John Sorensen-Jolink, the founder and creative director of Brooklyn’s Coil + Drift, took a pretty unique path into furniture design. Trained as a dancer and choreographer, he’s managed to move effortless into a career designing and making furniture. His success combining these seemingly two separate art forms—dance and furniture design— so fluidly, has earned him a lot of attention in the process, for good reason.
Sorensen-Jolink's studio is in Bushwick, and it’s there that I met him and discussed his work and patch into design. While I was there, Sorensen-Jolink and his team were working on a set of shelves and a brass and marble table (The Dusk Coffee Table), which is the piece that first interested me in his work. You can see more of that here. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.
H&E: Can you start by telling me what attracted you to furniture design?
I had a fulfilling career as a dancer and choreographer, and I felt the need to do something less ethereal that wouldn’t be over at the end of a night’s performance, and create something that I could hold and that might last longer than, you know, me.
I could of gone a number of different ways but I’ve always gravitated towards, and been attracted by, the sense of home, and how we define that and create that. I think that's what brought me to furniture.
So I was studying woodworking and apprenticed the old fashioned way, and then I realized I really wanted to design. So I started drawing by hand, and then taught myself how to use computer rendering programs and was asked to present a collection a BKLYN Designs, and that was when I premiered my first collection that was properly Coil + Drift.
H&E: Do you always draw out the pieces beforehand?
Usually I’ll do a rough sketch with pencil and paper, just to get it out of my head, because that first phase is - I don’t find it easy to translate to a computer program what is living in my head. I want to draw it first. Then I go to a computer and work on a rendering for a while. And I usually have ten to twenty versions of something before I have what I want to make. Because once you pass from the computer to a prototype, you're investing a huge amount of money.
A huge amount of the work that a designer does before they actually present a collection, is prototyping. And it’s a ridiculous amount of money. You have to make it for real. You don’t get to make a fake piece, you have to really make it.
H&E: One of the things that struck me about your work, is that it’s not all rustic wood. I like that work with marble and brass and cleaner finishes. How would you describe your style?
The most important thing in a piece is the material. I think it always starts with the material you’re using and the conversation that multiple materials are having. Whether that’s wood with leather, or marble with brass, they’re going to tell a very different story. So I would describe my aesthetic as material-driven, minimal and with a respect for the mid-century movement as well as more contemporary designers.
I don’t have formal training in architecture or furniture design. I definitely design as a choreographer. For me, it’s about how it exists in a space, and the sense of movement it actually gives off.
Like the chair you saw (pictured above), it’s a very simple piece, but when I designed it I wanted you to feel something looking at it, that sense that it my envelope you, or embrace you, that you might get the sense of what it’s like to sit in it before you actually do.
So that’s what’s most important to me is that sense of movement and negative space that objects give off. That’s definitely something that comes from my background as a choreographer.
H&E: I’m glad you mentioned that because I was going to ask about it.. Those are two art forms that are not usually thought of together, but I can see how one affects the other.
You never leave behind what you did before. It influences me every day. It is now my biggest strength. I have a unique sense of space and how we use space, and how objects exist in space, and how people who use their bodies the way dancers and choreographers do-spending years honing. So that will never go away. I will use it always. The more that I learn about the techniques of furniture design, the stronger I’ll get, but that will always be my foundation.
H&E: That’s interesting. Do you have a big vision for where this is going?
I’d like to have a physical space where Coil + Drift’s work can be experienced. I think it’s really difficult to sell furniture online. I think the people in our internet age really crave an actual space they can experience something.
I would envision a space that’s multi-functional that feels like home, but there’s a workspace, and where people can actually spend time in it..something that’s more than a traditional showroom. And yeah, keep doing what I do. I’d like Coil + Drift to be doing more spaces, all encompassing designs, more interior design, whether it’s a hotel or restaurant. I’m definitely able to do more than just furniture design, that’s kind of where I see it going.
H&E: So why the name Coil + Drift?
I wanted a name that was multi-functional that described movement as well as an object. So you can have a coiled hose, you can have drift wood, but you can also have something that’s coiling, like a snake, it can be used as a verb, and drift is also an active verb, so it’s both active and passive. I think it references the dance movement history as well as the projects that we’re making.
H&E: Nice. Thanks!