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The Apprentice: A City Modern Preview

Dwell and New York magazines’ second annual City Modern is kicking off in just a little over a week and we’re already looking forward to the home tours and panels featuring some of New York’s great design minds. This year, one of those panels will include young designers just beginning their careers. Chosen to take part in a week-long apprenticeship with Thos. Moser designer Adam Rogers, emerging furniture designers Willy Chan and Fahmida Lam will take part in a discussion about their experience learning the techniques and philosophies that have defined the time-honored Moser aesthetic for 40 years.
Willy Chan crafts part of his design during his time in the Thos. Moser workshop. Photo provided by Thos. Moser.

A lifelong fan of Thos. Moser’s 100% American-made work, Adam Rogers joined the company with an MFA in furniture design and woodworking and experience as a designer in an architecture firm. Today he carries on Moser’s tradition of celebrating the natural beauty of wood through traditional and modern craftsmanship.

The emerging designers will unveil pieces completed during their apprenticeship at City Modern on October 2. We checked in with Rogers, Chan and Lam during the week-long apprenticeship for an update on their progress.

What are you hoping to impart to Willy and Fahmida in their week-long apprenticeship?

AR: I’d consider the week with Fahmida and Willy a success if it results in a heightened respect for the craft of wood furniture; how it necessarily requires an understanding of and respects the natural material, while allowing the craft itself to serve as a counterpart in the design process.

How have you witnessed them adapting or changing their design process over the last few days?

AR: Both Fahmida and Willy had great concepts to explore. They clearly understood our interest in having them contribute their individual perspectives to our established approach. Each idea started with a series of sketches and accompanying small-scale models. Once we discussed the concepts and narrowed in on a starting point based on our mutual goals, we let the material and the craft inform the design through prototyping. In this way, we allow the material itself - its properties and capabilities- to have a voice not only in the process, but ultimately in the final piece. The way we employ traditional joinery, our approach to making, and the interplay between the design intent and the material and construction constraints informed all aspects of the design process. Fahmida and Willy approached the week with an open mind and allowed their ideas to evolve as the process unfolded – while managing to hold on to the intent of their designs. It was a true collaboration among people; designers and craftsmen, as well as processes, design and craft.

What have you and others at Thos. Moser learned from having these young designers around the office/workshop?

AR:I’m confident that we, certainly I, learned as much from them as they did from us. The energy and excitement they came with, and their commitment to learning our approach was refreshing. Their enthusiasm was apparent. Both were remarkably collaborative and truly allowed their ideas to evolve through the design and prototyping phase. They are welcome back anytime.

Willy Chan recently earned his BFA in Product Design from Parsons, The New School for Design and is currently working on an MFA at School of Visual Arts in their brand new Products of Design program. Fahmida Lam is working on her Master of Industrial Design thesis at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the piece you are working on with Adam Rogers?

WC: Moser was a fairly new company to me when I first heard of them. I knew about their fantastic woodworking skills and level of quality that represented their history and upheld their reputation. I didn't realize how important the hand made and finished was to the company until I saw what I saw at Moser. The piece that I am designing is simple but also sophisticated, modern but also traditional. I wanted to create an Heirloom.

FL: When I arrived at Moser I had narrowed down my design ideas to 4. I sat with Adam and we discussed which would be the best to explore as a modern design while also capturing the history and values of Moser's woodworking. We settled on a piece that will ultimately display a marrying of tradition, modern design, fine craftsmanship and presence.

How has closely working with an experienced designer altered the way you might approach the design process in the future?

WC: The design process in this case was one that was extremely fast with lots of feedback and experimenting. I work very well with my hands so my design process was just jumping right into the making and seeing what fit or didn't. I have always been an avid woodworking fan with extensive training but Moser has showed me that there is still so much to learn! The way I would approach a design problem would be completely different than the way a master woodworker would approach it. I would love to just spend a month or two at the Moser woodshop just watching and learning.

FL: Not only did I get to work with an experienced designer but I also got to work side by side with a master woodworker who has been working there for over 10 years. The collaboration has been an amazing experience. A design that started on paper, then a mini model and a cad drawing was easily bought to life by a true team. Much of the changes that I made to my design were a result of the properties and capabilities of the material and the necessary construction of it. The form evolved as decisions were made based on their years of experience and feedback. It's been truly amazing to have so much knowledge at my disposal. In the future I would like to have more collaborations with craftsmen. Of all kinds. It's admiring to stand besides people who are just as happy to bring your design to life while teaching you so much.

Beyond creating a piece of furniture, what are you hoping to achieve by the end of the process?

WC: I see my piece of furniture a representation of Moser's willingness to work with new and emerging designers. In that sense, I could have designed almost anything at the Moser woodshop and the experience would have been the same. An amazing experience. To see such a respected and traditional company who's history lies with graceful lines and antique traditions open their doors to designers whose aesthetic choices might not represent theirs, is just saying something very important about Moser as a company. By the end of this process, I hope that our experience with Moser will lead the company to pursue other projects similar to this one. I hope we didn't scare them that much!

FL: Better knowledge of woodworking. An experience of true collaboration and how powerful that can be. A longstanding relationship with some of the most knowledgeable craftsmen I've ever met and a new love, respect and admiration for such a wonderful material as wood. It's been a wonderful experience for an emerging designer such as myself to have had the opportunity to be a sponge and learn so much. Not only through my asking many questions but also through listening to other conversations and the deep history and values of Thos. Moser. Everyone there is amazing.

City Modern celebrates the best in New York design and architecture with studio tours, panel discussions, cocktail parties, special installations and home tours. Taking place from September 27 to October 4, the events look to elevate the level of discussion and awareness about how design affects urban life. The full list of events can be seen here.

Use this link to RSVP for your free ticket to The Apprentice: Furniture Making, with Thos. Moser on Thursday, October 3. RSVP is required and space is limited.

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