By Laura Goldstein
Fashion rather than furniture has long been known to make political statements. But for Victoria-based designer/maker Kirk Van Ludwig of Autonomous, his Constantinople Table Set began as a metaphor for modern times:
“Constantinople (now Istanbul) was an ancient city besieged by diversity and contradictions and I thought, why not create nesting tables distinctly different in geometry, colour and materials, that somehow co-exist just like people should,” Van Ludwig explains. A whitened Ash round tabletop sitting on three asymmetrical acrylic legs gets cozy with a torched brown Douglas Fir square, offset by two acrylic legs. The juxtaposition works. While beautiful separately, they make a bigger statement united. And, although we can’t promise it’s the answer to world peace, they certainly bring drama to our living spaces!
Van Ludwig’s furniture is showcased at the SwitzerCultCreative showroom, 1725 West 3rd Avenue.
While Autonomous Furniture has become synonymous with a Pacific Northwest aesthetic, there’s always a sculptural twist that makes Van Ludwig’s pieces unexpected, such as the integration of acrylic into many of his wood pieces. Though not entirely an homage to the ‘70s, “I love it because it reminds me of the acrylic I saw as a kid in my parents’ home,” Van Ludwig laughs. “But, there’s a big difference as the museum-grade acrylic we use in our pieces is very durable (no scratches or clouding often found in ‘70s pieces,) and is actually very expensive. I love the way it lets the light through too.”
The CB1 Table sports a Western Maple top the colour of caramelized sugar with striated grain on the bias. Lucite legs positioned underneath and strengthened from the middle of the table, give the illusion of floating in mid-air. Now that’s the ultimate legroom!
Born in Edmonton, Van Ludwig moved to Victoria in 2005. “When I started the company in 2013, I really wanted to turn the industry upside down,” he admits from his 2,500-square-foot showroom and studio. “I wanted to focus on excellent craftsmanship and materials and we even delivered to our local clients personally,” he says. Van Ludwig and his team prefer to concentrate on about 15 classic iterations that can be customized to clients’ preferences adding two to three new designs each year.
Most of Van Ludwig’s raw materials are sourced from all over B.C. “Remaining loyal to family-owned woodlots, some owned for three generations, is important to me,” he says. “I like to go out and choose the timber myself like that used in the Tillikum Bench.” A floating seat in a light Douglas Fir with matte black frame and legs gives a modern Scandinavian look to an entryway.
An unusual deviation from local sourcing is a large piece of Cedro, a fragrant cedar-like wood native to South America, left on a ship then made available to Van Ludwig. A pilot for a Russian super yacht has commissioned Van Ludwig to design and build a desk from the exotic wood that is most often used to make Spanish guitars.
Is it an end table or sculptural art piece? The Clair End Table becomes both when Van Ludwig gives the sturdy museum grade acrylic base an oil & wax-finished black walnut tabletop. It’s a perfect fit when condo space is a concern.
“You know, every furniture piece we make at Autonomous is debated, scrutinized, and tested,” he assures. “Is the bench the perfect height to put on ones’ shoes? Can you jump on the bench? Will the finish stand the test of time? Could the furniture piece be repurposed in the future?”
Van Ludwig’s shop has been working in overdrive lately in anticipation of his furniture debuting at New York’s Wanted Design Manhattan May 18th-21st during NYCx Design Week. Autonomous was selected as 1 of only 10 designers across North America to showcase their work at this prestigious exhibition sponsored by Surface Magazine.