Form Meets Function
The handmade, custom work of these six accomplished Hudson Valley furniture makers blurs the distinction between fine art and craftsmanship
(page 4 of 6)
Visual surprise: People are often puzzled about what materials he has used in his furniture, says McClatchy, whose tactile, metal, and concrete pieces range in style from the Arts & Crafts-inspired buffet (above) to more delicate designs like the side table (below right)
Concrete and steel don’t sound like inviting materials for furniture. “That’s why I like them,” declares Michael McClatchy, who creates distinctive, modern steel pieces with concrete tops that are highly tactile and surprisingly warm. “I don’t like that cold, harsh, industrial look, all bright and steely,” he adds. “People often don’t know what the material is — they think it’s wood or stone. Mystery is good!”
McClatchy, 42, began working with metal in his teens, when he lived in Chicago. “I was blessed with a fabulous art department in high school, and the last year I was there, I just focused on art. I spent hours of the day doing whatever I wanted, and what I wanted was to make things.”
Studying at the Art Institute of San Francisco, McClatchy created large-scale sculptures using “all sorts of found objects and wood from the junkyard,” he says. Even though he was thoroughly enjoying himself, he decided it would be sensible to have a more traditional education, and left San Francisco to attend a liberal arts school in Massachusetts. Soon enough, he realized that being that sensible was a mistake, and in 1990, began designing and making steel furniture.
In the mid-1990s, McClatchy moved to the Hudson Valley and set up shop. After he married, he and his wife bought what he calls “a falling-down structure” that they fixed up, and which now has a cool concrete and steel kitchen that he built.
The Arts and Crafts movement was an influence, McClatchy says, although his pieces, with their slender legs and distinctive shapes, are lighter looking and more graceful than the style usually suggests. They are, though, obviously hand-crafted. “I like it that people can see they weren’t made in a factory,” he remarks. Designs run from a delicate-looking, almost spidery semicircular console table to a buffet with a scalloped skirt and a textured finish that resembles tortoiseshell. Those, and more traditional coffee and end tables, have satiny, polished concrete tops. McClatchy first fabricates a piece in steel, welding together the cut and shaped sheets of metal, then casts the concrete tops adding pigments or stains, usually in subtle earth tones. Sometimes, he’ll carve the surface of the concrete to make it look distressed or to add pattern, and then sand it down again to a smooth finish.
“I wanted to be a sculptor, and sometimes I think maybe I got lost along the way,” McClatchy says. “But I’m happy. I’m doing what I want to be doing.”