Author Archives: strangerfurniture



Windfall by Box Collective is on view at the Craft an Folk Art Museum from May 28 – September 4, www.cafam.orgThe exhibition consists of 15 works of furniture and objects made from salvaged trees, most of which fell in northeastern L.A. and the San Gabriel Valley during the historic windstorm of 2011.


During the November 30th/December 1st storm, wind speeds reached up to 100 miles per hour. Nearly 5,500 trees were damaged in Pasadena, while hundreds more were destroyed in neighboring vicinities, including about 300 non-native and prehistoric species at the Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Gardens in Arcadia. Many logs from downed trees at the Arboretum were salvaged soon after the storm. Some were used for Forces of Nature, a show of artworks and objects made from the salvaged wood, on the first anniversary of the storm. Some were saved and carefully dried so that they could one day become fine furniture.



Most of the works for Windfall are made out of this wood collected from the L.A. Arboretum’s fallen trees. David Johnson’s media cabinet is made from the entire trunk of a pink cedar, while designer Stephan Roggenbuck chose Lebanese cypress to make his bench. Cliff Spencer used pieces of a paulownia tree to make a sleek, contemporary beehive; a city scape of a sound diffuser; and a multi colored, folding screen. Furniture maker Harold Greene’s chaise lounge is built from bent laminated layers of a cedar of Lebanon. Woodworker Andrew Riiska salvaged a persimmon tree in the pouring rain to build his Grasshopper Lounge Chair and a bench that is part of his marshmallow forest installation in the CAFAM lobby. For his i table, William Stranger used a slab of paulownia, that came from a pair originally salvaged from the Arboretum for Forces of Nature.



Some designers found material from trees that fell around their neighborhoods. Robert Apodaca’s hand-carved and scorched Blackout Bowls are made from recovered pieces of a eucalyptus tree that knocked over power lines near his home in Chinatown. William Stranger salvaged an Engelmann oak from a house near his studio in Pasadena for his Plane mirror. Casey Dzierlenga milled a fallen maple tree in her friend’s backyard in Montecito Heights to make the Lorca Coffee Table. Designers RH Lee and Samuel Moyer also incorporate wood from windstorms outside of Los Angeles into their pieces. RH Lee salvaged pieces of claro walnut in Santa Rosa, CA that have become end tables. Samuel Moyer’s Arrow Console is fabricated from an ironwood tree that landed on his truck in a Hudson River Valley windstorm in New York.



On July 12th 65 people participated in a CraftLab family workshop with Box Collective members William Stranger and Andrew Riiska. Box Collective provided scrap wood as the raw material for an afternoon of creativity. Many interesting things were made.



photography by Michelle Cho, William Stranger

set fire to my own life

This summer I built wine cellar racks of oak reclaimed from old wine tanks. In addition to collecting wine and building a fantastic wine cellar my clients run a non-profit called ART from the ashes ( They bring artists together to work with materials salvaged from fire sites. I was invited to make a piece to be donated for the summer 2010 show. The materials came from Deukmejian Wilderness Park, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains north of LA, which burned in the huge Station Fire in August 2009.

I was pressed for time so I thought I would carve a spoon. Then I saw a half charred manzanita branch. It’s smooth, unharmed surface contrasted the texture and color of the burned side. Fire turns physical objects into energy. It creates light and heat. I made a lamp as it also produces light and heat. A reminder of the night I watched the Station Fire from my roof and wondered whether the flames would cross the last ridge and burn down the hill, a reminder of the brilliance that momentarily illuminated our lives, or perhaps just something to shed enough light to read a good book by.

The base is made from a cast iron weight that came from the fire site. The shade is a cherry veneer remnant that has been in my studio for many years waiting to become a lamp shade.

“The only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life.” I read this line by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore many years ago and it has stayed with me as a powerful expression of the contradictory nature of life. In order to live fully we must let go of all the ideas we have about ourselves.

Fire is the perfect metaphor for the intimate link between destruction and creation. As human beings we tend to focus on the devastation that fire brings but it is also part of a cycle that ultimately leads to re-birth. Walking in Deukmejian Wilderness Park it was beautiful to see this process unfolding with new growth and spring wildflowers everywhere.

