by Grady Mitchell | “We care a great deal about doing stuff really well,” says furniture designer Jeff Martin in his studio at 1000 Parker Street. You can trace a long line from Jeff’s modern pieces back through the history of the woodworking. “The work I’m doing studies the migration of design trends and materials, from the east, the old-school Shaker-style communities, as the culture migrated west with pioneers,” he says. “What sort of objects would they bring with them, and why, and how?”
The question of origin is important to Jeff not only in terms of the history of his craft, but also in the materials he uses. None of his lumber is logged; he sources strictly recycled materials or trees that die naturally or are already slated for felling. “Ultimately, I need to kill trees and mine minerals to make the stuff I make,” he says. “But I’d like it to be recycled content or sick trees that need to come down. It’s our responsibility to go responsibly sourced.” With such diversity in our home region, he sees no need to import wood. Often Jeff can tell prospective customers the street the wood in their piece came from.
These recycled materials find a beautiful second life in his expertly crafted pieces. His work features strong sculptural lines and make a centre point of the elegant patterns found naturally in the wood’s surface. Over time he’s incorporated bronze into his work, partnering with a foundry in the Gulf Islands. First, it provided an inventive way to disguise and reinforce flaws in the wood by binding them with small, circular bronze inlays. It’s in these practical yet beautiful ideas that Jeff’s style shines through. Later he used the metal in legs for his tables, the warm tone pairing well with darker woods. Now he’s begun making stools entirely of bronze, with the plan to do the same with a table.
Whatever the materials he works with, his pieces are always elegant, streamlined, and sleek. The designs are clever, intuitive and devoid of needless flair. He honed much of his craft during an extensive apprenticeship with New York designer Palo Samko. “I spent many months sanding panels on polished white doors,” Jeff laughs. But he also learned dozens of new techniques and the artistry to apply them in creative ways. While he loved the energy and atmosphere of New York, he decided to make his stand here at home, precisely because of Vancouver’s younger design scene. “There’s not a lot of people here who can say they’ve been doing it for 25 years,” Jeff says. “You have more of a voice here.” He points to younger designers like Omer Arbel from Bocci, Lucas Peet of Andlight, and Christian Woo as three who are on the vanguard of Vancouver design.
While it’s important that his designs look good, they also need to work well. “I approach work with an artistic viewpoint, but I’m not making art,” he says. Engineering and execution are critical. He brings up an idea by Seattle’s Roy McMakin, someone he calls an “artist’s artist,” who coined the idea of “painting with wood.” Jeff thinks of each piece as a composition where one element should flow seamlessly into another.