Interview with Matthew Smith from United States

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Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith is the founder of Smith Farms Custom Furniture, a boutique furniture crafting enterprise located in Southern California. Specializing in the design and construction of custom pieces, the business ships and personally delivers furniture across the United States.

Interview With The 2023 NY Product Design Awards Winner – Matthew Smith

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your background.
My name is Matthew Smith and I’m the owner of Smith Farms Custom Furniture, a boutique furniture maker business in Southern California. I design and build everything here but I ship (and personally deliver) furniture all over the United States. I also attend woodworking and design conferences and events throughout the United States and enjoy being part of this industry!
2What made you become/why did you choose to become a product designer?
I enjoy the design process when it’s the combination of creating aesthetic impact and meeting functional needs. While I appreciate art and artists, I’m probably not a true artist myself because the things I make must serve a practical use beyond just being beautiful.
3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

At Smith Farms Custom Furniture, we design and build furniture for discerning homeowners who are either looking for special, truly custom pieces to fit their space or who simply can’t find what they want at retail.

In either case, our approach to custom furniture is a great solution for them. We take the time to understand our client’s style and functional needs to craft furniture that delights them. Plus, we employ a combination of traditional and modern techniques that results in furniture that lasts for a very long time.

4What does “design” mean to you?

At Smith Farms, we love to design furniture! Coming up with original ideas, or variations on existing ideas can be very exciting. We often conceive and craft more artistic furniture and home goods but they still meet our standards for functionality. That is, they are not simply our attempt to create beautiful art but also serve a useful and worthwhile function.

Unfortunately, there are many furniture designers who develop conceptual pieces, often using 3D modeling but fail to ensure those pieces actually function properly. For example, chairs need to be comfortable to sit on and it is not to just look cool. Tables need to be sturdy and account for seasonal wood movement and not just look amazing. Ensuring that both form and functional needs are met is a cornerstone of a good design.

5What’s your favorite kind of design and why?
We’re striving to produce functional art that makes you stop and stare. That inspires wonder, and perhaps makes you feel something. But at the very least, it’s a piece you can use that will last you a long time.
6Tell us about your design process.

Our design process is pretty straightforward. When we’re building a commissioned piece, we first make sure that we understand the client’s functional needs. This is usually quite easy! After that, we discuss the stylistic goals that they have. Some clients give us complete artistic freedom while others already have specific ideas of how the piece should look.

When we’re working with an interior designer, they usually have some specifics for size and style, how organic they want the piece to be, how rustic, or how refined, etc. In most cases, their ideas are solid, and we can execute their vision.

When we’re building a piece that hasn’t been commissioned, we have complete freedom to do anything. Often, we build furniture pieces for shows or for awards contests. In these cases, we consider the environment where the price will be shown and that has a strong influence on the design.

For example, we designed a table for the Western Design Conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming earlier this year. The conference brings together artists with a passion for the West so we made sure to design a piece that would fit into a high-end modern mountain home or a western-inspired space.

7Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 NY Product Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

While we are excited for our custom furniture to receive these prestigious awards, we are also happy for our clients, who get all the benefits that come with having a well-designed piece. Design awards provide validation that help bring value to furniture our purchase and help them to know that they’ve invested wisely with us.

A happy client is all the reward we need but it’s also nice when industry leaders recognize the work we’re doing as exceptional.

8Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 NY Product Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

One of the pieces we entered into the 2023 NY Product Design Awards was our “Summer Olive Occasional Table”. This project debuted at the 2023 Western Design Conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Smith Farms was one of the (13) featured woodworking artists from around the country who were accepted to present a single piece for judging and to be highlighted at the unique 3-day show and sale event where attendees travel from around the nation to meet artists and purchase their works.

The table was inspired by a Los Angeles Olive tree that had to be removed after serving as a charming neighborhood landmark for many years. Several sections of the tree were acquired with hopes of continuing its story and featuring its beauty. It’s a blending of our functional art and custom furniture approaches.

9What was the biggest challenge with this project?

The table top is made from thick sections of the tree trunk, combined to create a wild, organic shape. To complement the Olive, a thinner section of contrasting Cherry wood was added to the bottom. This layered profile was inspired by the colorful sedimentary mountainsides found in western states like Utah and Colorado.

The biggest challenge was the over 300 hours of carving and sanding that it took to produce a live edge that retains the original shape of the trunk but is now highly refined. It was more work than we expected, but we’re proud of the result.

10What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

Custom furniture makers and really woodworkers in general, tend to be very supportive of one another. Instead of treating others in the industry like competitors, many woodworkers are open to sharing ideas, techniques, and even business advice. In fact, it’s the most talented and most successful furniture makers and business owners who seem to be the most open to helping others. Not all industries are like this, and it really makes it a special industry to be in.

Another thing I love about the world of custom furniture making is that no project is the same. Each project and each client bring new ideas and new challenges to solve. It keeps things from ever getting boring.

Lastly, I enjoy that furniture design is deeply rooted in tradition, trusted construction techniques and proven methods. And yet, furniture-making continues to evolve with ground-breaking tools being released every few years, traditional methods constantly being improved upon, and in some cases, better methods being developed and then accepted by the industry. Wood is a fascinating medium, and while the nature of trees is not changing over time, woodworking tools and techniques are evolving over time.

11What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
I’ve had the benefit of working with several business owners over many years. It seems like the ones who find the most success are those who are tenacious. Tenacious small business owners don’t give up, they pivot when needed, they learn from their industry and the marketplace, and they adapt to economic shifts and cultural trends. If you’re looking to “get rich quick” or “hit it big”, you probably shouldn’t start a business. Success is possible, and it’s really not that hard to achieve, but it does take time and tenacity.

Winning Entries

Matthew Smith

Smith Farms Custom Furniture

Matthew Smith is the owner of Smith Farms Custom Furniture, a boutique furniture crafting enterprise located in Southern California. Specializing in the design and construction of custom pieces, the business ships and personally delivers furniture across the United States.

Read more about this interview with Ray Sun from China, the Silver Winner of the 2023 NY Product Design Awards.