Matthew Osborn, owner and craftsman of Osborn Design & Craft, has worked in the furniture design business since 2011. His one-of-a-kind pieces are hand-made from the beginning to end and made from local material. Osborn’s passion developed through multiple art mediums, but he has now established a career in beloved field of furniture design.
What piqued your initial interest in designing your product(s)? I started school in Engineering then switched to Industrial Design. I also studied Ceramics for a while. I liked all of these areas but designing and making furniture gave me the opportunity to do a little bit of all of them in one field. My grandfather was an engineer (why I started there) and he had a wood shop in his basement. I have always loved solving problems and being creative and I can’t keep my hands off of things. I love making and altering objects.
What principles do you use when designing? With furniture, there are some standards for ergonomics that need to be considered with every piece. Function is important to me; it’s why I make furniture and not sculpture, but my goal is always to create a sculptural piece (that functions well).
Who and/or what influences your design style? How would you describe your design aesthetics and values? I am really attracted to architecture. I see architecture as large-scale furniture or vise versa. Functional sculptures. I admire work that is complex and intricate as well as work that is beautiful in its simple elements. I tend to land in the second camp. I try to distill my work down to simple clean elements that come together to form one piece. I like to think of my work as contemporary but approachable.
What comes first for you, the design materials or the design concept? That can change from piece to piece for me. If I find an interesting piece of wood or metal, I will keep it around the studio and eventually it will spark an idea. Many times, though, I will be designing around a space or have an idea that precedes choosing materials.
“Function is important to me; it’s why I make furniture and not sculpture.”
Could you describe the process of creating a piece – from conception to finish? The creative process as well as material selection and labor process, too? My work is split between studio furniture and custom furniture. The difference being custom furniture involves the client in the design process, whereas studio furniture is my art. In general though, I take my time with designing work. I usually work in my head for a while: creating and editing mentally until I have a concept about which I’m exited. I then do some sketching to get it down on paper. This helps with messing with initial proportions and so I don’t forget (my memory is terrible). I like to set those sketches aside for a while and work on other pieces. I don’t exactly stop thinking about the design but I find it’s helpful to switch gears for a while. When I am designing, I am thinking about the aesthetic, structure and how I can make the piece all at the same time. My final designs are usually 75 percent of the way refined. I almost always have some fabricating and form problems left to solve during the actual fabrication. I like it this way. I get bored when there is no changes or challenges in the fabrication. If it’s an art piece with no client involved, I usually do less design work initially and integrate the designing into the making. I often start making one piece like a desk and end up with a coffee table. I think these are my most successful pieces, created more out of intuition than a preconceived refined concept or style.
As far as making goes, I choose materials that I think are best for the space and/or piece. I usually stick to domestic woods and metal. I take my time choosing the lumber I will use being careful to find wood that has character and is uniform and stable. I usually start with rough-cut lumber that means I have to mill it all myself. I mill and cut parts a little large and let them set over night in case the wood needs to move a little more. Then, I cut my parts to final dimension and sand. From there I sand, assemble and finish.
What is your favorite tool, and why? That’s tough. Honestly probably whatever pocketknife I am carrying that day. I feel weird without one. I have a few I have inherited and one that my wife gave me. I find small folding pocketknives to be personal and useful objects.
Describe a piece you’ve created that you are most proud of. What was special about it? I’m not sure about being most proud, but I made a small wall hung cabinet that I still really love. It is simple in its form and has an interesting way of functioning that is also simple. That is a successful piece for me – distilled but still interesting and attractive.
Describe the commissioning process. What are the best and worst aspects about doing commissions? My clients on the custom side range from having a distinct style of their own in mind to folks who just want something quality and different to people who like my style and want me to design for them. This makes the process a little different each time. The initial puzzle for me to solve each time is how clear of a picture this client has of what they want already. If they don’t have a clear picture, then I consider what details to incorporate into a design. The best part of a commission is when I am able to incorporate what the client wants into a piece that is in my style or feels unique. The worst is when I have to push myself through not changing anything on a design that is settled. If I had my way, I would rarely show up with a piece that even resembles the initial design but that doesn’t work very well with paying clients. Ha.
“…probably whatever pocketknife I am carrying that day. I feel weird without one.”
What advice you would give to aspiring designers like yourself? I found that collaborating with others has been very helpful. Share your first shop with another maker. It doesn’t have to be forever. I found that it’s helpful for costs and for encouragement when it’s tough.
What is one thing that the creative/design community can do in Indianapolis to help grow an audience for custom or handcrafted work? I think that word of mouth is hugely important. Recommending other makers/artists makes a big difference. I think that the more you talk about people’s work and the importance of hand made work, the more people think about what they are buying and what they are supporting.
Dream commission/client? I have had a few clients that have been pretty close to dream clients. The dream client for me would have me design their space and make their entire furniture one piece at a time in my own style. Taking calls.
What makes your work different from anyone else’s? As a designer/maker I design each piece and make each piece myself. There are other people doing this. But because I have my own style, my pieces are necessarily going to be different. I think though that my mixed abilities/interests in art, design and engineering creates a mixture that sets my work apart.
What’s your most rewarding memory in your business? When I started out on my own I was doing a lot of carpentry and cabinetry to get by. It’s good work, but my end game has always been custom and art furniture. It took a few years, but at some point I realized I could start turning down non-furniture work. That was a great realization.