FUNCTION MEETS FORM
Home Furnishings That Blur the Lines Between Art and Utility
By Barbara Canetti
Art furniture — those pieces that combine creativity with functionality — command attention in any room. Furniture artists use their imagination to handcraft chairs, tables, ottomans and shelving as well as flower pots, mugs and mirrors into statement pieces that are useful as well as interesting in the home.
“I’m all over this,” says Ann Marie Vancas, a Houston artist who creates tables that are suitable for serving and eating as well as to admire as art. “This is just another medium and part of your life. Everything [in showrooms] is so sterile but this is touchable and useable art.”
Vancas says she was inspired to this artform after doing research on the international Bauhaus movement, started 100 years ago by German architect Walter Gropius, with the idea of reimagining the material world to reflect all of the arts: design, architecture, painting and sculpture.
That union of art and design has given an opportunity to artists to show their personal expression in a medium that usually focuses solely on functionality. The concept also has been elevated to museum quality pieces, such as those viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in recent exhibits for Joris Laarman and contemporary Dutch designers.
For local craftspersons, the opportunities are endless. Chad Kimball creates new pieces from discarded lengths of wood at his Austin studio. Cypress-based Contour Functional Art partners with artisans in East Africa. Houstonian Eddie Hall designs footstools and ottomans that he refers to as conversation pieces; his work can be found at the Copper Shade Tree in Round Top.
Conroe-based artist Karsten Lee uses his hands, brain and heart to create exquisite furnishings, while retailers M. Naeve and Karma Living provide outlets for a variety of artisans.
Large pieces of driftwood or tree trunks mounted under heavy glass table tops are a popular item for foyer or entrances, as well as the base for a dining table or coffee table. Sleek tables with interesting angles and geometric shapes become not only functional parts of the room but also the centerpiece. Sinuous curvy legs, dramatic designs for countertops and sculptured forms draw immediate attention and accolades from visitors as well as owners.
Because most pieces are unique and handcrafted, their quality is often superior to mass produced furniture. Artists bend wood, roll metal, carve limbs or paint surfaces to create an art-filled statement.
“I use these pieces as blank canvas and make them bold,” says Vancas. “You can have a stark house and add a pop of color, a pop of spontaneity or a spot of whimsical and that changes everything. The house can be the canvas itself.”
She says she also paints and designs coffee mugs or plant pots to make them art pieces as well as utensils, giving a little extra pizazz to traditionally mundane objects.
“My philosophy is to first try to make something and make it fun. If it doesn’t work, well, then go buy what you need. But try to make it first yourself,” she says.
Ann Marie Vancas
Contour Functional Art
Copper Shade Tree Galleries
102 Schumann, Round Top