At BKLYN DESIGNS 09: Benton Custom’s Master Wood Craftsmanship

Roger Benton would appear to be a man of many talents. In the spare time he scraps together between doing production work for a men's high end clothing designer; playing drums in two bands; and family time with his wife, daughter, and pets; he owns and operates Benton Custom, Brooklyn-based purveyor of bespoke, handcrafted wooden furntiture.

Storage Unit. Designed by Roger Benton of Benton Custom.

Much in keeping with the Renaissance-man theme, Benton's shop is right at home in Bushwick's 3rd. Ward, "an artist and artisan's co-op catering to all manner of creative souls, from photographers and sculptors to clothing designers and models to bicycle manufacturers." The collaborative environment would seem to suit him, given that he and Boo Coup's David Siegel occasionally joins forces as Re-Co Brooklyn; working exclusively with lumber yard scraps, the duo turns this "limited vocabulary of blocks slabs and chunks of wood" into enduring and appealing furnishings.

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Benton does a bit of this sort of thing on his own as well. The new piece he's showing at BKLYN DESIGNS is a multi-purpose entryway bench. Made of scraps from the beautiful black walnut he used for an earlier effort—the alliterative and alluring Three Tier Table—the bench is a deceptively simple three-paneled affair. As a space-conscious piece, the bench has certain features that emphasize lightness and delicacy: each of the three panels tapers from the middle out, a stroke of innovation that confers the requisite stability without going overboard, while creating an extremely thin profile in the process. Benton adds further structural support via a pair of thin stainless steel cables on the underside, which also double as a storage station for shoes, briefcases, grocery bags, and the occasional hat or pair of gloves. Finished in natural oil and wax, the piece is a slim 50" x 18" x 14" deep, just right for those longitudinal wall expanses that often dominate entryways.

Utility aside, as with all of Benton's bespoke work, the new piece is all about the medium. On his website (whose vintage Sergio Leone/Sam Peckinpah revisionist Western aspect is the ideal mise-en-scene to showcase his work, I might add), he makes the opportune observation that "the wood is the real star of the show—each piece is selected for its color, grain, figuring, and stability." This kind of focused attention produces beautiful furnishings made from a craftsman's perspective: flawlessly joined and seamlessly sculpted, hand-finished to highlight the natural variations of the grain. Benton's work, along with that of Brooklyn compatriots Bruce Marsh and Eric Manigian, goes far in reminding us that hand-built, solid wood furniture occupies a central niche in an environmentally conscious future: "this is furniture built to last; the way it was before IKEA discovered 1001 uses for particle board."

Posted May 8, 2009 by Joseph Starr

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