In the Studio with L.A. Designer Chris Earl

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Chris Earl makes nice things. Things you’d like to have sitting in your living room, on your kitchen shelves. The the kind of things that make people say “Oooo… where did you get this?” when they walk into a home. That’s because Earl has an ingrained feel for quality, for utility, for strikingly lovely things not simply meant to be ogled at — but to be used.

Born in Papua New Guinea, Earl — who counts himself a furniture designer, a ceramicist, and former chef — acquired an early sense for artisanry and the materials said artisanry requires. The pieces he creates today, clean in line and rich in hue, are a reflection of both his personal history in the South Pacific and his deeper Danish roots. Hand-cut joinery makes for smooth, solidly constructed chairs. Smartly stained oak allows for elegant, sturdy bed frames. His design choices are considered and modern, informed by styles and eras but never slavish to them.

The Los Angeles-based multi-hyphenate has been garnering attention for his work over the last ten years. He’s created pieces for L.A. restaurant Otium and collaborated with housewares giant Parachute. He’s been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and DWELL, to name just a few. In our estimation, his bar carts deserve their own Instagram account. In short: we imagine you’ll be hearing about Chris Earl more and more in the years to come. Below, we hit Earl’s North Hollywood workshop to talk culinary parallels, tiny helpers, and the value of investing in heritage goods in the time of IKEA.

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

Just out of high school, I got a job at a machine shop that manufactured tube bolts for automotive fluid lines. Unfortunately for me, that meant working every day in a dingy unheated warehouse in the middle of a Michigan winter with my arms in a tub of kerosene up to my elbows. I had a weird rash on my wrists for like a year after that!

Your first experience with design as a child:

When I was three, I found some wood scraps in my dad’s workshop and nailed them together to make a little table. I gave it to my aunt and— the crazy thing is — she kept it. She just gave it back to me last year, and it’s currently sitting on a shelf in my shop.

What did your parents do for work? Were they interested in the arts or design?

My parents were missionary workers over in Papua New Guinea. They did a lot of different things, but, most recently, my dad coordinated supply flights into the bush and my mom worked in the front of a medical clinic. There wasn’t much interest in design, but my dad was a jack-of-all-trades and always had me helping out with whatever he was working on. My mom’s side of the family has always had an artistic bent.

How does your childhood in Papua New Guinea influence your designs, if at all?

I definitely think my childhood in Papua New Guinea influences my work. The natural, straight-forward, and organic feel of the place has somehow found representation in most things I design and make.

Do you see your segue from your work as a chef to a designer as a natural one? 

I have always thought that cooking and furniture go hand-in-hand. They are both forms that incorporate all of the aesthetic senses. They are both forms of expression that seem to be able to transcend their immediate form. A simple example is that special something that happens when people gather around a table to share a meal.

In a time defined by throwaway IKEA furniture, what is the value in heritage pieces?

In an era of waste and overconsumption, I think it is ever-more important to invest in what will last. Not only will this help us to become more responsible with the resources we have, it also fosters a sense of heritage, value, and place that is crucial to building communities that we care about.

Is it important where and how you source your materials?

Absolutely. Growing up, I saw the effects of the exploitation of local rainforests and communities that depended on them. It’s heartbreaking to see entire swathes of virgin forests clear cut in order to turn a profit. For our furniture, we only work with domestic sustainable hardwoods.

Is there an era in design you feel most aligned with?

I unintentionally tend to gravitate toward mid-century modern. There must be something in my Danish heritage that just genetically predisposed me in that direction.

How did you find your current workspace and where is it?

I built out my wood shop and ceramic studio at our home property. We took over the house that my grandparents lived and raised my father in. They bought it as a new development when they moved to California in 1946. There is something kind of awesome about bringing new life to this place that has so much family history already ingrained in it.

What do you eat for breakfast?

I don’t eat breakfast. I drink a cold brew coffee every morning though.

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

I wake up when our two little girls get up, usually around 6:30 a.m. My wife and I alternate mornings taking care of them so the other can go take a run or get some exercise. After the morning routine, I’m usually walking out back to the shop or studio by 8:30 or so to get started with whatever I’m building, making, or designing. The day will usually be peppered with a few visits from the girls to come say hi or want to help me do something in the shop. I take a quick break around noon to eat some lunch and then am back at it until around 6. At that point, I’ll come in to help with the girls again, make some dinner, and start the evening.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

I listen to podcasts nonstop. All the podcasts.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a commissioned 12-foot white oak dining table and benches. I’m also developing a new sitting sofa that is currently in the first round of upholstery. On the ceramics side, I’m looking to do a new pitcher shape and fulfill some current orders on file.

What material do you go through the most of?

Lately, the vast majority or my furniture has been in American walnut and white oak.

What spaces in Los Angeles most inspire you? Why?

I love getting to any of our many museums. It’s always inspiring to see other forms of art. I also love heading out into the canyons to take little day hikes with Amber and the girls. Being in nature still always feels the most at home and refreshing to me.

How can beautiful design influence our daily lives?

Beautiful design has the ability to make us feel at home and at ease. It can completely alter our mood. Good design has the ability to inspire, comfort, and invigorate all at once. I think the best design can accomplish all these things, very often, without us even being immediately aware of its influence on us.

Photos by Tyler William Parker for SIXTY Hotels

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