Location: Geneva, NY
Patrick Kana is a furniture designer born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Having been trained by traditional furniture makers, sculptors, and contemporary designers, both stateside and overseas, he creates furniture and objects that blends sculptural form with honest, traditional methods.
After a special collaboration with 5th26 that was presented at 2017’s ICFF during New York Design Week, we sat down with Patrick to get some insight behind his work.
1. How do you begin your day at the studio?
I start my day with a quick inspection of my machinery and equipment and take a bit of time each morning to make sure everything is dialed in and running smoothly. This early morning quiet time for me is crucial, as it guarantees my studio is in tip-top shape, and I can also make progress on the vintage machine restorations I use in the shop. I’ll follow up with a little bit of time in the office, then get right to work on my current project. This is always best with a hot cup of tea in hand.
2. What made you become interested in wood?
I started working in wood as young kid with my father, building balsa-wood model airplanes and sailboats. Pinning strips of balsa-wood together as waiting for the glue dried was a great process for me, because I would always see tangible progress each time I worked. The results were a direct function of commitment and concentration. I loved that feeling. My parents always joked that when I was young that the question I most often asked was “what project can I do now?”
Things got more serious when I took a series of wood carving classes in high school. Not long after, I was doing more and more rigorous projects, still with my father—most notably my first guitar from scratch. About a year later, I had begun my first long-term apprenticeship with a master luthier, and furniture designer. I got hooked, and never looked back.
3. Tell us about your education and how it prepared you for your career.
Throughout my whole education, I’ve been fortunate to have parents who encouraged my siblings and I to pursue the things we truly loved. While I studied architecture and sculpture at a liberal arts college, the core of my furniture-related education was multiple apprenticeships—working one on one alongside my mentors. I spent the better part of an eighteen months apprenticing for Peter Dudley, master luthier and studio furniture maker in my hometown, and also nine months with Vicco von Voss, a German furniture maker and timber framer, from who I learned the process of harvesting and milling my own local lumber. Shorter internships and workshops in different studios balanced things out. I have been lucky to gain many friends along the way.
4. What do you find most challenging and rewarding about working with wood?
Wood is an amazing material—there aren’t many woodworkers who go the extra mile to truly understand its own story or nuances. The location the tree grew, the minerals it absorbed, the fast growing years and the slow growing years all give the wood a different character, and it is only discernible when you spend excessive amounts of time analyzing its life.
Everybody thinks of lumber as planks and a simple input commodity—we take an organic, expressive plant and saw it into flat boards that are stripped of the tree’s original character. Instead, by harvesting my own lumber, I look to retain as much of the tree’s character during the milling and drying process, maximizing its original qualities. It is my chosen medium for expressing ideas, so my biggest challenge, or responsibility as I see it, is to give the material a fair and honorable representation. When I get it right—that’s when it is worth all the effort.
5. You are an experienced sailor. Does the nautical influences inspire your work?
Having grown up around the water and sailed for as long as I can remember, it is absolutely a part of who I am. While I don’t necessarily look directly to sailing for inspiration for my work, I think it is the softness of what surrounds me—wind, water, waves, patterns, and sensory experiences--that naturally feeds back into my visual vocabulary.
6. You launched your own studio in May 2016 in addition to teaching, what has been the most challenging and rewarding thing about balancing the two?
Starting my own studio has been a dream of mine for many years. The schedule is definitely the biggest challenge, going back and forth each day between studios where I also teach. Regardless, I gather a great deal of positive energy from my design and art students that I can then bring back to my shop.
Similarly, I can bring my developments back into to the school setting and share them with eager students. This two-way street has opened up a lot of opportunities, and since opening my private studio despite the challenges, I have been more productive than ever.
7. What is the most important piece of advice you tell your students?
Don’t settle for a “Plan B” when it comes to your career. Find something you love, and fight for it.
8. What inspires your work?
Botany and marine biology are my biggest inspiration, though it depends on what I’m designing. I try to balance more expressive natural forms of spec work with clean, simplified lines of commissioned works. I like to have balance in my practice. I’m opportunistic by nature, so if an idea comes to me from the material itself, a found object, or a process, I will often run with it.
9. Tell us about your collaboration with 5TH26?
This collaboration has been great fun. Brandon came to me with an overall look he was going for with a few furniture items, and he was completely trusting of me with the technical research and development. We both learn materials by working with them first hand, and share an appreciation for their honesty and cleanliness in presentation. Designs evolved as I refined the construction technique, and he brought refined vision. We were both open and receptive to each other’s changes and challenges, which I think ultimately brought more interesting items to life.
For me, the collaboration has been a way to return to ideas of Scandinavian design and limited production work, which I studied with great interest in undergrad. Designing furniture for the market opens up new challenges than a one-of-a-kind commission. When I suggested the use of bent-lamination for the Madison Chair, we both immediately embraced it for the clean look and exposed construction method. It took multiple editions to get the process right, but the collection now has lots of potential for future objects.
10. As an experienced artist, what do you think about the current breadth of work out there today?
The art world is diverse and full of inspiration, but at the same time, it breeds trends. In the furniture industry, the trends are quite obvious and the market is saturated with similar products. I want to make products unique from these trends, where people can identify them as mine in 50 or 100 years.
For more of Patrick’s work click here