Meet A San Francisco Jewelry Designer Turned Furniture Maker


Furniture designer John Liston in his San Francisco workshop

John Liston's Batten sconce.

When he used to attend design shows, John Liston of J Liston Design would display myriad offerings—candlesticks, brass trays, side tables, lighting. Visitors to his booth often assumed there was a whole crew operating behind the scenes to produce such diverse pieces. But Liston is a one-man show. He does all the design work for his studio himself, creating bold, functional, imaginative forms.

What path led you to the design work you do today? I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology for jewelry design and worked for my professor during college. He did large, hammer-formed sculpture-type pieces—more monumental in scale. I enjoyed the physical aspect of that kind of work rather than sitting at a bench doing small jewelry pieces. From there, I started making work for my own apartment. When you’re young, you don’t have $5,000 to spend on furniture.

When I started focusing on furniture, my work became much more industrial with cleaner lines, which is a 180-degree change from what I had been doing. I became more interested in architecture and finding little things that are intriguing, like a window latch or rainscreen. The Batten sconce, my newest piece, is based off louvers.

How do you work with clients on custom pieces? A few years ago, a client wanted a credenza version of my Corrugated side tables. So, it’s just scaling up or scaling back pieces, and then giving the client drawings of what it could be. Oftentimes, during the drawing process, you find possibilities that you didn’t see from the original piece, which could change the whole design.