Maker of the Month: Nick Allman

Nick Allman, owner of Nick Allman Design & Fabrication, has been a maker of custom commercial and residential furniture for six years. After initially studying graphic design at the Herron School of Art, Allman switched his focus to furniture design and found a true knack for the trade.

The Plan

What piqued your initial interest in designing your product(s)? I have always had an interest in woodworking and would often build small projects in my garage “workshop” growing up in Oklahoma. In 2006, I came to Indianapolis to pursue a BFA in furniture design from the Herron School of Art. It was there that I gained the experience necessary to start my business when I graduated in 2010.

What principles do you use when designing? I design for a variety of needs and aesthetics, but I always attempt to hold myself to a principal of “less is more.” I don’t often design in what you would call a minimalist aesthetic, but I do always try to look at a draft design with a critical eye to determine what is unnecessary to the function and the style of the piece and remove those elements.

I always attempt to hold myself to a principal of ‘less is more.’

Who and/or what influence your design style? How would you describe your design aesthetics and values? I follow the careers of a number of contemporary designers. A couple of my favorites are Brendan Ravenhill, Jeff Martin Joinery, and Semigood.

What comes first for you, the design materials or the design concept? They often come together but I am very much of the mind that the material or the process applied to the material should dictate the design.

The Process

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? Step one is to meet with the client to discuss their needs and taste. Often there is a very specific function that the finished piece needs to perform and these parameters need to be considered from the outset of the design process. These usually dictate the size and rough shape as well as inform the selection of material to match the surrounding finishes.

Once I have gathered all the information from the client I can begin the design. I will often go through four or five drafts before I settle one with which I am satisfied. This version will be fully rendered in the computer as a 3d model which I will use to create a presentation document to present to the client for approval along with samples of the proposed finish.

Once the client approves the design and any requested changes, I will order the raw materials needed and set to work. We start from scratch and mill all of our solid materials from rough-cut lumber so that we will have the greatest control over the finish quality of the material.

The fabrication process will vary quite a bit from piece to piece but the general workflow is: milling and sizing rough stock > jig and machine setup > final sizing and machining of parts > glue up and assembly of parts > clean-up handwork and sanding of finished assembly > final sanding and finish application.

What is your favorite tool, and why? I like using the shaper and router with patterns because they facilitate repeatable machining of irregular shapes quickly that would otherwise be very difficult to create consistently by hand.

Describe a piece you’ve created that you are most proud of. What was special about it? The most recent piece we just completed is a simple writing desk build from some very special mahogany. The client’s grandfather salvaged it from US Army shipping crates sent to Panama during WWII. My client tasked me with designing a minimal writing desk around the use of this material that would showcase it’s age and uniqueness.

The Product

What advice you would give to aspiring designers like yourself? Spend as much time as you can working under an established maker or designer before starting out on your own.

What is one thing that the creative/design community can do in Indianapolis to help grow an audience for custom or handcrafted work? We need to collaborate. The more we work together and network the stronger the presence with become.

Dream commission/client? I have been lucky to have more than a few of these already, but I always enjoy being challenged with a new, interesting design problem and am always looking forward to the next one.

What makes your work different from anyone else’s? I’m not sure if this makes me different from any other craftsperson, but I attempt to build each piece with the same attention to detail and quality I would put into a personal piece.

What’s your most rewarding memory in your business? Every time I get to visit a repeat client and see them enjoying the object I created for them.

We need to collaborate. The more we work together and network the stronger the presence with become.

Follow Nick Allman Design & Fabrication on Instagram. Clients can contact Nick through his website to inquire about a custom order.

All photos taken by Aubrey Smith.