The Al Dente Collection by Caleb Ferris
The Al Dente Collection.

10 Questions With… Furniture Artist Caleb Ferris

Meet Caleb Ferris, a San Francisco-based furniture artist whose tongue-in-cheek designs aim to bring a sense of humor to the often too-serious world of contemporary collectible design furniture. Finding inspiration in life’s overlooked details—think ruffled noodles or the glint of fishing lures—Ferris draws attention to items we may take for granted. His creative process borrows motifs from his personal library of objects, which he abstracts, often incorporating spontaneous finishing techniques that celebrate materiality and the fabrication process. Most recently his Noodle Throne won the 2023 ICFF Editors Award for Seating. We dub him one to watch.

Caleb Ferris Talks Design and Materiality

Interior Design: What’s your background and what first drew you to design?

Caleb Ferris: I spent the entirety of my childhood as an “artsy” kid. I immersed myself in any visual art, craft, or design I could find. I was and still am very hungry to discover new techniques and their possibilities. When it came time to choose a field of study, I chose industrial design because I was drawn to the variety within the profession and the magic of turning a concept into a physical object. My decision to become an industrial designer ultimately led me to furniture design, which I consider to be the “art” of the discipline. I’ve come full circle in that respect.

Caleb Ferris.
San Francisco-based furniture artist Caleb Ferris.

ID: What type of pieces do you make?

CF: Sculptural furniture and objects that are inspired by the fantasy of everyday life.

ID: What inspires you about the fantasy of everyday life?

CF: I’m inspired by objects and motifs that exist in the background of our lives. I have a growing reference library of objects that I pull from. My collection ranges from things like fishing lures and pasta to cartoons and Sci-Fi movies. There are so many genres of collections to explore that we don’t often associate with the design world. My hope is to broaden the perspective of where we find beauty.

ID: Why pasta—what’s the appeal?

CF: The answer is twofold. I found that when you first share your design with someone, their immediate response is to associate that object with something that already exists. It can be one of the most humbling and annoying experiences (heaven forbid your work is compared to another designer’s). I want to control this narrative and beat my audience to the punchline by being conspicuous about my sources of inspiration.

The second half to my answer is that I went to the grocery store frequently during the pandemic. I’m not sure if it was the lack of travel or stimuli at that time, but I had an ‘aha moment’ in the pasta aisle one day. I stood there and started examining all of the varieties and noticed how each type of pasta was engineered to serve a purpose and how sculptural they are. The rest is history.

The Al Dente Collection by Caleb Ferris
The Al Dente Collection.

ID: How do you fabricate your pieces and what are some of your favored materials?

CF: The majority of my work is carved wood. I fabricate using a combination of hand and digital carving depending on the scale of the project. I really like the collaboration between man and machine in these processes. I think it’s a good reflection of the lives we live today. However, in an act of rebellion, I started incorporating imperfect hand-made elements into my work as a way to reclaim the humanity of making a physical object. I accomplish this through spontaneous finishing, which showcases the materials and processes as part of the final piece.

ID: What was your breakout design?

CF: The Noodle Throne, which I debuted this summer during NYCxDesign.

The Noodle Throne by Caleb Ferris
The Noodle Throne, winner of the 2023 ICFF Editors Award for Seating.
The Noodle Throne by Caleb Ferris
The Noodle Throne.

ID: Dream design project?

CF: Somebody please call me when we start furnishing our homes on Mars.

ID: What does a typical day look like for you in the studio?

CF: I spend probably 85% of my time doing some form of sanding. When I’m not sanding, I like to make sketch models by hot gluing random things together or tying them together with wire and string. This is my favorite part. Once I have a concept that I like I digitize it and refine until it resembles a piece of usable furniture. 

ID: What’s one thing you can’t live without?

CF: Quality snacks are essential to the creative process. The seriousness of the snack is directly related to the scope of the project.

ID: Who is another designer’s work you admire?

CF: I admire the work of the artists who were part of the Dada movement. I particularly like [Marcel] Duchamp’s ready-made works. I resonate with the idea that a simple object can be completely transformed via the artist’s definition and context with little alteration to the object itself.

the Bug Zapper light by Caleb Ferris
Bug Zapper.
Close Encounters by Caleb Ferris
Close Encounters.
Cavatappi, a wooden furniture leg/sculpture by Caleb Ferris
A concept version of the Noodle Throne
A concept version of the Noodle Throne, this one made from its namesake.
Caleb Ferris working
Ferris works on a piece.
Three Directions by Caleb Ferris
Three Directions.

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