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Publication Date: 2012-03-12

Behind the Design

Q&A with David Iatesta

Maryland-based furniture designer David Iatesta’s furnishings deserve a close look—all the better to appreciate the level of detail and artistry that goes into each piece.

Iatesta’s entire collection is handcrafted in his Stevensville, MD, workshop, where 30 artisans—woodworkers, metalworkers, finishers, sprayers, and upholsterers—make heirloom-quality goods, many hand-distressed and French-polished. “Our finishes cannot be beat,” says Iatesta. “You can’t fake a luxurious patina—you can only achieve it through many layers and lots of time.” He should know; he started out as a restorer of fine antiques in Washington, D.C., and soon became a pro at creating replicas so authentic-looking “you couldn’t tell which was new and which was old—the new stuff looked just as good as the old, just without the cobwebs,” he says. Today his own collection comprises more than 250 pieces of furniture and lighting that are, as he puts it, “elegant, comfortable, approachable, and unpretentious.” Here, the designer discusses the importance of manufacturing locally, how to hang a chandelier, and why an intensive finishing process is well worth the effort.

Q: You’ve said your designs aim to bridge the gap between traditional and modern. How do they do this, and can you give some examples from your products?

A: By eliminating the boring factor from overly traditional furniture and the trendy factor from contemporary furniture. I design timeless pieces that are not going to fall out of style, yet are not stale and flat. The Cavallo Dining Table is an example—it’s a modernized version of a traditional table form, with sexy lines and a water ripple finish. Eliminating the overhang on the top adds a modern flair. Similarly, the Brindelle Pendant has a fresh look thanks to the three glass cylinders, but the patina on the hand-gilded branch formations is antique bronze. Either of these would work well in a house with antiques or a modern one—like just about everything I make.

Q: All of your pieces are made in your workshop near Annapolis, MD. What are the benefits of manufacturing your line in-house? And, more generally speaking, why is buying American-made furniture important?

A: By manufacturing our pieces locally we have control over the design and manufacturing from beginning to end, to satisfy our clients’ diverse needs. We can also guarantee the quality of the craftsmanship. Sourcing local has always been important to me but today it seems to be gaining traction. Buying American is patriotic. It keeps the talented American workforce employed and our economy competitive.

Q: Each of your pieces are handcrafted and finished, in a remarkably painstaking and time-intensive way. Can you tell us a bit more about this process?

A: Our fabulous finishes are achieved through many layers, and creating multiple layers is time-consuming. The Fleur Chandelier is a perfect example. The inspiration for this piece was an antique French fixture that was lit with candles. The wax had dripped onto the frame for years. It had been re-painted but the texture remained. Mimicking the layers of wax and paint and dust and grime that make this piece so fantastic requires countless layers of paint with sanding in between each layer to remove just the right amount of finish. Another example is the Bennett Center Table, which goes through a series of carefully executed sandings, then a bleaching and toning process prior to staining. All stains are applied by hand with a rag and brush. Each artisan must use his or her judgment when deciding where to apply a heavier or lighter hand in order to enhance the natural properties of the wood. Toning between layers of lacquer ensures depth in the finish and adherence to the finish standards.The table is distressed between layers to achieve the feeling of a well-worn antique. All of the distress in an antique didn’t occur at one time but over generations. The final hand waxing and burnishing of the wood ensures a luxurious luster.

Q: You have a wide variety of furnishings in your Dering Hall storefront, from beds to sideboards to shelves to sconces to mirrors. Say a reader wanted to redo their living room. Can you give some suggestions for how they might achieve a great balance between traditional and modern in their interiors using some of these pieces?

A: I would start with the Harwood Coffee Table, because you can’t destroy it and it can be dressed up and down. Place this with the Chesapeake Sofa, whose fabric and down cushions invite you to stay and enjoy the space. Change out the pillows with your mood, or the season, or both. The Magothy Étagère is necessary for displaying your favorite objects collected throughout your life. Add a contrast with the Weatherly Breakfront and hang your ultra-thin TV on the wall above it. There’s no need to hide them these days, but do ensure that the wires are nowhere to be seen. Finish the space with a chandelier; I currently love our Devonshire Chandelier. You really can put a chandelier in any room. Don’t feel they must be relegated to the dining room or foyer.

Q: Related to this, you have a wide variety of chandeliers in your storefront. What are the qualities of a good chandelier, and how do you pick the right one for your space?

A: A chandelier should not only be looked at as a source of light but also a hanging sculpture. Our Armillary Chandelier could never be accused of disappearing in a room. Most people hang chandeliers too high. Hang them lower. It’s more intimate and elegant and you get to enjoy them for what they are, not just what they do.

Q: What’s the one element you should never skimp on in a room?

A: Of course I am going to say the furniture—though most important to me are pieces with meaning. Colors come and go, fabrics wear out, but your personal artifacts and finds never grow old.

Q: What’s the best design advice you’ve ever received?

A: Never fill space just to fill space. My mentor Frank Babb Randolph gave me that advice.

Q: What designers, movements, or places inspire your work?

A: Nature has always been my biggest inspiration.The Severn Center Table, Weems Table, and Twig Firewood Box exhibit the colors and textures found along the Chesapeake Bay, where I live. Frank Babb Randolph has been instrumental in teaching me the true elegance and meaning of fine design. He has collaborated on many pieces since the beginning of my product line, including the Jefferson Mirror and Chatham Chair. It doesn’t hurt that his mentor was Billy Baldwin. Designer Andrew Law is an expert on comfort in all seating and upholstery and has been a great inspiration and help with my seating designs (for example, the Law Club Chair).

Q: Any other favorite items you’d like to talk about?

A: I am constantly developing new products. Right now I am loving my Perlin Bergere. It’s truly comfortable and timelessly elegant. The lower arch conforms to your whole back, so it’s supportive. It’s unusual in an attractive way. I think of it as somewhere between an occasional chair and a big bulky club chair. It would be great in a sitting room, family room, or library.


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