John Houshmand was born an artist in 1954. Raised by a Dutch-American mother and an Iranian father, John has always danced between Eastern philosophy and Western principles. He was cultured at an early age, spending his youth abroad in the Philippines, Great Britain, Iran, and Israel. The design firm, founded in 2003, was really begun years ago in the mid-1970s when John studied privately under the direction of sculptor Erwin Hauer, Professor Emeritus of Sculpture, at Yale University. It was here that Houshmand first saw the importance of pairing an artistic vision and a creative spirit with craftsmanship and technical acumen. The philosophy is succinct but profound: to show what wood really looks like. In our world, mankind strips all life from its underlying individuality in exchange for the uniformity of mass production. Trees are truly becoming a lost species. The guardians of everything sacrosanct, they hold secrets of the past and relinquish everything necessary to sustain the future. They bare their souls providing us with the air we breathe, the shelter in which we live, and the food that nourishes our very beings.
5 QUESTIONS WITH JOHN
How did you start and how long have you been designing?
I have been making things since I was a child. I grew up in the Philippines, and if you wanted a toy gun or boat, you made it… From there I traveled, learned, and made an endless stream of everything. I’ve built a log chateaux in Montana, shingle-style homes on Nantucket, spent 24 years as one of the top builders in Manhattan, and all along have been making sculpture, music, photography, drawings, land art, and more. My circuits are hard-wired to create, and it is intuitive, automatic, and integrated into my every waking moment.
How would you describe your design style?
Perhaps the best gathering of monikers would be elemental, tactile, neo-platonic, electronic, micro-engineered, ironic, and musical. I guess that sounds arrogant, and I should want to put humble in there as well, and if I can succeed at all of those at once then we hit it out of the park…
What’s the most challenging aspect of making?
It is the fact that I don’t really approach it as furniture. I find a pathway of creativity, and then subversively sneak it into a furniture component. I would prefer to make things for the sake of making them, but then again an aesthetic experience with a functional object is an intimate way of playing the making game. If more people could say they are in love with their coffee or dining table, we might not feel the need to worship the “arts” so much, but bring the arts into the art of living and daily existence
What designs / designers do you get inspired by?
Oddly enough my greatest inspirations are musicians and composers. I play spontaneously composed and arranged music, and it is in that world that I get the greatest hand-to-god connection, and I look for that vibrational resonance in my 3-D creativity as well as. So the music of Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, Coltrane, Brad Mehldau, and others at that level are my constant companions. If I can use that standard as a way into the making of a static (or not so static) object, then I might get more fairy dust onto a piece than if I approached this as a design effort.
Describe your views on sustainability?
I’ve gone the full circle from unhappy urban consumer to bored large-scale functionally monastic designer, manufacturer, and farm owner. Our culture is really quite ill when you turn the TV on, visit the mall, and spelunk the minds of many western semi-individuals. And the design world as a safe haven from that is a misnomer, as we are all still feverishly trying to make more stuff. Stuff is business, and business is profit margins. Can we have a rich life with fewer things that really mean a lot to us? What are the RELATIONSHIPS by which we acquire the stuff of our lives? It is really simple from a certain perspective: know the true necessity behind what you gather around you in your life. If we all owned HALF of what we owned, and made it last twice as long (our work will last hundreds of years at least), there you have an elegant calculus. Add to that the basic tenets of sustainability (proper materials, minimal radius, reusable/cyclable, low energy consumption, etc) for as many things as you can, and it is a start. Forget most hype, nonsense marketing, and green-washing. Almost nothing is very green: car, toaster oven, production foodstuffs, plastic anything, electronics, you name it. We are fooling ourselves. I am not advocating being a luddite, but let’s get real and stop the bullshit. At least ACCEPT that this is true, and maybe the mere consciousness of that alone will put a good worm in the brain, and little by little we will find ourselves wanting less, valuing the stuff of life, and getting an intuitive sense of how to make this world right. Good relationships, good food, good music, travel, study and love for the entire time you are on this planet, and an insistence to make this place better when leaving than when you came, that is sustainability. I have often wondered why millennia (yes millennia!) of human lives are spent in some deluded religious obsession with heaven or hell in the afterlife when it is about now and here. This is heaven or hell, depending on what you and I do. Start now.