Modern Wood Furniture Q&A with Jacob Marks
With no formal design training aside from a post-collegiate stint making high-end cabinetry, Jacob Marks founded the modern wood furniture brand Skram at age 25. The North Carolina-based company employs traditional techniques to make visually restrained designs featuring natural materials, unwavering attention to detail, and a classic-meets-modern aesthetic. We asked Marks, who was recently named one of the top 50 young designers in the Americas, about his process, philosophy – and that unusual company name.
YL: How has the company evolved since being founded?
JM: Dramatically. In 2001, I founded Skram and built every product, start to finish, in a small shop in the woods. Growth was gradual but consistent until the past five years or so, when it really accelerated. Last year we purchased and moved into a historic 1934 knitting mill in Burlington, NC, as our primary manufacturing facility. It’s roughly 27,000 square feet and we currently have around 10 craftspeople on the floor.
Lineground Armchair: It’s so technically complex, no one could knock it off. If I could show you the stack of patterns and jigs it requires – there literally isn’t a flat surface on this chair. Every face of every part is a contour, and working every piece by hand is a challenge.
YL: Where does the name Skram come from?
JM: Skram is my last name, Marks, spelled backwards. The word has a nice graphic quality, and a directness in the spoken form that reflects the brand’s aesthetic for modern wood furniture.
YL: Tell me about the aesthetic and target customer?
JM: Restrained. Honest. Refined. Modern, but approachable. Our target customers value our methods, which emphasize honest materials, fine workmanship, sustainable practices, and innovative design. We have a wide range of price points and we try to keep part of it accessible to those who love the work but aren’t wealthy.
Version 5 Rocker: It’s a little less complex than the Lineground, but not by much. There are a lot of compound angles and hand-shaped contours. We’re prototyping a higher-back version too.
YL: All of your items are made in the US. Why is this important to you, and is this a response to customers’ preferences?
JM: It’s not a response to customer preferences, though I’m pleased that some share the priorities implied by the decision to buy well-made, domestically crafted objects. Other manufacturers seem to provide good-quality products that are subcontracted abroad. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not in keeping with our approach to sustainable manufacturing and not the right fit for the level of quality control and attention to detail that our products require.
YL: What do you consider your most iconic pieces? Do you have any favorites?
JM: My favorite Skram products, after years in production, still seem just right, in their hidden details, in the subtlety of their proportioning, or in their negotiation of lightness and weight.
Saddlestool: It’s loosely inspired by the western saddle, but in a more refined, less adorned way. All the stitching is done by hand with a saddle stitch with about 35 feet of thread.
Wishbone Drawer Desk: I love its clean, crisp form and pure minimalist sensibility.
YL: Your pieces mix traditional and cutting-edge fabrication processes. Can you give an example of that with one of your products?
JM: The Wishbone slab-top desk (shown above) is a good example. The wood part uses veneer construction. At Skram, veneer isn’t a shortcut or cost-saving measure. All veneers are matched and seamed by hand by experienced specialists, then processed in a machine that reads the thickness, width, and length of the desktop and perfectly levels the raw veneer, accomplishing in just a few seconds what used to take about an hour to do by hand — with improved results.
YL: How might someone with a more traditional space integrate your contemporary products?
JM: Our newly redesigned Lineground armchair (shown at left) comes to mind. It’s been used to good effect in diverse contexts, from an ultra-modern Miami loft space, to stone-barn tasting rooms in a Spanish vineyard, to a mountain chateau in Colorado.
— By Stephen Milioti