20 Minutes with Jeff Skierka

Friday 6 July 2018

Jeff Skierka Designs first piqued our interest a few months ago when we saw his 'Mixtape' table, released in conjunction with the cassette tape's 50th anniversary. Based in Seattle, Jeff's goal is to combine his love for materials with his interest in highly functional objects, user-experience and design. He looks up to legendary woodworker Sam Maloof, pioneering designers Charles and Ray Eames and modern industrial designer Marc Newson.

F&C: What are you working on at the moment?

Jeff Skierka: For the past couple of months I have been putting a ton of time into my 'Mixtape' tables. It took a lot of work to get them to a place where they are reproducible and we are finally starting to take orders. I have been busy designing the last of the jigs to make the process as seamless and efficient as possible.

F&C: Why did you become a furniture maker?

JS: I have always enjoyed building things for as long as I can remember. I pretty much lived in the wood shop in high school. I have worked a few jobs since then, but nothing ever seemed to give me as much satisfaction as woodworking.

F&C: What inspires you?

JS: Learning how to use new tools and techniques keeps me going. I love colours, shapes, geometry, materials and things that make life more fun. My friends and family also inspire me a lot, as well as many designers.

F&C: If your furniture were music, what kind of music would it be?

JS: My 'Mixtape' table doesn't necessarily take on any one genre. It is an icon of any era when people were really starting to create their own individual connections with music and I think it has the ability to transcend any container.

F&C: What do you admire in the craft at the moment?

JS: I admire anyone that puts themselves out there and actually takes their time to do it correctly. It's a lot of work to design something and a lot more to make it a reality. I admire people that aren't afraid to take a risk, use new materials, or create new techniques.

F&C: Who has been your greatest mentor/role model?

JS: I can think of two woodworkers and craftsmen that I look up to most. My grandfather, Bill Towles, has always had his own wood shop and can build anything. He taught me a lot and helped me out with some of my first woodworking projects. I was also able to work in a shop run by a master craftsman. Kerry Eckola has been building cabinets and fine furniture for over 25 years. If you are able to build something that impresses him then you are doing pretty well.

F&C: What comes first, design or technique?

JS: This is a question I continually go back and forth on. Sometimes you think of something really awesome, but then you have to do some serious research to figure out how to actually make it. A lot of times though, just learning a new technique can make you think of a new design. But, ultimately, you need both, which is the greatest challenge.

F&C: Are we too obsessed with outdated modes of work?

JS: I don't think so. Some people are too obsessed with new modes of work. I want to exist somewhere in between. To create a blend of new technology with the quality and care of old-school, hand-built pieces.

F&C: How or where do you exhibit your work?

JS: I exhibit my work on the internet and in my living room. I am fortunate to have a business partner and girlfriend with the ability to create wonderful presentations of the work online. We would like to travel and attend some furniture design shows and someday have a retail space for our work and other designers'/builders' projects that we admire.

F&C: How comfortable are you with working at someone else's design?

JS: If I believe in the design and the craftsmanship, I definitely enjoy working on other people's ideas. If it's a solid concept, count me in. I love being able to help people get what's in their head out into the world.

F&C: What's your creative process like?

JS: Ideas come from pretty much everywhere. After an idea hits me, I try to get it down on paper, prototype it in my shop, and then build it out once it has been thought through.

F&C: Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?

JS: Charles Eames once said 'an artist is a title that you earn.' I'll say craftsman right now and if I'm lucky and keep working hard, and trying new things, maybe one day other people will call me an artist.

F&C: What's the practical process you undergo when moving through the stages of a project?

JS: I am not sure if I have a practical process. I usually just go a little crazy thinking about all of the details to the point where I can't sleep. Then I make a cut list, crank up the jams and get to work.

F&C: Do you think furniture making is in danger of disappearing?

JS: No way. People will always make furniture. Whether or not they can actually make it into a living is a different question, but I believe people will always build, even if it is just for themselves.

F&C: What advice would you give to someone starting out?

JS: My best advice would be to listen to those who have more experience than you. Don't listen to anyone that tells you it's impossible and learn how to use as many tools as you can!

F&C: What irritates you about the industry?

JS: Nothing that I can think of. I guess I just build what I want and hope that people like it.