Chuck Mack is an American/Icelandic designer who lives and works in Reykjavik. A self taught woodworking artist, Chuck has just launched the Arco Desk for Design House Stockholm. A glass top supported on trestles leaving the contents of the drawer visible. Chuck Mack’s design philosophy is governed by 5 rules: “Be original (no stealing, skimming or spinning), Give it purpose, Make it work for it’s purpose, Make it last, Make it look good”
Chuck’s designs are derived from a practical and functional approach, finding solutions that work, and in keeping with his carpentry background, takes a lot of pride in producing quality woodwork.
You mention on your website as being a self taught designer, how did you begin this journey into the world of woodworking and design? Did you have any training?
As a kid, I had an aptitude for crafts and found class time boring, nearly a form of punishment. I was a chronic daydreamer and an avid reader. I believed Mark Twain when he said: Don‘t let schooling interfere with your education.
When I was around 8 years old, I found the blade of a hunting knife stuck in a tree stump. With no direction I cleaned it up and fashioned a wood handle for it and was amazed with the result.
I also recall watching a mason mix up his mortar and with nothing more than a trowel, lay up a brick windowsill in short order with deft and precision. He clearly took pleasure in his work and offered me a good natured explanation of everything he was doing as I watched him work. I was maybe 11 or 12 and decided right then that I would work with my hands rather than sit in an office. Turning raw material into something purposeful just seemed like a good way to go.
As a young man, I worked as a house builder for a number of years and had a reputation solving difficult jobsite problems in an efficient manner. One must get rather creative at times to get the job done.
Nearly all my skills were developed by OJT (on the job training) I learned something from nearly everyone I have worked with.
When and why did you make that move to Iceland?
It was in 2003, and that is a complex question. Let’s just say I reached a point in my life where I saw an opportunity to re-invent myself and took it. My mother is Icelandic so I do have a strong connection with the country.
How different is it to work in the design field in Iceland compared to the United States?
Iceland is a small country, if one is doing good work it is not difficult to get attention and publicity. It is also possible to make a call and arrange a meeting, but, like anywhere, a good advocate makes all the difference.
The US is vast, complex and highly competitive. There are pockets where one might get a reputation as a good artist, but few get beyond them to break out on the National or International scene.
There aren’t many Icelandic designers who are represented by the major Design companies in Scandinavian and Nordic countries, why is that so?
Iceland is not only small, it is an island with limited manufacturing. There are no design firms like the established and well-known Scandinavian brands, so not much of a stage. We are all in our corners struggling with self-production. I do believe there are a number of Icelandic designers represented out there, I am not unique as such.
I might note that there is a certain amount of Nationalism that breaks down Nordic Design into sub-categories for each country and each with its own level of snobbishness. A designer with an American background can be a difficult fit, though I do believe that attitude is changing.
I was fortunate to connect with Anders Färdig, the CEO of Design House Stockholm, his firm has an eclectic group of designers from all over and he likes it that way.
Could you explain your creative process, how do your ideas start and become a reality?
I do my best to tap into the creative source and extract an idea from the ether – it is like magic and sometimes works. Once an idea starts to gel, I let it simmer awhile, like a stew developing flavour. I then start the prototyping. It is a subtle process – all the critical things must come together; connections, proportions, choice of materials. It has to work for its function and look cool.
You have just launched a new table for Design House Stockholm called the Arco Desk. What was your inspiration for this design?
When I was building houses, I started each project by building several sets of carpenters trestles. I always made them strong, light, and stackable. They were highly prized afterwards by whomever was there to claim them. It was at the back of my mind to someday elevate a trestle design to an art form that might be considered furniture. In 2010, for the annual DesignMarch event in Reykjavik, I first did the trestles and later added the frame, drawer and glass top to make it into a convenient work table. I put the whole concept out for review in 2012 which is when it caught the attention of Anders, on his visit to the event that year.
You mention 5 rules on your website, can you elaborate on them a little?
The rules represent a philosophy, a standard to go by that offers a distinctive quality to my work.
What is your favourite wood to work with?
Wood selection is a science in itself, each species has unique qualities. I prefer the finer-grained hardwoods, maple, cherry or walnut for furniture. The figured maples like tiger and birdseye which are unique to North America are favourites for their character. The colour deepens and becomes richer with age
Is there a designer who inspired you in the early days of your design career?
I can‘t say it was any specific designer. I have always had a strong affinity for what is now called Mid-Century Modern, the Scandinavian aesthetic, and the streamlined Post War Style. This was the era I grew up in and it was a highly creative and innovative period, a boomtime in the western world. My parents had some form of Danish modern decor along with tableware from Russel Wright and flatware from George Jensen.
For my own work I try to get a lively character coupled with interesting structural techniques which defines my particular style.
Are you working on anything now?
I have been working on some table and desktop pieces that I expect are currently under review, so I should not elaborate further.