LaPlant Grows in Midtown (West)
On the intriguingly named Image Avenue, in what some developer undoubtedly dubbed, “Midtown West” (aka the “King Plow/Railroad Historic District” by the National Register of Historic Places), you’ll find the workshop of furniture-maker Reed LaPlant. LaPlant’s work is not only attractive, functional, and highly unique, it’s also made from sustainable, reclaimed, and recycled materials. LoftLife met up with LaPlant in a Castleberry Hill photography studio that he recently refurbished and asked him about his work, his neighborhood, and his preference for making tables and benches.
LoftLife: On your website, under commissioned projects, there’s a picture of a white pew you created. Tell us about that project.
Reed LaPlant: An architecture firm where I worked when I first moved to Atlanta was responsible for a mountain community development in South Carolina; I maintained a good relationship with the firm after I left, and they asked me to build 25 pews for the community’s small chapel/gathering hall. So I did—all 25, by hand. I ended up painting them in the parking lot of said architecture firm because I couldn’t move around them in my 1,100 square-foot shop.
LL: How long have you been crafting a line of furniture for Verde Home ?
RL: I’ve made furniture for Verde since they opened about a year ago. I started with three pieces (two coffee tables and a bench), and after some really positive responses, they asked me to develop more. They had a fantastic concept for their store and were looking for someone local; so I was thrilled to be asked, and I’m really enjoying the relationship. They’re great people and it’s a terrific store.
LL: Your workshop is located in “Midtown West.” How do you like it there?
RL: It’s funny because up until about two years ago, (the neighborhood) was pretty much light industrial—building supply companies, scrap metal yards, and mechanics—plus a lot of photography labs. Also, there are warehouses, with not a lot of reasons to stop. The light industry and the photo labs are still there, but now you’ve got lofts, bars, and design stores popping up. In fact, Verde Home is only two blocks from my shop. It’s a great neighborhood.
LL: Commissioned pieces versus non-commissioned: Do you prefer doing one over the other? How collaborative are you with people who commission work from you?
RL: I guess I prefer non-commissioned; it’s a little less stressful. Although it seems to have come to a point where my clients hire me for my style — not just my craftsmanship. I feel really lucky. And with that I find my clients to be really enjoyable. I’ll be as collaborative as anyone wants to be. I feel the best ideas and the most enjoyable work comes when you’re not worried about having your vision’s toes stepped on. There are too many ideas to dig up to worry about ego.
LL: You have an education in architecture (Texas A+M) and art history (University of Minnesota). How does each discipline guide your work?
RL: I certainly feel my work is heavily influenced by architecture in that I consider a lot of my pieces as little buildings; I’ve spent way more time thinking about, for example, Japanese and Prairie School architecture than I have of Contemporary Italian or Mission furniture. I think I see and understand buildings more clearly, but furniture allows for my three-week attention span. As for the art history — it reminds me to strive for a timeless style. Not sure if I’m there, but I am always mindful of the need.
LL: How would describe your style?
RL: That’s a tough question for me . . . but I’d have to say: orderly (that’s my Green Bay, Wisconsin German-Catholic roots), clean, and warm.
LL: How long have you been using only sustainable, local, and reclaimed materials?
RL: I’ve been using sustainable, reclaimed, and recycled materials for several years, but only in the past two years have I been able to get ALL of my clients on board. And, admittedly, I am much more strict about this now than I was three years ago. It’s a lot of info to absorb and assess, and it was difficult to bring it up in a meeting with a new client. They don’t come to me to hear me preach. But it has become refreshingly easy to maintain the practice as people become more and more aware of what are now commonly discussed issues.
LL: What does “reclaimed materials” mean, exactly?
RL: Reclaimed such as lumber (e.g., walnut and heart-of-pine milled from barn timbers and prison beams or cypress pulled up from river bottoms), steel, and aluminum. I go to the scrap yards for the metals, and there are a couple of great local companies upon which I rely for the lumber.
LL: Of all the pieces you’ve created, what’s your favorite? And in general, which are your favorite pieces to make?
RL: My favorite piece is probably the bench I made for Verde. It was actually intended to sit in my own home, but I was just really happy with it when I finished. So, to Verde it went. I generally like making tables best; perhaps due to the great purpose for which they are intended: eating and drinking and socializing. I like small benches as well. Again, I think of drinking and socializing.