Furniture design, when you’re doing it right, should feel a lot like art. Every line, considered. Every surface, thought out. Elevating materials like wood and stone to another realm in such a way isn’t easy, but it’s exactly what Aaron Poritz does. There is rhythm in his tambour cabinentry work. His eye for pattern and texture is uncanny. In Poritz’s hands, a desk becomes more than a desk, a cabinet more than a cabinet. They are sculptural works, albeit it ones you can actually use.
From his studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Poritz produces high-end pieces intended for residential spaces (read: not mass market) and sculptural works in the traditional sense. Both the design and fabrication of his furniture happen within the space, which allows Poritz the kind of quality control that gets you in the pages of Architectural Digest and Elle Decor. In addition to furniture design and sculpture, Portiz’s studio offers architectural services. Poritz and his team have designed and built everything from extravagant New York City penthouses to clever California modular homes.
Below, Poritz let us into his studio to talk soapy faux pas, form versus function, and sculptural inspiration courtesy of a trip to a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe home.
Former occupation and your most notable memory there:
First job out of school was as an architect at Morris Adjmi Architects. Most memorable thing was when I put dishwashing soap in the dishwasher just before leaving for my lunch break. When I came back to the office and walked into the kitchen to get water Morris was up to his knees in soap trying to stop the bubbles from overflowing into the next room. The kitchen floor was never the same after that.
Your first experience with art/design as a child:
Art and design have always been a part of my life even before I have memories (I know this because of childhood photos) but one of the first strong memories I have is making a charcoal drawing of a vase of flowers with a friend of my dad’s who was a famous painter.
Were your parents interested in art/design? What did they do for work?
My dad taught sculpture and was a builder/developer so growing up I pretty much lived in a wood shop and worked on building houses for summer work.
How are sculpture and furniture design related, in your opinion?
I think the process and steps one takes to design a sculpture and a piece of furniture are pretty much the same—at least for me. If you believe that sculpture’s main function is to please you visually and you own furniture more for its form than its comfort, then I think the two have a lot in common.
In designing furniture, how to you navigating pushing the boundaries of form while maintaining a sense of function?
I think fabrication and what resources are available to actually make the furniture play a large role in this. Our shop doesn’t use CNC technology so I am somewhat limited to more traditional forms of fabrication, which I think a lot about when I design.
First commission that really sent you on your way:
So far there hasn’t been one job that I felt was significantly more important than another. My business has grown little by little over the years with most commissions feeling somewhat equal in importance. My very first commission was for a small dining table and four chairs for a couple in Nicaragua that I sold for about $350—including delivery.
Most difficult (and possibly under-appreciated) element of carpentry:
I think woodworking is a complex craft that requires a deep knowledge of wood and its properties, as well as engineering, patience, and precision. I grew up making things and building wood furniture; I could never make any of the furniture I am designing now. It’s far too complex and requires a master craftsman with a ton of experience and knowledge.
Wood or wood stain you’re most recently drawn to:
We have been using bleach quite a bit recently to lighten oak and oak burl. Oak burl has some incredible figure that looks like topographic maps but it also tends to yellow a bit over time, so bleaching it keeps it super light and, I think, beautiful.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I mostly just drink Guayusa tea, which is a super-caffeinated tea from the Amazon.
What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?
They are always different but I generally wake up around 8:30 or 9 (I go to bed at 2 a.m.) and then go to the studio, which is pretty close to where I live. I’ll do some emails and then go across the street to the fabrication space to meet with the guys for a bit. Then I will go back to studio and do some design work on the computer or maybe make some sculpture. Then go to gym and make din and do some more emails before bed.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
Yeah, I listen to mostly electronic stuff. It helps me focus.
Least favorite question people ask you as a designer:
I can’t say I have a least favorite question, or at least there is nothing that is asked over and over that annoys me yet.
What are you currently working on?
I just signed with Cristina Grajales Gallery, so I am working on a more sculptural collection of furniture pieces for them. I designed a collection of furniture with Morris Adjmi (the aforementioned NYC-based architect) that is geared for hospitality this year. We are working on finishing up that collection (12 pieces) and working out where to have it fabricated. We also have millwork projects starting in up Puerto Rico, so that will be fun as I will be able to do site visits and then surf after.
What medium or tool are you most interested in presently and why?
I am always drawn to natural materials like wood and stone. The new collection I designed with Morris uses metal, stone, wood and leather so those materials are currently what I am into.
What material do you go through the most of?
What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?
I found a photo of a Hans Coper ceramic piece in the Farnsworth House and that got me really excited and inspired me to focus more on my sculpture collection. Seeing a ceramic sculpture of a similar size as my work in a building that I love so much gave me a bunch of motivation to focus on sculpture and finish the first collection.