'Urban Organic Furniture'

That is the descriptive tagline used by furniture designer John Houshmand for his company, JOHNHOUSHMAND of New York City.

This low/side table combines black walnut, an extinct old-growth heart pine beam and 3?4-inch glass leg. It is 24 inches by 14 inches by 54 inches.

When you look at a piece of furniture from the showroom of JOHNHOUSHMAND, there is no doubt that what you are looking at used to be a tree. The rough edges of the bark are still there. Wormholes celebrate the tree's life and its reaction to its environment. Finishes have been selected to protect the slab's natural beauty. And designer John Houshmand often uses glass legs for pieces like tables, so that the eye is not distracted from the elegance of the slab of wood used for the top.



Houshmand is designing furniture to show what a tree really looks like, because he believes that we have gotten too far away from a basic tenet in our mass-produced society. "We are losing all touch with the elemental world," he says. "The intelligence embedded in that world is our greatest teacher and the greatest designer, and if we lose that, we will have lost our greatest ally in our own evolution. That is the course I would like to teach someday, but for now we do it in wood."



Because Houshmand has such a profound respect for trees and for their place in the environment, he also has made a pledge to use reclaimed wood. He is tied into a network of people who know of his interest in reclaimed wood and are ready to let him know whenever any becomes available. He refers to this group of people, who are willing to go to great lengths to save a tree from the wood chipper, as a "secret society."



"If you get connected to the right people, there seems to be an endless source of reclaimed wood," he says. "Sometimes the biggest challenge can be having adequate resources, especially time, to be able to go pick up a tree, just after it has fallen down."



A Quiet Farm and a City Showroom



Houshmand has collected an inventory of thousands of slabs that he stores at an 800-acre family farm in the Catskill Mountains. The property has two barns. Green lumber is stored in the "silver barn" for several years, where it dries slowly. The barn also houses the company's mill. The ground floor is dedicated to the production area and sanding. The upper level holds the inventory of wood that will be kiln dried.


This black walnut dining table features a spalted maple support beam going through the bottom part of the two base legs.

Matt King, production supervisor, says currently the company outsources the kiln drying operation, but that there are plans to purchase a vacuum kiln. Further down the road, they might build their own solar kiln, he adds. "A solar kiln would be particularly useful for slowly drying some of our large, irregularly shaped pieces," he says.



As production supervisor, King has the responsibility of working with the other eight employees to fabricate Houshmand's designs and helps solve technical issues as they come up during the manufacturing process. King also is a sculptor, and prior to joining the team at JOHNHOUSHMAND, he taught at Cooper Union. He lives at the Houshmand family farm and has established his sculpture studio there. Living and working at the farm and having access to his studio on his own time, he says, have created a lifestyle package that is particularly attractive for him.



Courtney Fikri is the creative director for the company. She began working with Houshmand when he started the business in 2003, and now collaborates with him on furniture designs. Fikri has created a virtual library of the slabs to facilitate the design and marketing process.



"As I work with the inventory, I get to know the slabs and what sort of design is best for each particular piece," she says. "For each piece, there is one right decision and several wrong decisions. I believe that it is my job to guide the customer to make the right decision."



The company has an elegant showroom at 31 Howard Street in New York City. The showroom affords one venue for clients to view samples of Houshmand's work. It also can be seen on the company's Web site, www.JohnHoushmand.com. In addition, the company is represented by the high-end furniture company, Holly Hunt, in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. Prices for the company's furniture start at $4,000 for a small end table and go up to $20,000 for a dining table.


All photography by David Jacquot. All photos copyright 2005 JOHNHOUSHMAND. These photos may not be reproduced or printed without consentual agreement as to the purpose and intention of their use.

The company has received a lot of recognition for its work. In 2005, it created a table made of spalted maple with steel legs for the United States Pavilion at the World Expo in Alchi, Japan. Eunice Kim, the company's marketing director, is responsible for public relations, marketing and business development. To her credit, there is an extensive lineup of articles about the company that have appeared in national magazines.



Most recently, there was an article in the January 2006 issue of Metropolis about a new restaurant in New York City called Nobu 57, which is furnished with Houshmand's designs. During 2005, the company was featured in issues of House Beautiful, Dwell, Inspired House, New York, Elle Decoration Hong Kong, Interior Design, Flaunt, Florida Design, House and Garden and Robb Report Collector, among others.


An extinct old-growth heart pine beam forms the base of this 84-inch-long low table, with a black walnut top.

John Houshmand brings a varied and interesting background to this endeavor. He was trained in art history at Yale. He has explored professional photography and ceramics. He has produced and recorded a series of eclectic jazz albums playing guitar, bass and percussion. When he returned to New York in 1980, Houshmand became involved in the construction industry, co-partnering in Clark Construction. Fikri says Houshmand brings all aspects of his background to his young company, including his love of nature.



The business appears to be just getting started, in terms of what it can accomplish in the future. Already it has customers all over the world. With its young staff working well as a team, it is poised to continue to grow.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                           

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.