Form & Function: A Conversation with Evan Crane

By Joel De La Rosa

Form & Function: A Conversation with Evan Crane

Evan Crane is a Brooklyn based designer and manufacturer of furniture. It’s always interesting to have a dialogue with designers who are also manufacturers because rather than just being familiar with the process of making, the designer is immersed in it. I also felt a personal connection with his furniture because I could tell there was something to it that I could learn from, hopefully, whoever is reading this can learn from it too.

JD: Can you tell us about your design process? What comes first, the materials, or the idea?

EC: My process always starts with an idea or vision, pure inspiration brought about through observing the world around me. I almost always move on to hand drawings, it’s the most natural route to my mind's eye. If the design is intricate enough or requires a certain amount of precision I will do a 3D Model, but in a lot of cases, I can just move straight to prototyping. Materials are like a palette to me, after the idea has been flushed out, I’ll paint it with certain materials and see how it works out in real life. I try not to refine the vision as much as possible, I always want to stay true to the original idea.

JD: What part of the process excites you the most?

EC: There are a few parts of the process that excite me, usually revolving around beginnings. The inception of the idea, the first good drawing, the start of fabrication, and the completion of the prototype, which I actually see as a beginning rather than the end of the process.

Escape Object 

JD: Are you open to collaboration? If so, who would be your dream person/company to collaborate with?

EC: I’ve collaborated many times with other designers and artists, I'm always open to the possibility.

I think my biggest problem is time, that is having enough of it. I have two children ages 7 and 13 months, so it currently feels almost impossible to explore my vision and make what I want to make. I’m really driven by the desire to get the ideas out of my head, otherwise, I fear they will drive me mad if they pile up on each other.  I thought about this question a lot before I sat down and I have two answers: I actually do have a dream client that I have been working and collaborating with for a few years now. They are an amazing interior design Duo: Ishka Designs. We have a great working style that is really built on respect and trust in each other and our respective abilities. I've been doing this long enough to know that sometimes that dream client doesn't turn out to be the dream you wanted it to be and that you should be really grateful for the amazing working relationships you have in the here and now. My second answer is a collaboration that is truly a dream or fantasy. In April I learned of the tragic death of my friend and mentor, an amazing person, and designer Joseph Foglia. He really showed me the path of the Designer/Builder many years ago. Our collaborations on furniture, interiors, and restaurants were pivotal in my development. Unfortunately, we lost touch in recent years and fell back on social media as our primary form of contact, as so many of us do. I wish so badly now that we remained as close as we were at the beginning of our relationship. I desperately wish we had one more chance to collaborate like we did all those years ago, with the now seemingly carefree ease of two friends and contemporaries.

Fuzzy Captain 

JD: Has your practice changed somehow to keep up with new technologies?

EC: Yes, it's changed a lot over the years. When I first began designing and making furniture everything was realized in wood. I learned traditional western and eastern woodworking joinery, and I did everything by hand or at least 90%. The focus was the complex joinery, really showing off what I had learned and what I thought was interesting. In 2008 my studio was hit hard by the downturn and I was forced to close temporarily. In the interim, I began working at a high-end metal shop that employed both traditional and CNC (computer numerically controlled) fabrication. I had to learn the old and new ways of doing things at the same time to progress as a craftsperson. More and more different metals started making their way into my designs. I really loved what was possible with metal as a problem-solving material as well as what could be accomplished with computer-assisted design (CAD). Now my practice is a combination of all that experience. I have a lot of different ways to solve design problems at my disposal, the challenge for me now is to use only the methods that genuinely further the idea.

Left: Evan Crane's Stool, Right: Merriet Oppenheim's Fur Bracelet

JD: I see parallels between your work and Meret Oppenheim, with the sculptural elements and the use of fur. Does she inspire you? What artists or designers have influenced you over the years?

EC: I do like her work very much, particularly her zoomorphic pieces like “Object (fur-covered cup, saucer, spoon)” or her “Traccia” table and others. I am always trying to impart real personality into my work and she does it masterfully. I am also just an admirer of any work that flips your perception of things upside down, it's one of the best ways to expand your mind in my opinion.

I’m always trying to flip myself when I design something, if I think something is getting too serious I’ll try and do a judo move on myself and flip the piece up to get something new.  Art is one of the two big influences on me. Sculptors like Meret Oppenheim, Martin Puryear, Eva Hess, Isamu Noguchi, Barbara Hepworth, Louise Bourgeois, and Constantin Brancusi, (to name only a few) had big influences on me. I would say that the spirit of their work and the life force they imbue into each piece is something I’m constantly striving to achieve. The second great influence would be what I call “unintentional design”, or design that could not be easily attributed to a single person, such as industrial steel structures, old iron fences, fire escapes, railings, playground equipment, etc. I love the beauty of form that can be attained “unintentionally” by just solving seemingly straightforward problems.

Drip Drop Mirror

JD: Form over Function? Or Function over Form? Tell us why.

EC: Great question, and one of the hardest for me to answer. I definitely try to walk the line, like a lot of other designers. It's really the road you have to travel if you are trying to make thoughtful art objects or furniture. I’ve described my work many times as functional sculptures. Sometimes the form comes first and I’ll say to myself, “that would make a cool mirror” which is how my “Drip Drop mirror” came to pass. Alternatively, I remember one day just wanting to make a club chair, and then the form for my “Phe Phe Club Chair” materialized suddenly. I always want to stay open to different possibilities of inspiration, and I'm always hesitant to systematize my process.  

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