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Meet your Maker

Table Talk with LA Furniture Designer Chris Earl

February 10,2015

California
Table Talk with LA Furniture Designer Chris Earl / Koun Bae

Los Angeles–based furniture designer Chris Earl can craft you a table and set it too. An experienced chef who’s spent almost a decade working in kitchens, Chris now offers to host dinner parties for those that buy his modern tables. His new line dubbed "The Framework Collection" features contrasting woods with rich brass accents—a luxe yet grounded aesthetic influenced by his Papua New Guinea upbringing and Danish heritage. It’s a sleek look that feels fresh in a never-ending onslaught of rustic barn wood.

We joined him at his envy-inducing North Hollywood home—the man has a speakeasy behind a shelving unit—to chat about getting creative in LA.

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Photo from an Apartment Therapy shoot by Monica Wang

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Photo of Bar Cart courtesy of Chris Earl

How did you get into furniture and food?

They kind of came hand in hand. I started off just working in kitchens when I was going through school, and then I moved back to Chicago for about three and a half years and got to work under a pretty cool chef there. I was doing furniture throughout that whole period. I started out doing studio art in college, but I really love to use my hands. Furniture is kind of the perfect melding of art and utility, so I gravitated towards that. I got a great opportunity to apprentice with a guy in Venice who brought me on just to help him with some holiday orders, and that turned into a full-fledged apprenticeship. That’s where I learned much of my woodworking skills. I continued to cook at the same time, but as of about two years ago, I’ve transitioned into doing furniture full-time. Now cooking is just kind of a passion project on the side. I’ll do events here and there.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Earl

Where do you think your unique aesthetic comes from?

I’m inspired a lot by my upbringing. I grew up in Papua New Guinea, so I feel like the aesthetic of that rugged nature comes through in my pieces. Over there, they love to decorate things or make them really ornate, but they'll just do it with whatever they have. So if they have a bright red bag, they'll tear it apart and weave it into their headdress. It’s about using what they have, and creating a focal point, like a little bit of flash. I’m also Danish by heritage, and I don’t know if it’s just in the blood or what, but I definitely gravitate towards mid-century, modern design—the classic Danish design—as well as a touch of Italian and European. I really appreciate how they infuse a sense of luxury into all pieces.

Tell me about The Framework Collection.

The inspiration there—I did a lot of glass tops. It’s something that I hadn’t seen in the marketplace at all, and really I was just intrigued by the idea of letting the bases of the pieces really stand out—the primary structure—and not so much worrying about the top. I wanted that to just be a clear window to show off the bases. Up to that point, I had done a lot of large slab tabletops and conference tables—which are gorgeous, and I love that people are still into that—but I wanted to switch it up and do something a little different.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Earl

What is your design process like?

This sounds kind of cliché, but I tend to be inspired by things around me. Whether it’s one little detail of say, a piece of furniture or something in nature even—like the form a tree is taking or whatever—that will tend to trigger ideas in my head. I do paper and pencil, and I’ll tend to mull over an idea in my head for a few days before drawing anything out at all. What can I do to make this as clean and functional as possible but still have elements that draw the eye in and make it stand out a little?

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Photo from an Apartment Therapy shoot by Monica Wang

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Photo courtesy of Chris Earl

You host dinner parties for people that buy tables. What’s that like?

It’s a fun thing that we do. I love hosting people, and we have people over for dinner parties all the time, and I thought it was a really cool way to say thank you to some of my clients. It’s pretty organic. When I make a dining table, I just offer to come over and volunteer my cooking services—generally in the LA area. I mean I can always make it work somewhere else, but we’d have to talk about flights [laughs]. I’ve gotten to do a couple, and it’s awesome. It’s super cool just to see the piece in its space and get to be there with people enjoying the furniture.

Do you think your love of furniture is tied to the passion you have for the kitchen?

Absolutely. To me, they’re completely tied together. I think there’s something really special that happens around a table—those moments of connecting with friends and family. Happy times or really troubling times—for whatever reason, I feel like people always gravitate towards the kitchen table. Growing up, I guarantee that you probably remember the table that you grew up with whether it was good or bad, there’s one table that’s stuck in your head. I think there’s some significance to that.

What is it like living and working in LA?

It’s been great; it’s been awesome. We’re here specifically in this house in North Hollywood because we basically purchased it from my family. That’s what brought us to this neighborhood, but we’ve ended up loving it. Our neighbors are crazy in a really good way. It’s like we stepped back into 1950 or something. Seriously, we have people bringing us produce over from their gardens and bringing eggs and chickens.

How do you feel about the creative community in LA?

We’re very blessed in that we have a strong community of very creative, talented people, and they happen to be really awesome, good people too. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them and getting involved in those circles over the last handful of years. Of course, there are people doing great things and also a lot of repeats—people doing the same thing, the same motifs, over and over again. You know—the reclaimed this and that. Some people jump on the bandwagon and other people are innovative, and it’s always fun to find those pushing the limits.

What about the LA culinary scene?

I think it’s fairly strong overall. It’s definitely growing. It’s been cool to see a lot of really great places going in downtown. I feel like they've been drawing a lot of good restaurants.

Any tips for people visiting LA?

If you’re in LA, find a friend that lives here. It’s so spread out that it can become overwhelming pretty quickly. If you have someone that can recommend spots or take you around, that can be great. It may sound kind of silly, but KCRW—the local NPR station—is a great source for trying to find out what’s going on. They're really great at promoting music events and all that.

See the spots Chris recommends for eating, shopping (mid-century design lovers take note!), and visiting here.

Or view our entire LA guide with tips from other West Coast designers and makers.

— Interview by Koun Bae

Table Talk with LA Furniture Designer Chris Earl / Koun Bae

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