The Dwell 24: Casey Johnson

Casey Johnson creates functional, form-driven wood objects designed, built, and hand-carved in his North Carolina studio.

Casey Johnson started as a sculptor, and his carved and compiled curvilinear forms recall the works of greats like Isamu Noguchi and Constantin Brâncuși.

Since the North Carolina designer began making functional objects, he has gravitated toward materials that let him play with artistic flourishes. Wood is now his primary medium. 

"It’s an organic, living and breathing material that expands and contracts and has all kinds of surprises," Johnson says. "Although my designs are typically very clean and controlled, I’m working with a material that is imperfectly beautiful. It is always a dance." 

That artisanal approach keeps his work feeling personal even as his studio responds to growing demand. In pieces like a recently commissioned custom desk, the interplay of hand, tool, and material enlivens the object’s varied surface textures and, Johnson says, "reminds us of our humanity in a world of plastic and mass production."

Learn more about Johnson by reading the Q&A below.

Hometown: Black Mountain, North Carolina

Describe what you make in 140 characters. I make furniture, sculptures, and everything in between

What's the last thing you designed? We are currently working on pair of sculpted Shoji-inspired doors in the studio.

Do you have a daily creative ritual? The creative process ebbs and flows for me. I’m normally found in the middle of designing, making/carving, or managing my team during production. When I’m designing, I’m typically somewhere comfortable at home with no distractions—this is at night most times when my kids are in bed and it’s quiet. When I’m actively making or carving in the studio, I’m typically listening to music or a podcast. The good days are when you find the flow and can stay in it without getting pulled in too many directions.

How do you procrastinate? I don’t typically procrastinate, but when I do it’s probably on a project for my own home.

What everyday object would you like to redesign? Why? Redesigning is not something I think about often. I’m more interested in designing new forms or compositions that sometimes happen to be a functional object or act as furniture.

Who are your heroes (in design, in life, in both)? In design, my heroes are mostly sculptors. I’m always drawn to Martin Puryear, JB Blunk, Isamu Noguchi, Constantin Brâncuși, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth. In life, my hero is definitely my resilient and amazing wife, Amy. Without her support and strength I would struggle through so many of life’s challenges. 

What skill would you most like to learn? I'd love to learn more culinary skills. I feel like there is something intuitive with putting flavors together in a way that is similar to the flow of making sculptures.

What is your most treasured possession? My most treasured possession is probably my angle grinder I use for power carving.

What’s your earliest memory of an encounter with design? We are all born into the built and designed environment. Wherever people are, there is design. For that matter even without people there is design. We just take what we see in our world and collaborate with what already exists. My earliest memory is probably watching my mother knit blankets on the couch, her hands constantly moving in repetitive form to craft patterns and texture.

What contemporary design trend do you despise? I honestly don’t even think about it.

Finish this statement: All design should... be honest.

What's in your dream house? I would love to design my own house one day and fill it with sculptures and furniture created by myself and my friends. It would be bomewhere surrounded by nature or a space that brings the outside in, a place for contemplation, and something peaceful.

How do you want design to be different after we emerge from the pandemic? I think design will evolve no mater what the circumstances. 

How can the design world be more inclusive? The design community can be more inclusive by opening more doors to marginalized communities and supporting work made by marginalized people. There has been progress in many ways, but we still have a long way to go to level the playing field. I’m not an expert by any means, but there is still favoritism based on economic status, race, and gender."

What do you wish non-designers understood about the design industry? That’s it’s not all glamorous. It’s mostly blood sweat and tears.

You can learn more about Johnson by visiting his website or on Instagram.

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