Sit Down and Gather ‘Round: Justin Brown of Justin Brown Designs
Interviews & Features
Serving the dual role of function and aesthetic, furniture holds a special place in human home life. Balancing this teeter-totter between practicality and beauty presents a special challenge for furniture makers, but it’s a task that local designers Justin Brown of Justin Brown Designs and Colby Wade Carper of Salted Grain take on with enthusiasm, poise and gusto. Respectively specializing in chair and table design, these two artists create pieces that look good and function well, each showcasing a unique approach to ideas of form, durability and purpose.
Designer and craftsman Justin Brown seeks to merge practicality with beauty in the chairs he creates. For Brown, the appeal of designing and making chairs comes from the challenge and artistry involved. “Chairs have become my favorite piece of furniture to create. [Chairs] provide a medium for pursuing the endless possibilities of design and creativity in woodworking,” he says. “Chairs are a uniquely interactive piece of furniture because we go to them when we need rest, and if the chair is good it will bring us comfort and relief. I appreciate the utility aspect of the chair and how useful they are to people.” The evidence of Brown’s passion for woodworking is in the eye-catching curvature and flow-y composition of a lounge chair Brown presented at the 2019 Utah Design Exhibit, which won first place in the chair design and building competition.
In addition to stylistic quality of his work, Brown’s chairs also boast comfort and durability. For Brown, part of the design of the chair goes beyond seeing its general purpose and incorporating designs and techniques that will help the piece last for years to come. “Chairs are often taken for granted, overlooked and discarded; valued only for their basic function,” he says. “My chairs change that perspective. They provide the normal function but also comfort, beauty and lasting value.” In particular, Brown cites legendary woodworker and furniture maker Sam Maloof as an inspiration for his prize-winning lounge chair. The result is an eye-catching chair which highlights the circular grain of the walnut wood as well as the smooth joints and unique design.
“It is important to me to create something that will be around for a long period of time and hopefully for generations.”
Brown got his start in woodworking through his trade in rough carpentry, as well as a career creating and installing staircases and handrails for residential homes for almost a decade. About 17 years ago, he started experimenting with making furniture as a personal hobby. “I have always enjoyed a challenging project,” he says. “My furniture making evolved through the years as I was making pieces on the side and learning through trial and error. Most of my education came from reading books and magazines and through my own experiences.”
For him, the design aspect of his chairs and other furniture comes from this mix of experimentation as well as a natural artistic inclination, which he attributes to helping him draw his designs out before creating them. “Design inspiration and creativity will ebb and flow but can be continually improved, and the skills associated [can be] strengthened with time and experience. In this respect, I consider myself to be in the beginning stage of pursuing design,” he says.
“My chairs provide the normal function but also comfort, beauty and lasting value.”
When Brown is designing and creating a chair, he thinks about the look and ergonomic aspects of the piece, keeping in mind how the chair will look in different settings and how to design it for optimal long-term use. In addition to his prize-winning lounge chair, some of Brown’s personal favorite designs are pieces he built for clients who are looking for expert craftsmanship and sentimental value. “It is important to me to create something that will be around for a long period of time and hopefully for generations,” Brown says. “I was fortunate to be able to make a dining table for a young couple who wanted a meaningful piece of furniture to start their family with. The piece was a wedding gift from their family.” The timelessness of owning a piece expertly designed and created to last is something Brown personally strives for in his work, especially when compared to the common rabble of mass-produced, “disposable” furniture.
Justin Brown has his eyes set on more furniture creation in the near future, including new chair designs. Brown also wants to expand to some designs based on his lounge chair and also delve into larger pieces. “I enjoy the prospects of the evolution of a design. Improving on and recreating previous designs have always been one of my long term goals. Being able to change, control and improve the building process—this will make it possible to pass on the added value to my customers,” he says. Brown is involved with every part of the woodworking process for his pieces, from the design to the build and the finish, and offers customization for every customer. A portfolio of his work, as well as contact information can be found at justinbrowndesigns.com. Brown’s online shop with ready-made pieces, including his lounge chair, can be found at etsy.com/shop/justinbrowndesigns.