Ethan Summers, founder of design firm Oil / Lumber, grew up in a Japanese Buddhist home in Ogden, Utah, where—like a lot of kids trying to fit in—he wanted to "be more Americanized." Now his background exerts a strong influence on his furniture, household objects, and clothing, whose aesthetic is tough to pin down.
His Kōhī table takes its name from the Japanese word for coffee and has cantilevered edges that tip a hat to George Nakashima, but its execution in Tennessee white oak gives it a Danish modern vibe.
From his Nashville studio, Summers has worked on local projects for clients like celebrity chef Sean Brock, boutique hotels, and retail spaces. "People tell me to hire more people, but the whole point of this was working with my hands," he says. "I don’t want to lose that side of things."
Learn why Summers thinks design could be more inclusive, plus read more of his responses to our Q&A below.
Hometown: Nashville, TN
Describe what you make in 140 characters. We are a design firm primarily focused on furniture, apparel, and home goods. These items are designed and produced in house.
What's the last thing you designed? We recently designed a new table for a residential client that will be released in our line in a couple months.
Do you have a daily creative ritual? Five minute meditation, coffee, and music.
How do you procrastinate? By doing other creative things I never have time for. I seem to get a lot of things done like cleaning the shop, designing new items, and researching when I'm procrastinating tasks that need to get done.
What everyday object would you like to redesign? Bowls.
Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? My parents, and generations before me. George Nakashima, Hiroki Nakamura, and Yvon Chouinard.
What skill would you most like to learn? Architecture.
What is your most treasured possession? Some of my hand tools that were passed town from my grandfather.
What's your earliest memory of an encounter with design? Probably high school when I started studio art class.
What contemporary design trend do you despise? There's nothing that jumps out to me that I despise in contemporary design. Usually when I don't like something it ends up being used by someone I look up to and they reimagine how to implement that technique into something new and fresh.
Finish this statement: All design should...be fun, and push products to be better.
What’s your dream house? It would overlook water, have a small footprint, lots of glass, comforting for a family, but modern enough to be unique.
Did you pick up any new hobbies or learn a new skill while in quarantine? What was it? I've picked up gardening. Invested in a lot of seeds and started to produce most of our own vegetables for our daily life.
How do you think the pandemic will affect residential design in the future? What about workplace or commercial design? I think homeowners will start to think about their homes as a true functioning space. More than ever before people are home, cooking, relaxing and also using homes for offices, so I think a lot of people will start to think about their home as a place that can provide for them enjoyment in both form and function.
How can the design world be more inclusive? By opening it up to all budgets. Sometimes clients believe they can't afford a designer or think about a design because they don't have a huge budget, but there are things everyone can do in design to amplify their lives.
What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? The entire creation process. From research to finalize product, so much work is put into items that most people don't know or understand.
The Dwell 24 2020
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