Meet the Maker: Q&A with Forest Dickey of Varian Designs
A brand new San Francisco showroom called for new furniture and fixtures to match our contemporary and industrial, yet playful new space. To help us achieve the perfect look, we enlisted the help of San Francisco-based furniture designer, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs. Although they are showstoppers on their own, Forest's beautifully detailed designs remain simple enough not to distract from the true star of the show, our tile. We were so happy with the outcome, and the quality of work Forest and Varian Designs provided, that we took a minute to chat with him about his inspirations, his process, and how he got involved with Fireclay.
Forest Dickey of Varian Designs
How did you get your start in furniture design?
Forest – I have always made stuff. I studied Fine Art and Art History at the University of Chicago and got into woodworking and furniture design after enrolling in post-graduate class at the University of Wisconsin in 2003. From there I learned more about design and making by taking workshops and working for different designers/makers in Colorado and New York City. Once I felt comfortable with building, I applied to do my MFA in Furniture Design and Woodworking at San Diego State University under a professor named Wendy Maruyama. I started the company Varian Designs as my thesis project at SDSU and then moved it up here to SF when I graduated. (Chasing my wife).
What inspires your designs and your style?
Forest – I take inspiration from a lot of different sources. Many of them are from "within" the furniture world. I love Scandinavian furniture design and architecture and have based many of my designs from inspiring buildings or elements of buildings. I also draw inspiration from my environment. The Broen collection (from which my current work with Fireclay is inspired) was created shortly after I moved to San Francisco and is reminiscent of the bridges of the bay area. I also like working with my clients and take inspiration from their ideas and thoughts. I enjoy the process of combining their functional needs with creative twists that make pieces original.
The desks in our showroom are based on the Bartizan Desk from Varian Design's Broen Collection
What does your design process look like from start to finish?
Forest – It depends on the project. If I am just designing a piece for my collections on spec it typically starts with sketching in a sketch book, then moves into the computer where I begin to draft and then typically there are one or two prototypes built. Then I wait for someone that is interested in buying it and make them a first edition.
How did you get involved with Fireclay Tile? Why were you interested in working on our showroom?
Forest – I got a call from Eric about a year ago to develop some concepts for your first SF showroom, we hit it off and enjoyed working together and he came back to me when you began the move into the new space. I really enjoy working with everyone at Fireclay, you are friendly, down to earth, and open to creativity. I think I do my best work when I enjoy the people I am working with and that is true of Fireclay. I think that one of the most rewarding aspects of my "job" is the relationships I have developed with my clients. Many, if not all have become friends.
What was it like designing the furniture for our new San Francisco Showroom?
Forest – In any custom design situation the client always has a set of "rules." These rules govern the function of the pieces, the look of the pieces according to the overall space and also the budget. Once we established what those rules were, I was free to propose my ideas and they proved popular. After that is was a matter of tweaking details with Jamie and Eric to make sure the pieces worked well with the overall design of the space and to do some creative things with finish and materials.
Can you tell me about the materials you used?
Forest – The materials and finishes were selected to match the look of the space. The pieces are large so we didn't want the grain of the wood to be too busy and rift white oak (on the table tops) was a nice simple and warm surface for people to look at. The grey textured wash on the boxes of the tables was selected to match the steel elements and the cool darks other places in the space.
Want to see Forest's beautiful work in person? Come visit our San Francisco Showroom on 901 Brannan St.