Mason Wells

furniture designer

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November/December 2007

How did you get into furniture design?
Why do you use recycled materials in particular?

I got into furniture design because, as a student, I needed furniture. I needed something to sit on, a table to sit at. I’m guessing this is what they mean when they say “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Currently, I’m exploring a concept that I call The Umasi Collection. The Umasi Collection is designed to blur the line between furniture and sculpture. It features perfect panels that collide into organic elements.

Most of the materials that go into Umasi are what I call “resuscitated materials.” These are discarded materials that ordinarily go to a landfill or a burn pile or a scrap yard, and with Umasi, I breathe new life into these old materials. For instance, a used telephone pole, a salvaged ship mast, a dead tree. I’ve rescued trampoline parts from the backyards of derelict houses, and I’ve salvaged ship masts from boat graveyards. So, for me, Umasi is also an adventure in sustainability, with an emphasis on recycling and repurposing the familiar.

What these “resuscitated materials” have in common is the virtual absence of “embedded energy” – in other words, the materials for Umasi have not been reprocessed and repackaged and remarketed and redistributed (at great expense) like many typical recycled materials.

Who or what has influenced your work?
How did you become inspired to create such organic furniture pieces?

I find inspiration everywhere. Artists like Noguchi and Judd. Architects like Mockbee and Pawson. Poets like Rumi and Neruda. Thinkers like Walter Gropius and Buckminster Fuller. And Yogi Berra.

Recently, an art critic was speaking about the current state of contemporary craft, and he said, “what contemporary craft really requires is a different overall approach, one that would fully acknowledge the broader context: the art world, media culture, contemporary life in all its complexity and force.”

Beautiful. I couldn’t agree more.

I believe that contemporary craft is comprised of “things” that fall into 3 categories: “things” that are mere objects; “things” that are objects with a particular story, and that story reinforces the relevance of the object; and “things” that relentlessly explore an idea as it relates to this specific moment in time. I’m more interested in the third category.

With Umasi, I’m traveling a backroad that comments on the fever surrounding the current environmental crisis. That’s the premise for Umasi. But it’s also a ready platform for other forms of commentary, with subtle references to art history, contemporary culture, and even the politics of war.

Umasi doesn’t try to distinguish itself as being green in spite of the myriad costs to the planet of being green. And it doesn’t wear “green” as a self-aggrandizing badge of honor. Instead, Umasi honors the inspired work of artists who work with found materials, of landscapers who control erosion with used tires, of architects who reimagine old buildings into new spaces.

Every piece in your collection is crafted by hand. What is your design and build process.

Dream. Make.

What’s the most rewarding project you have designed?

The most rewarding project? That’s hard to say. Every project is different, and each project has its own rewards.

Many of my most memorable projects are those that involve the design and build for an entire space. An advertising agency. A retail store. A loft space. These projects are especially rewarding because they give me an opportunity to fully develop an idea using certain materials and textures and colors and forms.

But probably the most rewarding project to date is my journey with Umasi.

Yes, The Umasi Collection is a shotgun marriage of materials. But, for me, it’s also a journey without boundaries. It is craft crashing art’s party. It’s spontaneous design that serves up more questions than answers. And, finally, it’s something of a social experiment, since I’m essentially poking at this idea to see what’ll squish out.

Is there any advice you’d give to those trying to break into the furniture industry?

Dream. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it can take you everywhere.

For instance, I dream of a smaller house. I dream of a world filled with tolerance and sensitivity. I dream of light and line. I dream of music out of every open window. I dream of perfect visual composition. I dream of naps in the afternoon.

I dream a boulevard of dreams.

Whatever your path, stay curious, question everything, and remember to dream. That’s my best advice.

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