For a long time, Ken Landauer made furniture for the 1 percent: one-of-a-kind, bespoke pieces with price tags to match. Then Occupy Wall Street happened, and the Brooklyn-based artist and woodworker found himself craving change. Specifically, how could he make high-quality, high-design furniture that he and his artist friends could actually afford? There were inherent obstacles—a totally new business model, a new clientele, new designs to figure out—but also personal ones: "I was thinking about alienation and Marx, and I didn't want to use computers," Ken recalls. That meant that potentially useful tools like CNC machines, which convert 2D digital renderings into cut materials, were off-limits. He tried the handmade route, showing off some low-waste plywood designs in 2014, but it wasn't scalable. What was a civic-minded furniture designer to do?
For starters, get a job. While working on the first cross-laminated timber (CLT) house in the Northeast, Ken saw CNC in action. "In Germany, they cut our panels, which were 40' x 14', to minute tolerances, like 1/1000 of an inch," he recalls. The creative potential of such an exacting, automated technology began to outweigh his existential crisis about using it. Friends also lent him some good advice. Andrea Zittel, a Joshua-tree based artist, asked Ken if he was living with the new pieces he was making. "I needed to make space and time for the new work and to accept a declining bank account," he says. "Things had to give in order to make it happen." Into the upstate house he'd built with wife, the artist Julianne Swartz, went the new tables and chairs. So when one day, the Museum of Art and Design made a visit—technically to see Julianne's new pieces—they also asked for 35 of the spare, angular furnishings that the family was using day in and day out.
Ken obliged, honing his vision for the eventual launch of FN Furniture in Fall 2017. Each of his designs would use 99 percent or all of a sheet of plywood, resulting in little to no waste and a conveniently aligned mission statement: good design for the 99 percent.
These days, Ken spends his days devising new puzzle-like designs that use every inch of a sheet of plywood—and showing them off, of course. This year he had a booth at Field & Supply, a furniture and design fair in Kingston, New York, where you could lounge in one of his chairs and wonder why you'd ever want to get up. "To get a comfortable lounge chair without cushions, not too slumpy and not too upright, is something," he says, and his is. Same goes for a chaise that reclines gently into a curved base, and a supremely elegant sofa. All of the FN Furniture designs are plywood, prefinished with colors or UV-cured acrylic, and then cut with a CNC machine and sanded, edged, and joined by Ken by hand. After assembly, he'll delivery the pieces anywhere in the Hudson Valley for free, and anywhere in New York City area for $50. His next aim? To figure out how to flat-pack the pieces so they can ship seamlessly to your door.
Images: FN Furniture