San Francisco woodworker Jared Rusten is best known for his epic California series, large slabs of beautifully finished walnut, cut into the shape of his home state — a shape that happens to work quite well for a coffee table, and especially a desk. I’m often most comfortable working on a table that wraps a bit around me, offering reachable surface area for papers and gadgets, and an ergonomic resting place for elbows.
The California tables are impressive, but the toolbox he made as a student in 2002 is just as remarkable in its own way — a signal of the meticulous craftsmanship he would later demonstrate as a professional furniture designer.
Rusten’s work exemplifies some of the best traits of mid-century modernism: simple, functional, with a reverence toward and celebration of natural materials. Wood is obviously his favorite of those materials. His thoughtful description of the particular kind of walnut used for the California tables says it all:
The Claro Walnut, a perfect analog to the left coast’s culture and people, possesses a spectrum of colors and textures, unlike many other wood species. And, because Claro Walnut is not harvested commercially at any significant scale, it is obtained mostly through small, independent sawyers who are able to spare displaced trees from the landfill or chipper.
Sawyer! What a great term.
He continues to sing wood’s praises in his blog (a lovely but rarely updated thing that I hope he’ll revive soon):
Wood is like gemstone. It is a precious, organic material that can be used for pedestrian industrial purposes, or it can be carefully faceted, polished, and set to reveal the greatest color, figure, and clarity. Unlike many gemstones though, wood is plentiful among us, and it can be composed in forms to satisfy the most vital human needs.
I’m drawn most to the “modern” aesthetics of the mid-twentieth century, and I feel that these clear, minimal forms are the best means of showcasing the beauty of the wood. … Because I work only with solid woods, a scratch, a dented corner, or a worn armrest will not reveal an inferior material hidden beneath a thin layer of veneer. Rather, marks of wear on a piece of J. Rusten furniture will only serve to demonstrate it’s value as a beloved functional object.
Despite the time and skill that clearly goes into each of Rusten’s pieces, they are surprisingly affordable handmade objects. It’s also rare (although increasingly more common) to buy a piece of furniture directly from the maker. If you have the means — and a worthy space — I highly recommend you take a look at his online shop and Flickr collection.