Skip to main content

The next generation

Forest Dickey is founder and principal designer of Varian Designs in San Francisco. His thesis project for a Master of Fine Arts degree in furniture design and woodworking at San Diego State University was to create a business - and he hit the ground running after graduating in 2007.

Image placeholder title

{loadposition position10}

Dickey has been developing Varian Designs for the last two years. It's a custom furniture fabrication company that uses salvaged and recycled material as often as possible. From an environmental standpoint, Dickey wants to inspire woodworkers and educate emerging artisans about the abundance of beautiful sustainable materials available to them, such as ash. Dickey concedes that ash has a stigma in the woodworking community as being full of aesthetic defects, but he says those black streaks and other grain markings are particularly beautiful.

"I love ash because it has some very interesting details. I've worked with it for a long time, but it's an underused American hardwood," says Dickey. "I think people prefer oak if they're going to have an open-grain material. Ash has a lot of similarities to oak, but it's a little bit paler, which is another reason they avoid it."

Last month, Dickey received an opportunity to further establish himself as a modern wood craftsman. The Chipstone Foundation of Milwaukee, in conjunction with the Milwaukee Museum of Art, will be hosting a special show on sustainable furniture. The show will feature furnishings made out of recycled material, furnishings that are themselves recyclable and furnishings that are socially recycled. Dickey will be showing a version of his "Bartizan Desk" that is hewn from redwood from an old Wisconsin barn.

Image placeholder title

The original desk was made out of walnut and white oak from salvaged whiskey tanks. Dickey thought it wouldn't be very sustainable to build the desk with Midwestern materials in San Francisco, and then ship it to the Midwest. So he arranged a plan with Tom Loeser, head of the woodworking department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He will build the piece while teaching in Madison. The piece will be added to the Milwaukee Museum of Art collection in November.

For information, visit

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.

Related Articles


Next Generation Materials

The future is now for straw-based MDF, glass countertops, modified wood and other new technologies.