Designers and Master Builders of Fine Furniture
About Kenneth Larson
The history of objects fascinates Kenneth Larson. He picks through a huge chest and selects a long-handled, fat chisel. "My grandfather was a timber-framer in the gold mines of Colorado. A hundred years ago this chisel was most likely shaping a log hundreds of feet underground in conditions unimaginable to most folks today." Similarly, most of the tools used to make Kenneth Larson furniture have a history. The dozens of carving chisels were used by one of his mentors, John Erickson, as a young woodcarver in Sweden. The sewing machine was used daily by his aunt for over 25 years. The monstrous wood chisel was used by his grandfather in those gold mines. ''These tools are special to me and very important. I work with them and dozens of hands work with mine."
Kenneth grew up in a family heavily involved in furniture. His father was a wood finisher in the '20s and '30s for Minneapolis based Brooks Furniture. His uncle was an upholsterer and another uncle used to build cabinets in the basement of their home in Denver. At age 14, Kenneth went to work in his uncle's upholstery shop. "I guess you might say I was trained classically in upholstery," Larson says. That means using traditional materials like horse hair, cotton and down, "...and tacks," he reminisces. "I've swallowed more than my share," referring to the practice of old time upholsterers where tacks were held ready for use in the mouth. "These days newer materials, foams and such, have made things easier, but there are circumstances where nothing works better than hair and no other cushioning material can equal down."
Larson also values having learned the old finishing techniques. "The methods are really timeless. Antique furniture often had a great deal of attention given to initial wood color and then minimally finished. Through use, the wood was allowed to wear and then re-polished. Nicks and scratches became part of the evolution. These pieces were beautiful the day they were built, but even more beautiful hundreds of years later." Indeed looking at a Larson piece you are suddenly aware of the history of the wood. "The finisher's mastery is in his ability to make the wood tell its story, both of when it was alive and after it was cut and surfaced and shaped."
No less intriguing is Larson's design philosophy. "The piece itself I regard as less important than the space it occupies. A piece of furniture must enrich space. I generally frown upon monolithic blocks slapped against a wall. Also important is preservation of historical grace, sensitivity to proportion, and personal passion. In a world where we pass through a maze of mass produced props and our culture is largely interpreted by the media, I feel it important to create objects that really establish individual presence."
Larson not only emphasizes this in the design process, but throughout construction. "Sometimes, what is intended on paper doesn't translate well into form. I always try to work toward the feeling I want evoked by the piece." An example of this is the miniature cabriole legs at the base of a French wall cabinet. "This was really an afterthought," he says. "I was going about this project quite seriously when I decided the piece needed something to make me smile." His client smiled, too.
In 1996 Larson opened shop in Center City, Minnesota, amidst the many lakes and the sculptured landscape that attracted his father's parents well over 100 years ago. His shop currently is in Osceola, Wisconsin, next to the St. Croix River. He offers a small line of favorite pieces and a collection of furniture built by Erickson Interiors.