Adherents to the local-food movement use complex formulas to decide what is permitted on their plates and what is taboo. Organic ramps that traveled 60 miles from farm to greenmarket in the back of a biodiesel jalopy? Bon appétit. Equally organic artichokes that flew 3,000 miles across two continents to get to your neighborhood Whole Foods? You might want to put away your bib. Deger Cengiz, a Turkish-born, New York–based designer who co-owns the year-old Williamsburg furniture gallery Voos, has a similar rule for choosing the wood shops that produce his tiny-run furniture: they can be no farther away than he can travel on his bicycle. It’s a standard that fits perfectly with his newest project, a series of chairs, shelves, benches, and light fixtures made out of redwood salvaged from a 60-year-old Upper East Side water tower.
A colleague of Cengiz’s had demolished the tower and offered him the scraps on the cheap. “I didn’t want to buy the wood at first,” Cengiz says. “But I began to use it slowly for projects, because it was almost free.” First up, last November, was Poorprouvé, an industrial version of Jean Prouvé’s Potence lamp built from copper plumbing pipe and mounted on a long panel of redwood. Second, a month later, was Towers, benches that turn into modular shelving when stacked or bolted together. In January, Cengiz introduced Planar, a surprisingly comfortable chair formed from four unupholstered slabs of redwood, and he finished the latest piece, a leaning bookshelf, in late March. (Planar shows this month at Voos alongside other local designers’ work as part of the store’s ICFF-timed exhibition Dreamers.)
All the pieces were made in local shops without hiding the imperfections of wood or worker. A dark, snaking line marks the effects of sun and water on redwood, and the chairs vary slightly by size and color—“because this woodworker guy, I don’t know, he was on the phone probably when he was doing this,” Cengiz says. He criticizes the big furniture companies for their remote celebrity designers and suspect factories in China, which he says alienate production from consumption. “You are not that connected to the piece. You just buy it, and it’s a mass-produced item.” Making furniture with locally available resources and industry seems to him a richer, more ethical alternative. “Here, it’s a little bit of a primitive community. It’s slow furniture, like slow food.”
He has used about half of the redwood pile so far, but he’s not worried about depleting it. “I’ll use other reclaimed wood,” he says. “I mean, this is not the best reclaimed wood. It’s just what I have.”