How does wood work? Chilean-German artist Sebastian Erazo Fischer knows well. This architect started creating wood pieces and artworks some years ago, and recently he began his own project. Besides, he has worked at Hütten und Paläste Architekten in Berlin. His product range is made by hand, made to measure, can be personalized and will respond to the specific needs of its future users and their living and working spaces. We enter in his elegance meets functionality universe.
You started your career working with Martín Hurtado for 6 years, right? How could you define this experience? Tell us about your beginnings.
I started working with Martín directly after my studies in Architecture School, and I stayed there for 6 years. Like everybody, I began as an apprentice, and I left the office leading projects. I keep on thinking I was lucky to end up working with Martín, because he’s a teacher (a very good one) and a very conscious architect, very passionate about materials, tools and techniques, and particularly about wood. I always remember once he asked me if I enjoyed visiting the hardware store, and I answered ‘no’. Just after that, he told me he loved it, because each time you do so you will learn about the materials and tools you need in order to make architecture real – before that, I didn’t even know that as an architect I would be talking about the different heads that screws have. I like this memory, because that was maybe the moment when I started understanding the value of having knowledge on technique, that designing wasn’t just about drawing and conceiving beautiful or attractive concepts, or even just about its functionality, it’s about being able to know, and continuously learn each of the steps to make something real; from concept to construction. The closer you get to know how materials react and which are the best ways to manipulate them, the better will the final construction “behave” and fulfil its goal – it’s not just about space and light, it’s about the quality of the architectural solutions, that will allow a building give more or less trouble to the user. I have my foundations as an architect in that office, and it was there where I started learning about wood and became responsible for my first project in this material, after which I decided to extend this experience and began building furniture on my own, for myself, as a hobby.
Why did you decide to do your own work with furniture instead of working as an architect?
I feel I’m making a break from working 8 hours a day in front of the computer. I decided I wanted to put my energy in learning how wood works and how to work with wood. And furniture gives you the possibility to explore the material and the technique in shorter periods of time, it also gives you the possibility of doing things with your hands, and be moving or standing almost all day, which is quite healthy and rewarding. Maybe the big difference is that in architecture wood is normally not just wood, but is rather working in a complementary way with other materials present in the layers of the construction. I don’t really think I’ve stopped being an architect, or working as an architect, I’m just working on a smaller scale because, as I said, I want to focus on learning deeply about the material.
You decided to start your own studio in 2014, right? Tell us more about that.
I actually came to Germany with the idea of doing a Master in wood engineering or construction, but as I was learning German I kept on building furniture in my flat, and then I made my first order for a friend in Berlin, after which I got an offer to show my stuff at the London Design Festival. That experience gave me the push I needed to decide to try this seriously, and so, after working a year in an architecture studio in Berlin, I started working full time for my personal project.
You come from Chile but you're currently living in Germany. How do you see the furniture and architecture scene in both countries? Do you think it’s easier in Europe for an artist to make a living with his work?
Yes, I come from Chile and have been living in Berlin for the last two and a half years. I don’t have so much experience yet to make a really objective comparison, I just worked one year in architecture in Berlin and I’ve been working on my own for 6 months. Just now, I’m starting to do some small networking since I began to build my projects in Betahaus, a co-working space that includes the wood workshop where I work. I don’t know if it’s easier in Europe or not, I would say I have the feeling that here there’s more interest in design and a certain consciousness on its costs, maybe because of history and the recognition of handcrafts. On the other hand, I’ve been up to date with Chile and the past two years there seems to be some kind of boom on design, and there’s more and more people opening studios and stores, and designing and doing things with their hands. If this is happening, it must be because there is interest around it. The size of the population in each country plays for sure a big role on the proportion of interest around this and other subjects – 17 million in Chile versus 83 in Germany, to give an example.
How is the process of creating a new piece of furniture? What materials do you usually work with in order to create your pieces? Explain us your work techniques.
I always start with a need. It’s been like that even when I made the first pieces for myself. It has to make sense. Therefore, I define what’s needed, which is the space where the piece is going to be in, and the proportions of things around (doors, window sills, with of a corridor, other existing pieces of furniture, etc.) These preexistences define the proportions with which I will work. After that, I dedicate some time to do research on traditional techniques. I always come back to my main reference, which is “Der Möbelbau”, a book on traditional Cabinet making, written in 1954 by Fritz Spannagel, a German architect and cabinet maker. The book is very complete in technical information and very stimulating to the eye too, as it is full of hand drawings. After that I work on my own hand drawings, give time to develop the joinery principles at the same time that I’m thinking about proportions and composition. Once I have defined these aspects, I review the whole design again to make it efficient in its building sequence, and finally I work with real measures in the computer in order to start preparing budgets, and after that the buying of materials and so on. Every now and then, I also complement the design process with balsa wood models. Balsa wood is very soft and easy to work with, and it’s always very good to have the actual proportions in your hands, rather than just in a 3D model inside the screen. The rest of the process is building the actual piece. That’s done in the workshop, with pinewood, clear and free of knots. All joinery is fixed only with the use of glue and clamps. No screws or metallic parts are used.
Your pieces look both elegant and strong artworks, and you seem to be very passionate with your work. Who or what do you draw inspiration from?
It’s good to realize that all this care I put into my work can be seen in the finished pieces. Yes, I am very passionate about it, and when I’m working I feel I get deeply into it. I’ve never had my face closer to my work than when I’m working on making a detail, or sanding a joint before gluing it, or chiseling rests of glue, and so on. It’s a kind of meditative work, when you build a piece of furniture that will have its parts fixed solely on joints and glue. You have to be patient, and it is in these waiting times when you get to think a lot, and the most rewarding thing is that you're continuously analysing and therefore learning from each step you take. I think this is actually one of the good things of fine woodworking: you put a lot of care into work, and you even get attached to those things you create. And these small buildings sometimes bring some of those childhood games back to my adult life. I draw my inspiration from wood architecture and traditional cabinetmaking; I guess my work is something in between both. And I insist that it is important to keep handwork alive, but also fresh and up-to-date with the present ways of life.
Personally, I'm totally in love with your work, especially with your chair (the one that takes one of Gerrit Rietveld's simple armchairs as reference). It looks sophisticated and modern, but it also has the elegance of the golden days, and seems very comfortable. What would you say is the piece you like the most? Or the one you feel more proud of?
Maybe the golden days are still to come… I like to think that we create things because we have the possibility of reinventing our way of seeing and living the world, otherwise our lives would be sort of static and flat. I feel very proud of the last piece I made, this mix of coat rack, shelf bench and shoe storage, because it came from a real specific need, and we decided (the client and me after review the first ideas) to just mix all these uses into one piece that would be placed in the entry hall of his flat. I think it is well done, and it is honest in its conception, and it has this freshness I was talking about before.
What is your day to day like?
My day to day is pretty unstable nowadays I must say, which I like! Only when I am in days of production (building), they tend to get repetitive, like waking up, breakfast and then going to the workshop and then coming back, cook and eat and then maybe going to run or meeting someone. But they change in between; I work sometimes on the designs at Betahaus, sometimes at home, depending on my mood, on the light and on my capacity to focus. Sometimes I visit potential clients, meet potential partners, etc. I like this ever changing day a day structure, although it’s a bit risky if you don’t keep control of your agenda.
How do you see your professional career in five years?
I hope to have my own studio, workshop and shop in the same space, a small team or a partner to have good production times, but also to invest time in new projects, and to be able to work on made to order single pieces as well as interior design projects, that will gradually connect my handiwork to architectural practice, or even other fields like art, installation or theatre, to name some.