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Design Stories: Copeland Furniture

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For over 30 years, Copeland’s family owned and operated company has been crafting heirloom quality furniture in Bradford, Vermont. We went one-on-one with Ben Copeland, who is responsible for the company’s design research, sales and marketing, to learn more about who Copeland Furniture is.

Who is Copeland?

I would describe us as committed Modernists recognizing that we’re talking about the philosophy of Modernism rather than what you might call modern style.

Tell us more about your philosophy of Modernism.

The easiest expression of that philosophy is “form follows function” however there is a danger in reducing “function” merely to the physical job the product does (i.e. chairs are for sitting, beds are for lying.) The expression does imply the limited use of ornamentation but function can also be how the product makes the user feel in the same way that the function of cuisine is more than just nourishment. In terms of furniture design, important questions are: does the design provoke clarity of thought; what does choosing the product subliminally communicate to the purchaser about his or her character; is living with that item conducive to resourceful states of mind? I doubt anyone would argue that these functions aren’t at least as important as the job the product does.

Who designs your products?

Most of our design work is done in-house with a few exceptions. Our principle designer, Armin Driver, was born in Bombay where she worked with the famous Indian architect, Nari Gandhi. Tim Copeland also designs and collaborates with Armin. We don’t deliberately eschew outside designers per se, however, understanding solid wood is not like understanding veneers, textiles and metals and requires a surprising degree of sensitivity and intuition into both the “behavior” of the material and manufacturing processes. The challenge is that the types of designs we’re contemplating today ask solid wood to do things that most production oriented manufacturers simply haven’t attempted. For that we’ve found it’s best to have designers we work with day in and day out.

Where do you search for design inspiration?

Not to sound too cheeky with this answer but — everywhere and nowhere. Our best design inspiration comes from a process of looking at everything on the market so that we can identify what doesn’t yet exist but should. Sometimes it’s a specific style or look, other times it’s the manner of joinery or engineering. You could call it “designing between the lines.”

Copeland has a big emphasis on sustainability. Why is this important to you?

The simple reality is that we didn’t set out to be “sustainable” when we were founded in 1975 nor did we alter course to serve the current “green” consumer. Those priorities weren’t even on the public’s radar back in the mid 1970’s when we were doing things much the same way as we are today. Things like stewardship of resources, minimizing waste and a safe work environment have always been community oriented values that are simply good sense business practices in places like Vermont where one is far more connected with employees, suppliers and local customers than your typical furniture manufacturer.

“Our best design inspiration comes from a process of looking at everything on the market so that we can identify what doesn’t yet exist but should.”

What’s next for Copeland?

Our historic reputation has been as a manufacturer of largely bedroom furniture with a small amount of home office. We are at the beginning stages of a push into the dining room category and are very excited about some of the designs we have on the boards. We’ve already sampled some collections at recent trade shows and the response has been excellent.

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Jennifer Harford

Jennifer is a Senior Site Merchandiser at YLiving and an interior design major dropout. With a passion for design, but a total lack of CAD skills, she went on to a career in metal working at SDSU. In her free time Jennifer enjoys reading Sci-Fi novels, hiking the Bay Area wilderness, and obsessing over Game of Thrones.