For furniture with soul and stories to tell, look to United Strangers, which produces interesting hand-finished pieces made of old canvas tents, recycled wood, aged brass, and more.
31 July 2017
Text by Louisa Clare Lim
Launched in 2009, United Strangers is a furniture brand that focuses on giving old materials a new lease of life, and enhancing their natural beauty by playing up their unique characteristics using different finishing techniques. Its founder, New Zealander Logan Komorowski, started making furniture out of recycled wood at the age of 15. We find out more about his design philosophy and the appeal of his rustic, yet stylish and modern, furniture designs.
Tell me about your background – were you always a designer or furniture maker?
I left school pretty early and started a demolition company with some rugby friends when I was 15. We pulled down some old houses and got a lot of recycled wood, so I started making furniture and then started a little recycled wood furniture business when I was 16.
What’s appealing and unique about your designs?
On every single piece, I try to incorporate handmade elements. For example, all our leather is hand-finished layer-by-layer, through a 13-day process. So every single leather item, even if the same colour, will be slightly different due to the hand technique. Also, on our side table pieces, hand stitched elements means that, even though we have 33 showrooms now and have to mass-produce some items, there’s still a bit of individuality and a personal touch on each.
What inspires you for the look and style of your brand?
I didn’t want United Strangers to be pigeonholed into a specific look. Our look comes about more from the process of travel and material research. Every year, for three or four weeks, we go on a big tour somewhere – last year it was the West Coast of America, where we drove from San Diego, all the way through San Francisco, up to Portland. So, in particular, I got a lot of inspiration from vintage car shows – that’s where the brass details came from. I don’t ever come up with form first – it’s always the material before the form.
Why the focus on working with aged materials?
After going through the phase of buying mass-produced products, I feel that the next product you’d want to buy is something with a bit of soul that you can keep for a longer period of time. If I use aged and hand-processed materials, I hope people hold on to the pieces for a longer time, as there’s a depth to the product and the material. When you have interesting and good raw materials, you don’t have to come up with crazy forms to try and sell a product. I’m more just trying to find a clean, simple way to showcase the material a lot of the time. If you take a cabinet, for example, the wood and brass will age with time, but you can hold on to it for the next 10 or 15 years.
Where do you source these old materials?
Everywhere in the world… from my travels. The old tents (for the Brooklyn sofa) were acquired from war veterans in North Carolina, the leather comes out of old tanneries in Argentina, some materials from old houses come from central China, for example.
Tell us some of the stories, with regards to the materials used to make the furniture.
The Brooklyn sofa (two-seater, $2,772, pictured), as an example, came about when I met this old army veteran in the US who had done 30 years in the army. He took me to this tiny town – which appeared to be abandoned – where he and his buddies collected and stored materials. He brought me to a church, which was full of old, canvas military tents from 50 or 60 years ago. Kicking upon the doors of this old hotel also revealed more tents and old army jeeps. I thought, what is going on here? They have all these things after dedicating their lives to the army, but have no use for them. So for the canvas tents, used to make the Brooklyn sofa, we took the material through a five-stage washing process. And in every sofa you buy, the size is the same, but the patchwork is completely different.
What are some of your favourite materials to work with?
At the moment it’s leather, because there are so many things you can do with it. We set up a hand-finishing tannery, and at the moment we are playing around with spray paining of leather, and scraping up with glass and other things, for these amazing textures!
Why are patinas and finishes such a big thing to you?
I think it just comes back to providing soul in the product. If you take a piece of wood and paint it white, there’s no depth in it. But highlighting its beauty and characteristics, a material has something to it – a depth, history or some feeling. For example, if you look at how the angles and facets come together in the corner of the Elements TV unit ($3,400 pictured), you got four different shades of that brass material. If it were made of MDF board, painted white, you can’t have that effect.
How involved are you now in the crafting processes?
I’m still hands-on in the workshop sample room five days a week. Not as much now as I was in the beginning, but when it’s coming up with a new material finish and application, I’m there physically building and making for sure – I love it!
What advice do you have for young designers and makers?
We work with a lot of young guys in our workshops, and I find that they are very savvy when it comes to the 3D design using computer software, but in furniture, it’s all about understanding craft and how to how the material works. So I stress to get your hands dirty as much as possible, because really understanding a material and its limitations really helps a lot in your designs.
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