Artisan Profile by Emerald Atkins
Stranger Furniture is proof that deeply sustainable can mean deeply beautiful.
When the roughness of bark and the “imperfections” of natural wood are respected and used, when the natural, intricate grain of a board is allowed to shine forth in all its beauty, when the source tree “speaks” for itself, the results are tangible.
William Stranger’s work encompasses not just cabinetry and tables but also humbler creations such as lamps, utensils, and cutting boards. Each aspect of his work supports a goal of creating zero waste. Recycling is practiced whenever possible; scrap wood is donated to schools and other artists; even sawdust is used as animal bedding and then composted in order to minimize the shop’s impact. As the artist explained, these business choices spring from a commitment “to an evolution that will take us beyond sustainability.”
That journey began shortly after the studio’s opening in 1987 with a commitment not to use wood from tropical rain forests. Later, under the influence of furniture maker George Nakashima and inspired by the Cradle-to-Cradle principals of McDonough and Braungart, William’s work and life both came to reflect a philosophy blending art, deep ecology, and an utter respect for man’s place in the natural world.
He feels strongly that wood is “a precious resource that must be used responsibly.” Accordingly, his primary source of lumber is urban salvage: trees that are blown over or cut down due to disease or construction, and then milled on site or at the arborist’s yard. This is important, as otherwise these trees would just be burned or go to clog local landfills.
At the shop based in Pasadena, outside of Los Angeles, CA, William has access to tree species normally found all over the world, including black acacia, claro, walnut, camphor, carob, and elm. He is also careful to use salvaged and “found” objects, and to use renewable resources such as bamboo.
The wood is carefully chosen and worked with the individual nature of the material in mind. In the design process William is influenced by the structure of trees, buildings, and animals. He tries to balance the rough beauty of the raw material with the necessity of shaping it into an intentionally crafted form. Furniture is made in small batches using as much handwork as possible and held together with strong traditional joinery that allows the pieces to last for generations. The natural beauty of the wood is preserved and enhanced with a finish of non-toxic linseed or tung oil.
According to William, there is an inherent interdependence between object, designer, maker, and environment, and this belief is clearly evident in his work. Looking at the latter, one can almost feel the energy of the artist there breathing in tandem with the original spirit of the wood itself. It is a juxtaposition of nature and artifice. The boundary between art and design is eliminated, and the viewer feels an urge to be still, to attend, to be drawn in by each unique piece.