We love finding and interviewing Bay Area DesignCrafters but let’s be real: we adore seeing the amazing, completely random, and unexpected places in which people work. In the brief life of our blog, we’ve been to renovated stores and factories, workshops in seriously dodgy ‘hoods (“call me first so you can park behind the gates”), sweet little neighborhood studios on tree-lined streets, urban live-work spaces, and (recently) a slightly ramshackle little place along the train tracks.
Alameda Point is the classic “swords to plough shares” story. 1949-1997: The US Naval Air Station at Alameda protects our fair shores. 1997: Alameda NAS decommissioned. US Navy leaves behind facilities, equipment plus a few other goodies (and not-s0-goodies, but that’s a different story.)
2010: Building 14, in which bombers were once repaired has been transformed into a rabbit warren of workshops and shared facilities for about 20 DesignCrafters who’re creating works of beauty and elegance. Talk about a peace dividend.
And it’s here, in this seriously cool, seriously industrial (ever so slightly mysterious) facility that Chris Loomis creates powerfully gentle, subtly refined furniture and custom cabinetry.
He brings the eye of a sculptor to his work (not surprising: he studied drawing and sculpture at the Art Institute in Chicago, and his sculpture has been shown in galleries throughout the country). His pieces feel strong and gossamer light; substantial and fluid. There’s nothing self-conscious or “look at me” about his pieces…but a few minutes with them, and you start to realize how they anchor and define the room. (Kind of like Chris himself. It’s a rare gift.)
Inevitably, his work bears the hallmarks of his background and travels: a woodworking family from Flint, MI; art school; furniture design and craft in London; a move out to California and life as a cabinet maker; stints learning and doing woodwork in Japan and Bali. Along the way, he received a graduate degree from CCA, where he now also lectures.
Your website has two paths: artist and designer. Which are you, really? Both! They’re different disciplines, but they share the same craft, technique and philosophy. (We see it.) It’s most satisfying when I’m working at the intersection of the two…where function meets art.
How do you characterize your style these days? I’d say in my heart of hearts…I’m really a decorative minimalist. I’ve always been inspired by the arts and crafts philosophy and how the individual needs to find their place in the marriage of art and craft. I am a big believer in using materials that are honest, where you can show the integrity of the materials in whatever you make.
What I’m doing has changed over the years. A lot of homeowners are scaling back their needs and that’s good: we just don’t need to be consuming so much as a society. But it’s obviously pretty tough on us–there’s just fewer people doing custom cabinetry and large-scale commissions. So I’m doing more of my own kind of work (like the benches.) I’ve always shown my sculpture at places like Swarm Gallery in Oakland, but I’m also starting to show my furniture there, too. I’m also doing more work for the hospitality industry, which is really fun.
How’s your style evolved over the last few years? Over the years I’ve mastered all the techniques, but now I’m actually trying to unlearn what I’ve learned. Now I want to learn from the materials themselves….It’s less about manipulating and mastering and more about learning how to touch and understand the material at a different level.
What first drew us to you was a picture of these fabulous benches made out of old wine barrels. Are you working a lot with reclaimed materials? It’s not really a new thing: I’ve often worked with clients to adapt a piece of furniture they’ve wanted to change and adapt….but I am enjoying the use of recycled materials. I love that people are getting closer to more honest materials, and are less designy. There’s less bravado in design these days.
How do you work with the architecture of a space? I love to work closely with designers and architects and want my work to respond to the architecture and work with it. It shouldn’t just be an object…there needs to be integration, a flow. The give and take can be incredibly inspiring. I love working with clients for the same reason…clients in the arts can be pretty cool to work with. I did some work for Michael Chabon, and we used Cavalier and Clay as an inspiration.
What’s it like working in a studio like this? It’s great. It’s efficient. We share some common tools and facilities, but we all work pretty independently. All that being said, though, there’s definitely a strong sense of community. That’s not to say people don’t come and go…we get a lot of inquiries from people who are woodworking….changing jobs. There’s a craft revival going on.
It used to be that you didn’t want to say that you shared a shop–it was like you weren’t doing well–but there’s a coolness to it now, and that’s good with me.
I also love that the studio is housed in a building designed by the industrial military complex. While fearful of its past, I love the fact that if I want to hang something that’s 15,000 pounds from the ceiling, I can. And then blow it up. (That’s seriously cool.)
What inspires you? What defines you? I have always been influenced by vernacular objects and architecture: things that people made out of necessity rather than as a statement. My first obsessions were the Foxfire books created by Eliot Wigginton. Then I found my uncle’s copies of the Whole Earth Catalog put out by Stewart Brand and all of Lloyd Khan’s Shelter publications. I read a lot of Buckminster Fuller pretty early on, and his writings pretty much set me straight on our responsibility to improve the world around us.
Traveling has always inspired my work. Visiting Kyoto Japan changed my whole understanding of what architecture can be and how people occupy space. Also, I try to work with local craftspeople wherever I go. I’m not the one sitting on a beach in Mexico: I’m out helping the guy build a cabana.
Music. I always have music on wherever I am. Music can so easily set a tone for me for the whole day or even a week.Recent Favorites are Animal Collective, Beach House. I’m going through a big Chicago Blues phase.
I love industrial techniques and tools. In this facility, have a good many WW II era machines. I have a lathe that could have been my great grandpa’s and it’s one of my favorite tools. I also have a lot of my family’s tools that were passed down: my uncle’s bird carving set is a gem to me.
Nature has always been a great inspiration. Sometimes it goes into the work if I’m doing a particularly organic or curvy piece. I love to watch how things grow and the structure of plants, and the variation of scale is wonderful. My garden, which is the first I’ve had since childhood, has been really amazing. I think I try to create the atmosphere and productivity of nature in my own studio.
1800 Ferry Point Building 14, Alameda, CA