife, who is weaving beautiful textiles. We are showing our first piece together at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this month.
CM: What’s next for you?
I am really excited to see a lot of the larger architectural projects come together this year. A full house renovation will be completed this summer, and a Library installation into an apartment in NYC as well. I look forward to working of larger scale projects while refining my studio’s craft and techniques.
Photography copyrights: Asher Israelow