Northeast Timber Plays Muse To A Designer’s Playful Furnishings


kieran kinsella

As he’s carving a stump of wood on a quietly spinning lathe, woodworker and furniture designer, Kieran Kinsella has the uncanny sense that he’s revealing, even liberating, a form hidden within the fallen timber. “I love the idea of finding shapes by removing material versus constructing,” he says. “If there’s a crazy knot or interesting feature, I have to strike a balance between keeping that wild, natural quality and manipulating it into something functional.”

Using a chainsaw, Kinsella cuts huge logs of Northeast hardwood, such as walnut, oak and maple, into smaller chunks and transports them to his sunlit studio—a former repair site for a John Deere dealership at the edge of a cornfield in the Hudson Valley. Sometimes, he executes one of his signature designs—his cumulus-inspired cloud bench, for example, or one of his drop tables, which feature a whimsical gourd shape atop three pointy legs. (Group them together, he points out, and they look like a pack of dogs.)

Other times, the process is more experimental and organic with shapes seemingly manifesting from the depths of his subconscious. “Those are the most challenging but also the most fun and rewarding, because you’re reacting to the wood,” he explains. “They have a more natural freeform energy, and the shapes are sharper and rawer.” After sanding and kiln-drying, he either applies an oil finish or creates a burnt effect using a blowtorch to finish.

Eager to see his work in different media, Kinsella also collaborates with ceramicists on porcelain and stoneware versions of his creations, typically painting them in bright colors that set them apart from his wood pieces. “Ceramic was a good fit because the central material is still very organic, being clay from the earth,” he says.

In addition to working with designers and private clients on commission, Kinsella participates in shows throughout the Hudson Valley, and his furnishings are available at BDDW, where he regularly drops off new work. The first piece Kinsella ever built was a stool for his daughter, and that establishing spirit of fun remains a point of pride. “My pieces are architectural and functional, but they’re also kind of playful and lighten a space,” he says. “I appreciate the fact that they are little sculptures that can sneak into somebody’s house and be useful.”