An artistic approach - Designer puts his cards on the table

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Like many artists, he juggles a diet of commissioned work with speculative projects. Pricing can be a bit of a mystery when the value of the design far exceeds anything a simple time-and-materials formula would suggest. “I try to keep abreast of what others are charging for work that I believe is of similar quality to mine,” he says. “I certainly don’t want to price so high that it is out of reach, but I don’t want to give it away, either. Of course, I always include an amount for overhead, which in my case is relatively small, and I also want to make sure that there is a portion of the price that will cover photography. Since I am doing mainly one-of-a-kind pieces, I have to have pictures for future shows and to record the pieces I’ve sold.”

When, if ever, would Glen turn down a commission? “I don’t do that very often,” he says. “But every time I receive a commission, I ask myself, ‘Am I really helping this client? Or is what she wants available at a good quality furniture store?’ If I decide that this is the case, I might steer a customer in another direction.”

He adds, “I want commissions that allow me to express my creativity, not merely build someone else’s design.”

Designer puts his cards on the tables
The tables shown here both come from Glen Guarino’s Asian Interpretation line — if anything can be called a line when an artist works mostly on one-of-a-kind pieces. The 30" tall, six-foot square conference table (top) is made from cherry and wenge. The side table (bottom and inset) is made of shedua and ebony, and measures 37" tall x 48" wide x 15" deep.

Guarino says, “When designing these tables, I wanted to include some elements suggesting a relationship to Asian furniture, but I only wanted to give an impression of the style, not to copy it. I share the same respect that many Asians have for the material. Understanding that a living tree could have grown for more than 100 years and that no two trees are alike, I feel responsible to use the wood in a way that displays its beauty and gives it a new life as a piece of furniture.

“Like Asian craftsmen, I prefer to perform most of the work using fine old hand tools, instead of relying on machines that may speed the work, but limit the design possibilities,” he continues. “I believe machines put too much distance between the work and the artist. The process of creating is what drives the artist. What I am trying to do is capture simplicity in a design that imparts a certain amount of calmness to the viewer.”

Guarino acknowledges that the design of the side table seems basic, but emphasizes that the construction is “a complicated puzzle of interlocking parts fitted together to produce a strong table that will last for generations.” For this project, he devised many patterns, jigs and fixtures needed to help him precisely carve each individual section so that all the sections would match. “For example,” he says, “each bottom detail had to be carved on each side of each leg. Many hours were spent carving, fitting, scraping, sanding, finishing and polishing.”

Guarino’s best payday
Considering that Glen Guarino sees himself as a furniture artist and specializes in museum-quality work, it is odd that his biggest paycheck (figured on an hourly basis) was for moving an armoire he had neither designed nor built.

“I had done a piece for a client, and after I had put it in place in her home, she asked me if I could help her with another problem,” he recalls. “She showed me a heavy armoire sitting in a hallway and explained that it was part of her master bedroom suite, but no mover had ever been able to figure out how to get it into the bedroom, since it was too huge to go through a doorway. This was the third house in which her husband and she had lived, and the armoire always remained outside the bedroom. She told me he was ready to chop it up for firewood, and that she would be very grateful if I could save it from that fate.”

Guarino took a look at the piece inside and out, figured he could do the job and quoted a price for what he estimated would be a couple hours of work. She agreed, and he came back with a friend to help him move it. Just 20 minutes later, they had disassembled the bonnet, moved the piece into the bedroom and replaced the bonnet. “The job went more quickly than I guessed, and my pay — by the hour — was more than I have made on any other project,” he says.