HA: You started working with reclaimed materials long before it became a buzzword…
JS: Yes, in 1990 there were a lot of curious people wondering why on earth I was using this old material. I was living in Boston, noticing some incredible buildings being taken down, and lamenting the loss of all of that wasted, beautiful, architectural detail. So, it started as a rescue mission, and I quickly realized this was the material I wanted to work with. Now, 29 years later, this of course blossomed into a wide variety of sustainable materials, including wood salvaged from old buildings and shipwrecks to historical trees, centuries-old cast iron, stone, and more.
HA: How long have you been making furniture?
JS: Actually, the first couple of years I was making assemblage art and three dimensional sculpture. Through my natural curiosity, this flowed easily into furniture making. So it has been over 25 years, give or take…
HA: At Hutker, we talk a lot about “a sense of place” in the context of our design work. How do you think it comes into play with your own work?
JS: Designing and making furniture is often site-specific, from both an aesthetic point of view, and in terms of functionality. When choosing a material that suits an environment, I have to factor in if the piece is going to see ice and snow, active kids and St. Bernards, or something less demanding altogether. Finding a solution for a sense of place is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of what I do every day. And I love the challenge.
HA: You have two locations…one in Wellfleet and one in Rhode Island…what is it about these two places that draws you to create?
JS: I think like most people who have chosen New England, it’s all about the natural beauty of our surroundings. I’m an ocean person, and you can find me in or near the water year-round. And the wonderful diversity of the coastline has kept me very happy here for nearly half a century.
HA: With the proliferation of “big box,” ship-ready furniture options, what is it that draws people to commission a custom piece? I suspect it’s more than specifying a particular size or style…
JS: I think people are drawn to my work for a number of reasons, perhaps the first being more obvious artisan quality. The second, I would say, is the visual hold of the piece, and last but not least, falling in love with the layers of history and the backstory of the materials. Of course knowing it was an heirloom piece created just for you makes everyone smile.
HA: There are a few pieces that you make time and time again. Tell me more about what makes them perennial favorites?
JS: Making tables from large trees is truly awesome in every sense of the word. From the process of seeing the tree come down, and selecting how it will be milled, to having the behemoth slabs all around you in the studio, is incredible. People are drawn to the raw beauty of nature, captured in such a lasting way. In fact, I’ve sold slabs to people who just want to lean them against a wall and enjoy them as I do. And then there are the designs that just feel right – you feel obligated to continue making them available for people to enjoy year after year.
HA: What’s next for Jeff Soderbergh Studio?
JS: I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be opening a second showroom – this one in Portsmouth, Rhode Island – coming later this Spring. Similar to my Wellfleet showroom, the Island Park location will offer a bevy of reclaimed and sustainable materials for building and landscaping projects, while displaying my custom furnishings amidst the work of other sustainable artists. I feel very grateful to be surrounded by these materials, and to make them available to everyone who appreciates them.