BKLYN DESIGNS ‘09 Exclusive Video Preview: Bruce Marsh Designs

Like many who have migrated into the many-tentacled world of design, I’ve done my share of time in the construction trade as carpenter/laborer/all-purpose grunt. And though these varied experiences were often tainted by much bodily misery, they were not absent the occasional bolt of cerebral illumination. As when, while on my fourth straight day of sanding treads and risers for a custom staircase made of French-Baked Oak, I was taken with the milky undulations of the revealed grain, prompting a mental comment along the lines of “oh my God that’s a beautiful piece of wood!”

Annetta Chair. Designed by Bruce Marsh of Bruce Marsh Designs.

After taking a quick gander at the inspired portfolio of hand-crafted, solid wood furnishings by Dumbo’s very own Bruce Marsh Designs–the first in our series of designer profiles/videos leading up to Bklyn Designs 2009–one surmises that, for Bruce, these “oh my God” moments are all in a day’s work. In the mode of a true iconoclast, Marsh’s talents are many and varied: his vocational experience includes stints in business management, global marketing, brand development, and web-site design, and yet, “it’s his right-brained creative side which drives his passion for design.” However much the demands of business ownership may require him to engage the left side, the right half certainly drives his aesthetic. Though he admits to being “the world’s worst drawer,” Marsh’s habitual sketches are the initial manifestation of the “loose, original ideas” coursing through his right brain, drawings that eventually metamorphose into such take-your-breath-from-you pieces as the Dave and Gabriela Tables, the Annetta Chair, the Townsend Table and the Emma Bed.

Marsh admits he can only draw straight lines, and his furnishings certainly show a bias toward the rectilinear. But this is in perfect keeping with his sculptor’s philosophy of “taking off the external nothing-ness” to get at the beauty beneath. “Basically, we’re getting very raw pieces of lumber,” he says, holding up a length of walnut with a 3″ wane, “a lot of people would look at this and say there’s a big chunk out of there, but I know that once you start working with it there’s a beautiful grain-pattern there.”

The habitual surprise of discovering the individual character of each piece of wood is a huge motivator for Marsh, as well as the cornerstone of his belief in the beauty of nature’s most versatile material. He refers to his hand-crafted pieces as “perfect, but not”: “our pieces are not perfect, they are unique. Every single one is different than the last and the next. Real wood has grain patterns that differ from tree to tree (imagine that!) and it has knots and twists, We’ll match the grains and decide if the knot is a pretty one or not; your piece will be original, strong, and beautiful; but it will not be perfect in a homogeneous sense of the word. Perfection is an unobtainable goal, pursuit of which robs furniture of character in exchange for uniformity.”


Dave Table. Designed by Bruce Marsh of Bruce Marsh Designs.


Townsend Table. Designed by Bruce Marsh of Bruce Marsh Designs.


Gabriela Table. Designed by Bruce Marsh of Bruce Marsh Designs.


Emma Bed. Designed by Bruce Marsh of Bruce Marsh Designs.

Not only do Marsh’s pieces have an abundance of said character, they’re each reflective of a sustainable ethos that just got a big boost: effective March 1, Marsh will use only locally-sourced materials. Having put his money where his mouth is (“I don’t believe you need to ship something 6,000 miles around the world to get a beautiful piece of wood,” he says), Marsh is left with the none-too-shabby varieties of Maple, Cherry, Walnut, and White Oak that originate from the Hardwood Forests stretching along the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Appalachia. Complementing this eco-wise decision to go local and purchase from certified sources, he uses only non-toxic/water-based glues, low or no-VOC finishes, no stains (he prefers to rely on the wood’s God-given lustre), and long-lasting stainless steel fasteners.

For the Brooklyn show, Marsh will debut an as-yet-unnamed walnut desk that he describes as an adaptation of the Gabriela table. The piece evokes the elegant simplicity and stream-lined modernism of Early Danish: the razor-sharp edges and overt geometricity of the piece show the wood’s rich tones to excellent effect. As Marsh says, whether up against a wall or out in the open, “it will bring the room alive.”

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