A conversation with Eric Manigian
by Brooklyn Modern | August 26th, 2008
Eric Manigian is a Brooklyn based furniture designer. I first came across his work via the Brooklyn Designs furniture fair, but his work has been featured in many style and furniture magazines. I greatly admire Eric’s designs, choices of wood, and attention to craftsmanship. His body of work is a prime example of the innovative furniture being created in the borough today.
BrooklynModern: You are a trained sculptor and studied at Pratt. But how did you come to furniture design?
Eric Managian: After graduating I organized an extended trip throughout Asia. I traveled to Japan to investigate the Zen rock gardens and while there I stayed in a temple and became utterly amazed with the subtlety and grace of the architecture. I stayed for a year as a Zen student at Daitokuji temple and took all opportunities to visit as many of Kyoto ’s temples and gardens as possible.
Dane, solid walnut coffee table, 48 x 24 x 14″
When I returned to NYC, I worked for the art world in various functions to my discontent and looked up an old sculpture teacher who was a master woodworker form Japan . With him I was introduced to traditional hand tools and techniques and the underlying philosophical perspectives of the craftsman.
I came to understand design as a way to express subtle, poetic or simple ideas while being grounded by the sincerity and integrity of craftsmanship and utility.
BrooklynModern: Your work references Japanese and Danish design? How did these traditions come to influence you?
Eric Managian: I would say that I am influenced by these design traditions from the inside out–investigating the “why” instead of simply copying the stylistic affects. Once firmly centered on the content/meaning that informs these traditions, one is free to investigate new forms and respond to the new moment and context we are living in.
We can also include Shaker design which embodies similar perspectives.
Matador solid walnut coffee table 60 x 48 x 14″
BrooklynModern: Do you have a favorite designer?
Eric Managian: Of course George Nakashima is an important person, James Krenov and Sam Maloof make up the three pillars for me as the ones who have made it possible to work in this manner today, but I would say that I’m more influenced by Isamu Noguchi as an artist. I look more often toward a few architects than furniture designers and would note Peter Zumthor as a person I admire.
BrooklynModern: Do you have a favorite Brooklyn furniture designer?
Eric Managian: I would say that I am more inspired by the energy and new surge toward design that is buzzing within the entire borough. I tend to look outside of furniture design, for instance, I like the jewelry work of Patricia Ficalora. She is also a sculptor by training and has similar influences and I think her work is beautiful as sculptural objects.
BrooklynModern: The simplicity and elegance of the pieces make the process look effortless. How did you develop the skills to achieve this?
Eric Managian: I was told to pay attention and learn from everything around me. My skill level jumped a lot also after having worked on two small structures with master temple builders from Japan . They have been a source of inspiration for me in many ways.
Fold, solid walnut, single flitch coffee table, 52 x 22 x 14″
BrooklynModern: Simi Zigzag is a fascinating piece. How did you conceive and execute it?
Eric Managian: In 2000, I made a piece called “Fold” where the concept was to express wood as paper/paper as wood, since paper is made from wood. It goes against our understanding of physics but is a simple gesture.
Similarly, “Zigzag” is like a straw wrapper that has been folded back and forth to create a zig-zag pattern. It uses the bold sap wood (the wide light colored wood on its edges) to its advantage well.
Simi Zigzag, solid English walnut, coffee table, 64 x 41 x 14.5″
BrooklynModern: Your work shows innovative thinking. How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Eric Managian: What has been useful to me is to “shut up and listen” (as my teachers used to tell me), the wood itself will show you a lot. The challenge is to stay open and receptive to it.
BrooklynModern: You say nothing is “green” if it ends up in the landfill. Does this mean that high quality work will be held onto for a long time, as opposed to being replaced in a few years, thus not endangering natural resources? And adding to the landfill.
Eric Managian: I also see the subtle slowing down of people when they are about to commission a work. They often consider their children or grand children when making decisions. This is quite a different perspective than we are used to and I see it having very positive effects.
Riley Cabinet, solid spalted maple, curio cabinet, 52 x 34 x 17″
BrooklynModern: You have several lines. Do you do custom work in addition?
Eric Managian: Yes, very often. Since each piece is a one-of-a-kind, they are often tailored to a specific client or space.
BrooklynModern: Has working in Brooklyn affected your design decisions?
Eric Managian: Yes, of course. We are all constantly in flux and challenged and improved by the international, multi-disciplined perspectives of New Yorkers who feel compelled to express their every opinion at all times! Ha! : ]
It’s why we pay so much frickin’ rent, to be affected by the best of the best.