For INSPIRE, the ART from the ashes winter show, I made another lamp. It is made of a burned olive tree that was killed when the Jesusita fire burned the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in May 2009. Burned tree limbs seem to make perfect stands to hang lamps from, as if the shades were fruit hanging from a living tree. The dead tree has become a lamp which can burn brightly again. This process reflects the transformation which we are all engaged in every moment.

The title, “I Will Not Learn About Fire By Thinking About Fire, But By Burning”
is taken from The Work of Craft by Carla Needleman. The book describes the way that creating an object by hand requires the maker to be fully present.

A new arrival. Salvaged elm slabs in the studio to be made into counter tops for a Pasadena office.

William Stranger

some thoughts on hand-made design

I read in Dwell about a manufacturing process based on a layered digital design. Furniture is fabricated by a machine, which builds up each layer from a composite material until the whole object is complete.  Part of me is fascinated by this technology, and the design boundaries it breaks.  This is beginning to sound a lot like science fiction.  In the Diamond Age, by Neil Stevenson, everything is fabricated this way.  However there is still a small group of artisans who still make things by hand and this almost lost art has become highly valued.

We are in a period when disposable, mass-produced objects are ubiquitous.  From its roots, in the Bauhaus, where craft and design went hand in hand, modern design has become synonymous with mass production.  I am interested in the simplicity and functionality inherent in the design tenets of modernism, but I am drawn to the warmth and energy of the hand-made.  The difference between a factory built piece and a similar design that has been made at the bench, with attention and patience, can be huge.

I want to celebrate the imperfections of materials and use them as design opportunities, rather than eliminate them for a uniform appearance.  Inspiration drawn from the world of images that emerge from the subconscious when the mind is quiet, can play a greater role if we are working with materials while the design is still fluid.   I love the way design evolves.  There is a flash of inspiration.  An image appears, perhaps in the half dream of awakening.  As I am drawing, the image has already changed from the fully formed but unmanifest world of the mind to the two-dimensional rendering in which construction details and material constraints must be considered.

Sometimes, designs that come from strong visual images will change little in the fabrication process.  The work of the hand is to translate the vision into a real object.  Here the emphasis is on fine craftsmanship, attention to detail, and the subtle choices of material and relationships that form a more dynamic whole.  Usually, though, design and fabrication are part of the same process.  I may start with a sketch or a half formed idea.  I will look at my scrap heap or my wood racks for material inspiration.  As relationships within a piece take shape, the design may shift.  A chance cut into a board may reveal a different direction for material use.  This is the pain and pleasure of the design process.  The disappointment when a joint or reveal doesn’t look quite the way it did in the mind’s eye or the quiet joy when parts are assembled and the piece begins to take on a life of its own.  As Agnes Demille put it, “the divine dissatisfaction”.

Working with the organic forms of natural edge slabs, allows me the greatest freedom to bring together the hand and eye (and heart).  Often a design will come directly from the form of a board.  Imperfections in the wood will suggest a pattern of inlays that has the right tension.  Irregularities can be embraced which lead to dramatic design decisions.

The work that I do is making simple, functional furniture.  Inspiration, design, planning, and fabrication are inextricably linked.  Sometimes the process starts in the middle and goes from one end to the other and back again, before a finished piece emerges.

I have said my work blurs the boundaries between design, art and craft, but actually, it just ignores them.  The work is the work and it seems artificial to push it into one box or another.  Is it art or is it craft?  Does it belong in the design art world?  These are the wrong questions.  I am interested in the process.  I am interested in conceiving an object, refining its design and executing it.  I cannot imagine the design process divorced from the fabrication process.

For me this also extends to the sourcing of sustainable materials and the use of scrap as a resource for innovative design. I sometimes see a live urban tree before it is cut. This intimacy with materials informs the design process. I find inspiration in the living tree.

william stranger

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all this, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU. Keep the channel open.” ~Agnes Demille to Martha Graham.