Inspired by the the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest, artist and designer Greg Klassen hand-makes one-of-a-kind wooden furniture featuring “rivers” and “lakes” made from blue glass. Resembling aerial views of bodies of water and rugged shorelines, each topographical piece from Klassen’s River Collection brings the incredible beauty of nature indoors.
Rather than meticulously plan each design, Klassen’s tables and wall art pieces are crafted using natural, “live edge” wood slabs that dictate the final, organic form. Sustainably harvested from the banks of the Noonsack river, the designer spends time looking for pairs of slabs that align to mimic jagged shorelines from an aerial view. Klassen then embeds custom-cut blue glass over the natural void, resembling fresh water pathways that flow and wind through the center of each piece. Klassen reveals, “I love the idea of taking a discarded tree and giving in new life.”
We recently caught up when Klassen to find out more about his inspiration, processes, and plans for the future. Read on for our exclusive interview.
When did you first begin making furniture?
I started making furniture when I was in college. Between years 3-4 my wife and I got married and I took a year off from school to get a job and help my wife finish her education. My job was at a door-making plant and my job was to recycle wood waste. I took lots of bits and pieces of wood home to make furniture that we needed in our first home (a basement suite in our landlord’s home). I had never done any woodworking before this, but I taught myself to make furniture and filled our little place up with all the things we needed at the time, like bookshelves, a shoe cabinet, and a queen sized bed!
Can you describe your process?
My creative process is pretty simple. I look for inspiration in the materials and then let my designs evolve from the wood. I look through hundreds of slabs each year and carefully pick only a handful to become my tables and art pieces. The wood I work with is natural edge wood slabs called “live edge” and my wood of choice comes from the big leaf maple tree. Because I’m working with live edge slabs, the shapes are unpredictable and organic.
I look for pairs of wood slabs that give me a certain feeling and tension. It’s hard to describe but I know right away when I find it. I use hand-cut blue glass to form rivers between the wood, or lakes and ponds in the wood’s natural voids. I never force my ideas onto the wood, but work together with the material to let the design naturally grow out of it.
Have you had formal woodworking training?
Yes. I studied Fine Woodworking at the College of the Redwoods (now The Krenov School) in Fort Bragg, CA and at Capellagården School of Craft & Design in Vickleby, Sweden.
What inspired your River Collection?
My designs have been inspired by the beautiful rivers, lakes and shorelines of the Pacific Northwest where I call home. The winding Nooksack River is just down the road from our place and I pass by it every day. It is so beautiful here – it’s hard to not be inspired by all of the beauty around me.
What lead you to combine wood and blue glass?
I have always been committed to creating original designs and that commitment requires a lot of experimentation. When I opened my studio in 2008 I had been working exclusively with straight, dimensional hardwoods to create my furniture designs. My early work included fine cabinetry, rocking chairs and shop-sawn wood veneers. However, shortly after opening my studio I was introduced to a local dairy farmer who had been milling and storing a treasure trove of live edge slabs in his barn. This was my introduction to wood in a whole new way.
I immediately felt inspired and my new friend was generous enough to sell me some of his wood. I began playing with the live edges in new ways and found myself drawn to the negative space that was created when two separate live edge slabs faced each other. At that time I had also begun getting some exposure to the way glass could be cut and shaped. The confluence of these discoveries and my experimenting led to the idea for the River Table. I still feel as excited about the design as I did when I first created it and I have more ideas of what I want to create now then I did then!
Where do you source your materials?
I now source my wood from independent sawyers from around the US. It’s all domestic wood from trees that have been salvaged. None of my materials come from any type of commercial harvesting, but rather they’re sourced from trees that needed to come down for some reason.
Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you'd like to share?
Later this spring I will be introducing my newest series, called the Archipelago Series. Instead of rivers and lakes, it will be an exclusive collection of pieces celebrating islands.
Another exciting project coming up is a bit different for me. I’m taking off the month of May to build my kids a very special treehouse. This is no ordinary treehouse – it will sit on a 14’ x 24’ platform high off the ground in a pair of Douglas Fir trees on our property. It will have lights, insulation and an entire wall will be made of glass, so you can look right out into the trees. Oh, and it will have a loft with a skylight that will be perfect for summer sleepovers!