Visions drive passionate work - Essence of his designs

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Designer found inspiration an at early age

Some of Henry Fox’s design seeds can be traced to his lifelong love of boats and his years at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where he was a member of the college’s lightweight crew for four years and subsequently coached for another four years.

“I can first remember getting involved in rowing and thinking that these boats were beautiful to look at,” Fox says. “And I think they used to be more beautiful than they are now. When I first started at Trinity, we rowed in a beautiful wooden boat … I don’t remember all the material that was used, but you just looked at all the structure and it was fantastic. The wood was very thin, and it was as light as possible, but obviously addressing specific engineering in terms of strength and stiffness.”

It was the shapes of rowing shells and other boats, as well as airplane wing shapes, that provided him with what he describes as his “tangential inspiration.” The Daedalus, a human-powered aircraft that was built at MIT and now hangs at the Museum of Science in Boston, is another source for some of his design elements.

“It’s an amazing structure … a human-powered airplane that’s unbelievable to look at, and looks like a rowing shell in an abstract way.

“One of the amazing things about watching rowing, or anything that is being well done, is the apparent effortlessness that is projected. I remember, as a small boy, watching rowing and thinking that it was just this beautiful and quiet effortless event. And the contrast of what it appears to be and what it is, is quite amazing to me ... I think some of our most successful furniture designs are kind of effortless, and those are the ones that are absolutely the hardest to do. The amount of effort that goes into making it appear to be effortless is enormous.”

After a few years in business, Fox and Willemsen moved their shop down the street to its present location, a renovated car dealership, which houses a 4,500-sq.-ft. shop and 500-sq.-ft. showroom. In 1996, Willemsen decided to pursue other things, and the business was renamed Fox Brothers Studio Furniture, not after Henry Fox, but his two sons, Willy and Orren.

Essence of his designs
Working solo sent Fox deeper into the design phase of woodworking as well as his experimentation and use of alternative materials. Through the years, he has assembled a portfolio of chairs, tables, beds, desks and case pieces that have little resemblance to the traditional work he produced at the beginning of his furniture-making career.

Fox believes design is a natural progression, commencing with a conversation with a client to develop an outline, description and vision of what the piece should consist of.

“As you’re having a conversation, things are already forming. Is it a literal version? I would say more often than not it is fairly literal, so it’s fairly clear. And then you’ll work through permutations, which I say is a logical process of elimination. So you might be starting here, you go like that and you end up in sort of a reductive final version.”

Fox doesn’t use a computer to design. He says he is getting better at drawing, but most of the time he sketches. Often he’ll have an idea pop into his head, go to the bench and let the idea migrate to paper. The difficulty of the task is combining a fresh idea — possibly unconventional — while keeping within the fixed parameters, such as elevation, proportion, dimensions and other design restraints.