When Jonathan Glatt and Sara Ossana finished grad school at the Rhode Island School of Design they weren’t sure what the future had in store, but they knew their passion. “We have an affinity for old things and craft and tradition – and we feel strongly they will die if not given a new life,” declares Ossana.
The two decided to open a furniture design studio in the nearby town of Warren, Rhode Island, and looked to an American staple upon which to build their designs: the Windsor Chair. “Of course we picked the most difficult thing to make,” she laughs. “But we thought it was a nice challenge – to make it timeless and also make it contemporary. It’s a perfect marriage of art and technology and an American aesthetic.”
Almost a decade later, they have 20 employees, five collections, are creating more than 120 pieces a month and can’t believe their dream has become a reality. “We go to work and it doesn’t even feel like work,” comments Glatt. The company has recently opened a showroom in the same town, with dual goals: improve customer experience and refocus on design away from the production facility, which is housed in a nearby 1885 factory. “Our interest is in design history – there’s so much beautiful history and we see that across generations.”
Evolving the traditional chair to meet current demands has been challenging and rewarding. Options that O&G Studio offers include low back and high back, barrel shapes and side and arm-chairs. The attention to detail is found throughout, with chairs even offering an option of hand-crafted knuckle shapes on armchairs, rather than smooth-edged handles. “One of the things we start with is, ‘what is the mood of the piece, what is the function of the piece?’ ” says Glatt. “Sitting changes over time. We look at what ways are relevant now and marry that with the abstract.”
There are sketches and mockups and full-scale construction mockups. Legs are lengthened, seat backs lowered – each design is unique until finalized and then the company begins making the piece.
“We think about the style, imagine where this piece is going. Are we going for relaxation or drama?” asks Ossana. And there are technical underpinnings that dictate the Windsor designs, as they are created to flex, yet remain strong. She equates it to a suspension bridge. “You can’t make this type of Windsor Chair by machine,” adds Glatt. “The type of construction doesn’t allow it to plug into a machine.”
And that return to craftsmanship and permanence is growing not just in Windsor Chairs, but in many consumer decisions. Training programs are now being offered for woodworkers and tradespeople, as worker demand exceeds those who know the long-forgotten manufacturing skills.
“We see people caring more about the things they buy,” says Glatt. “(At O&G) we don’t follow a trend or fashion. When something is hot in the moment, and then it’s not, that’s encouragement to throw it away. When you’re not following trends, you’re in a different sphere.”
But that classic approach still needs to be modern, and the proprietary O&G stains give the maple and ash furniture a welcome twist on top of the craftsmanship. “The products we design and make are meant to last and to be used,” comments Ossana. “We’re not trying to get people to just buy a set of chairs from us. These pieces are going to be enjoyed for generations.”
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