Students hike across the University of Minnesota’s Washington Avenue bridge every day. It connects the east and west banks of campus, and for most it’s just a way to get to class. But for Scott McGlasson, the bridge is the place he had his epiphany: he should make furniture.
“I was an English major and hadn’t a clue about furniture construction,” McGlasson said. “I’m not sure what brought it about, but I had this very naive and romantic notion of spending my life in a dusty wood shop.”
Nearly 10 years passed after his epiphany on the bridge, but it never left his mind. He finished his English degree and ended up teaching at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. When the school offered free classes to employees, McGlasson took them up on their offer. He learned woodworking and cabinetry in the school’s wood shop and eventually set up his own studio in St. Paul. Now his two-and-a-half-person operation can barely keep up with the orders flowing in for benches, desks, coffee tables and credenzas.
McGlasson’s work is a study in how opposites can complement each other: He mixes modern flair with old-world joinery and clean lines with rough elements. He works with American hardwoods and his handiwork has found a home in houses and offices across the country, from American Public Media to Wieden + Kennedy. All his leftover wood scraps end up in the sauna of his cabin up North. That’s Minnesota sustainability at its finest.
Check out a sample of McGlasson’s design portfolio, with notes from the designer himself.
An Easy Chair
“I’m a utilitarian. All of my pieces start from a basic need, such as something a client wants or more often, something we need at home. For instance, my Easy Chair came about because the back fell off of an Eames molded plywood lounge chair that was in our living room. I made a replacement and it turned out well— the chair is now part of my line.”
Versatile Side Tables
“I’m a minimalist at heart and I’m drawn to very simple forms. I [also] have a close relationship with the materials I use. A lot of the lumber I harvest myself. I love the knots, burls and natural distressing that occurs where limbs come together. When I get lumber back from the mill I often know exactly what it will be used for. So you might find, for instance in my TC15 side table (above), a simple box form hemming in a little craziness of the natural world.”
“The lathe is very important and there is a turned element in most pieces. It came very naturally to me. Learning to turn has been transformative for my work. “
“Before the lathe everything tended to be linear; with the lathe it’s round or cylindrical. It’s very simple – you mount a wood form between two axises and spin it at high velocity, removing material with sharp cutting instruments along a fixed tool rest. I make everything from chair legs, lamp parts and stool bodies, to entire side tables. I like to push what I can do with it – mounting large, glued-up forms and seeing what transpires.”
“I love [these]. They are very personal to me. They’re all over my house and there’s a couple up at my cabin. All of my friends have them. It’s like a pet that doesn’t need to be fed.”
“The stool is based on a standard three-legged milking stool but with exaggerated proportions. Everything is round and soft. When I first made it I wanted an upholstered accessory for the top. I had my upholsterer make a couple of padded leather cushions that weren’t quite right. Then I ran into Deborah from Star Thrower Farm at the Mill City Farmers’ Market where I set up shop a few times during the summer. She has the biggest herd of Icelandic sheep in the country. They get everything from these animals – milk, cheese, wool, chops and the most amazing pelts. I knew as soon as I saw them that they would make a perfect accessory.”
“There is often a mixture of disparate elements — rough with smooth, old-timey with modern, beautiful hardwoods matched with bold colors or even plastic laminate. The pieces are simple but I’ll use a subtle detail or grace note to set them off.”
“I’m not afraid of colors at all. Blues are my favorite — from Yves Klein blue to my custom-mixed midnight blue.”
“I’ve got energy to burn when it comes to making furniture. Maybe because it was a second career for me and I didn’t find it until my early 30s, I feel like I’m just getting going. I’ve become almost monomaniacal about it. When I’m not at my shop I’m obsessing about a design. I have a very supportive family, but once in a while my wife will call me and say, ‘Okay honey, it’s time to come home now.’”