Ian Love in his Brooklyn woodshop
In the middle of a quiet street in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood, maker Ian Love -- a self-taught foraged-wood worker and flora artist -- welcomes me into his long, narrow 1,100 square foot (former recording) studio space in the heart of the city. I know what you are thinking -- Brooklyn isn’t exactly the nature worshiper’s epicenter -- but an eco-consequential result of Ian’s work is bringing together found and salvaged-tree materials from all parts of New York State under this urban roof, connecting these entirely different natural environments, and giving the scenery its next life to live.
For Ian, the art of combining furniture and object design with horticulture is completely new to him. Until two years ago, Ian was writing music for television shows (often up to five songs PER DAY) and making a more than sustainable living, though the commercial gig was no longer satisfying. It was a career he had “fallen into”, having decades of experience playing music in bands and touring all over the world. About that time, Ian’s mother, who had raised him on her own in New York City since his birth, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, compelling him to press pause on music full-time to take care of her. But his creatively-restless hands belonged in a workshop, and his inspiration to “make” again was sparked by a chance meeting on Long Island.
Remnants of the once recording studio
In Hampton Bays, down a shady pine-tree lined street where the woods meet the water, Ian and his family have a second home. There, a kind-hearted local man named Joe, who owns a few acres of Long Island land on which he operates a firewood company, entered Ian’s life. Tree removal servicers in the area bring Joe their massive hauls to be turned into precisely chopped firewood to sell.
Perhaps more into preservation than he may have realized, Joe, whose job is to cut up trees for firewood, ended up dropping off a piece of walnut slab with Ian that he saved from “the fire”. Ian became enamored with the wild shape, live edges, and endless imperfections.
Joe cutting slabs for Ian
And so Ian began woodworking as an outlet of self-journey and avenue for creating something out of discarded natural resources, learning his way as he experimented with materials, tools, and designs, building joinery tables, planter boxes, curios, fencing, and even a modern playhouse for his daughter (running 150 feet of electric underground to outfit the structure with power!). Ironically, he also fashioned a triangular salvaged-wood housing to cover his own firewood...Who said (tree) life was fair?!
From oak to black walnut, poplar to cherry, parts of many once-magnificent, aged trees that towered above New York, pass through the hands of Joe and end up in those of Ian. Some over 200 years old, and some diseased and rotten, Ian is contagiously inspired by each piece. And through Joe, he has made sourcing contacts all across the state. Ian affectionately describing his symbiotic relationship with Joe, says, “There’s Joe with a 4 foot chainsaw and me with chalk in hand.”
Examples of Ian's work
For design inspiration, Ian took a page out of George Nakashima’s sketchbook, a founding father of the American Craft Movement and iconic artist of live edge (Nakashima was so well-regarded that even Nelson Rockefeller commissioned 200 pieces for his home in Tarrytown, New York, in 1973. Unfortunately, years later, a fire destroyed most of the “irreplaceable” furniture, after the collection had been moved to a house in New Jersey for temporary storing.). He finds the vision of his work is not just to not disturb the natural irregularity of the slabs, but to make those features the focal point. That design philosophy also goes for the burls he hollows and retrofits with moss, branches, twigs, leaves, and preserved flowers (Pinterest users like to call this “moss art”), and spalted wood he gilds with wildcrafted materials beneath non-toxic, food-safe colorful resin.
End table by Ian
Ian will be the first to tell you, this passion keeps evolving. About a year ago, he was contracted by his friend, and now occasional workshop assistant, to design and build interior displays at her salon, Sara June, in Gowanus.
Living art boxes by Ian in Sara June’s salon in Gowanus. Photo: Sara June
As his New York story unfolds, one thing he knows for certain is that his goal is to design one-of-a-kind, heirloom wood furniture and home objects, with a story. Ian likes to think of himself as the greenthumb of woodworking, deeply appreciating a sustainable blueprint, and hopefully projecting that belief onto others.
Looking back on his recent past, Ian reflects, “Everything I’ve been through in the last couple of years, and then finding this new version of myself in my forties, has really helped me to learn a lot about who I am.” Sadly, his mother passed earlier this year, but not before, against all odds, beating her cancer several times. Although tragic, it was a summit of major life changes, he says, that truly brought them together in the end. Both have left their own version of a little piece with one another: his, a cross for her casket parabolically made of spalted wood; and hers, the bittersweet memory of the lifelong pursuit of finding, and doing, what we Love.
Ian’s New York State of Mind is “Reborn”.
Follow Ian Love Woodworking on Instagram, @ianlovewoodworking.