Persistence of Memory
“My passion is to create unique furniture that lasts for generations and embodies how we live and who we are.”
MH+D asks Sutton to tell us more.
Q. Has your creative process or mindset changed in recent weeks?
A. When I was first approached for this column, things were very different in the world. As I sit here now, we are faced with a global pandemic, something almost everyone alive today has never experienced. It is testing our strengths and showing our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. At first it seemed really frivolous to think or talk about “design.” But once I looked around me and saw how my partner Megan and I have settled into a routine in our home, I realized much of the security and enjoyment we have found in this difficult time is based on the things we have in our home.
Q. What designs or objects are the most meaningful in your home?
A. Specific pieces of furniture I’ve made over time, and areas of our house we’ve remodeled for more openness and connection. We also have art from family and friends from near and far that bring great memories and comfort as well. A well-made and well-designed piece of furniture adds comfort and utility to the everyday rhythm of life. To use something made by hand not only brings joy, it also makes life more comfortable, and comfort and ease are things we all need right now.
Q. As a maker, how do you define beauty?
A. Lately I find myself thinking more about the utility of an object. I think the beauty of something lies within its function. What makes a dining table truly beautiful is the patina that develops from family and friends gathering around it for meals year after year, or using it to do puzzles and craft projects, or, as many are doing now, using it as a home office or remote schoolroom. The table I grew up with was made by my grandfather, from walnut he salvaged from the retail counter at my great-grandfather’s clothing store that closed during the Great Depression. It had a burn mark from a cigar, which he left as a reminder of that history. The patina and that story added beauty to the table. Now I own that table, and it is filled with so many great memories and stories.
Q. When you finish a piece and pass it on to a client, what is your hope?
A. One of my favorite parts of building a piece for a client is seeing it in their house years later. It brings me great satisfaction to see it developing their family’s patina and hearing some of the stories about the memories they’ve created along the way. When a new client who has just received a coffee table asks me what they should put on it to keep up the finish, I say, “Your feet and a cup of coffee.” When something functions well, as it was made to, it was designed well.
Q. Any advice you would like to pass along to our readers?
A. In times like this it is important to surround ourselves with useful objects that were made by people, hopefully by people right in our own communities. Things that, when we use them or touch them, make you think of the person who made it. Things made of wood and shaped by hand have soul; they age well and continue to become more beautiful over time. They are items we want to keep and pass down. As we slow down and life becomes less fast-paced, I hope this is something people carry with them as we move forward.
MH+D is proud to partner with acclaimed architectural photographer Trent Bell on his architecture, design, and photography podcast. To hear Bell’s conversation with Sutton, please visit trentbell.com/podcast