Shop Visit: Asa Pingree
Asa Pingree grew up in Maine, worked building boats with his father, and eventually made his way to Brooklyn where he recently launched his own furniture company. Coming from a maritime city in the Northeast myself, where a love for boats and spending time on the water is universal, I was particularly interested in Pingree’s story and his craft. How does creating workable small spaces on boats influence one’s furniture design? Immensely.
Pingree approaches furniture design with the thoughtful deliberate approach of a boatbuilder - someone who pays strict attention to process and builds things to last. Not only does this mean from a quality perspective, but from a design aesthetic too. Pingree likens it to the classic design of a Maine lobster boat, which has been virtually unchanged over the last century (or more?). Form and function are inseparable in this case, and they work together to create something beautiful and lasting.
Pingree's Pilar Lounge Chair is a handsome version of a modern classic that could easily be seen gracing the lobby of a hotel. His Tidewalker weight bench reveals a playful marriage of practicality and craft, and the Physalia Desk pulls double duty as a dining table and also breaks down easily. All of Pingree’s furniture is made with the modern home dweller in mind, meaning the pieces are relatively lightweight, can be moved around easily, and are scaled for apartment living.
Pingree gave me a tour of his shop where we talked furniture, design, and of course, New England.
First off, can you tell me about your path to making furniture? How did it all start? I grew up building boats and there is no doubt that the fire was lit then.
Furniture is a pretty new endeavor. I've had a few workshops in New York where I mainly focused on building carbon fiber skateboards for downhill racing. It was a great application of the materials, and as an engineering project I really went through invaluable trial and error. I remember one particular board breaking in the early days. It broke for a surprising reason, I remember my eyes welled up with the "aha" of it and I thought that the top of my head was going to come off. Those moments of creation are always about understanding and ideas as much as they are about the physical realization of an object. Those moments have been driving me since I was a little kid. I remember making an arch out of wooden blocks on my bedroom floor and it felt that same way then; like magic. Parts and actions go together to become something that just appears before you. I've enjoyed many mediums since. I grew up on the stage and studied acting in London. Furniture in recent years has felt like the most natural fit. I've always been obsessed with how design interacts with the human form and how the spaces we create interact with our lives. Allowing that to be my focus feels like winning the lottery.
I know you grew up making boats with your father in North Haven. I think boat building, especially in Maine, represents some of the finest craftsmanship in the U.S. today. Tell me specifically how this experience factors in your work and your approach to your furniture.
The tradition of boat building in Maine is so rich and it is certainly going strong. They've built generation after generation of beautiful boat on every scale. I love being part of that and I really love the better understanding of a boat's form that it has given me. The design of boats has always been a clear example of where form and function merge into one. The practicality of the Mainer combined with attentiveness to quality makes Mainers well suited to boatbuidling. My dad started off building wooden boats, but was focused on production fiberglass boats when I started working for him at 14. Later, he fully embraced composite construction techniques and was constantly refining his processes to make the work more efficient and to improve the results. We did not romanticize the craft, but rather strived for a perfect outcome and more durable performance. That is certainly the way I run my own shop today.
Tell me a little about the line you created for ICFF (or this first line of furniture?). I really like the modern lounge chair. Is this a style you’ll stick with or do you want to push into other styles as well?
I wanted to launch the company with designs that felt like simple classics-- pieces that would establish our baseline of quality and style. A place we could go in multiple directions from in the future, hopefully offering both a more utilitarian version as well as the one-offs that aren't ready for production and may have a smaller audience.
We talked materials a little bit and you mentioned fiberglass. What about working with fiberglass interests you so much?
Well my expertise is in fiberglass and carbon fiber so it's hard to not think in those materials and design forms only achievable in those materials. I'm really enjoying wood currently, but the two will certainly integrate more in the future. Fiberglass furniture, as I'm interested in it, is about working with vacuum lamination in the same way wood plys can be, but with greater dynamic capability.
You also help run the Bakery, a co-working space in Brooklyn. Can you tell me how this project inspires your work and affects what you do?
I've been sharing space with others in Brooklyn for 12 years, in many different iterations. I built the Bakery 3 years ago with my good friend Jason Kachadourian, who I share a work shop with. We were trying to pay the bills and it has been far more rewarding than I could have imagined. If you want to take advantage of the energy that is New York and build off the talent and the tenacity of those around you, you need to build a community, and the Bakery has done that. It's full of hard working creatives that are all pulling for each other. My whole team is built out of this community and I owe them so much. The value of this experience has really changed how I approach the larger NY independent design scene as well, which is so charged right now and ambitious. It's a great place to attempt a new venture, which is invariably a lot of work, but there's real support from your peers if you are open to it.
Tell me a little bit about your North Haven goal that we talked about, why that place is so important to you and why you want to eventually open a shop there.
I grew up in an island community of 350 people, 12 miles off the coast of Maine. It's a beautiful place grounded in nature, full of good people and salty characters. Most of my family is there and they put a lot of energy into the health of the community. I greatly respect them for that and they inspire me to build something bigger than just me alone in my shop. If I can operate a business from there at some point it will mean a lot to me, but building a business period to me often feels like a civic endeavor. I think impetus needs to be solid when the days get long, or we would do something more profitable. North Haven is certainly a big part of my impetus.