Cultured Carrots: Chris Fidler The Furniture Builderby Carrot
*Carrot Creative is filled with colorful characters. Cultured Carrots is a series that shares the outside passions that inspire the very best work for our clients. This week, Senior Art Director Chris Fidler talks about his love for making beeutiful objects with wood, metal, and sweat.
Carrot: How did you get involved in making furniture?
Chris: My dad, he’s the ultimate DIY guy. In high school, my parents bought a fixer upper house and my dad singlehandedly gutted the entire house and expanded it out and in with an addition and new second story. It took about 6 years to complete since he already had a full time job and only had time after work and on weekends. He had a lot on his plate, so he put me to work from day one. I helped mix and wheelbarrow cement around the job site and as I gained exposure I was able to help with bigger things that involved tools like the table saw, routers, drills and grinders.
With the experience I gained, about 4 years ago I made my first piece of furniture. I needed a new desk and wasn’t able to find one in the budget or dimensions I needed so I decided to just make one for myself. Since then I’ve had a deep passion for designing, building and learning new techniques.
C: What's your favorite tool and how badly have you injured yourself with it?
CF: It would have to be the table saw. It’s such a versatile tool that allows you to create so much with just that one tool and the right skills.
The worst injury I endured from the table saw is when I once tried to cut a small 3” x 6” piece in half without the safety of a push stick. The piece kicked back off the blade and bruised my knuckles pretty badly. Never made that mistake again!
C: What types of furniture do you make?
CF: I started making furniture by redoing all the pieces in my apartment. From beds, desks, dressers, tables, seating, shelving and lighting, knowing each piece required a different skill set I challenged myself to design and build things I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with yet. With each new piece, I gained the experience and confidence to create custom commissions.
C: What are some of your favorite materials? Do you think furniture design trends change very often? What will they be five years from now?
CF: Lately for me it’s been working with steel. You think it’s this heavy and intimidating material but with the right tools and techniques, it’s actually quite malleable and easy to work with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely been a learning process but over the past year my welding skills have drastically improved and my overall process is much smoother with less hiccups along the way. Over the next year I’m looking forward to creating more intricate pieces that rely more on steel.
I definitely feel design trends change from year to year. I been noticing a lot designers using mixed materials like different types of woods as well as matte finishes with oxidized metals, matte glazes and chalk-finish paints. As far as 5 years from now goes, I’m really fascinated with what a few designers are doing with mycelium. It’s essentially fibers made of mushrooms. It’s really fast to grow which makes it a great sustainable material. Fungi furniture could be really hot soon!
C: Furniture often comes with a story. Is there a particular person or story that really resonates with you since you started building?
CF: My dad’s story resonates with me the most and gives me the drive to do what I do. My dad was an orphan in Poland and was raised on a farm by a German couple that took him in. He grew up very poor and couldn’t afford any toys so he learned to whittle and make his own. When he got older, he got accepted into art school and began training as a sculptor and painter but was forced to drop out due to his limited finances.
He then saved up enough money working construction jobs to move to America. When he arrived, he simultaneously worked construction jobs, learned English, and attended night school to earn an engineering degree. Now he’s a mechanical engineer working for the U.S. Army. Through all the hardships he endured, he never lost his sense of humor and good will toward others. He’s always willing to help someone out whether that means making or fixing something, he does it with a smile. He’s just so passionate about creating and continuing to learn and improve his skills that it really pushes me to do the same.
C: What have you learned from furniture-making that you've applied to work or other parts of your life?
CF: Knowing how to be calm and collected and think things through before making a move. Making furniture is an extremely time-sensitive process and just one mistake can set you back hours. And with materials being so expensive, even the smallest mistake can be costly.
C: Why is furniture so damn expensive?
CF: It’s the raw materials that make furniture so damn expensive. If you take a trip to a local mill yard, you can see why quality furniture is so expensive. It costs money to cut down the trees, mill them, ship them to the yard and pay employees. Then factor in the other finishing materials and the hours of labor it takes to actually design and build it and you get a high-end pricetag.
C: What do you suggest to all the aspiring craftsman out there? Working with tools and raw materials often seems daunting. How does a person get started?
CF: My school of thought is that you just have to throw yourself head first into the hardest project possible and figure it out. Nothing worth having comes easy and you have to mentally prepare yourself to fail and screw up. It’s part of the learning process. Your first piece might come out off square and wobbly but you just have to accept it and learn from your mistakes. You’ll reflect on where you went wrong and what you should of done it differently and put those learning into your next piece. It’s really just putting in the time to get great at it like any other skill and life is a thrill when your skill is developed like Del the Funky Homosapien once said.
C: Final thoughts?
CF: My job is to use digital tools to create work that is often fleeting. Being able to step out of that world and use actual tools to create tangible things that will last for years is really rewarding. I also find it mentally therapeutic to temporarily disconnect from the stress of my daily life and just focus on creating something that serves a purpose. Some people choose a creative outlet, but mine choose me thanks to my Dad.