With designs in the London Design Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Chicago Athenaeum, and clients that include Yoko Ono, Diane von Furstenberg and Michael Graves, it's no surprise that Dakota Jackson is one of the leading figures in the Art Furniture movement. Now entering his fourth decade as a designer, Dakota chats with Spaces about his career, his family and his inspiration.
Why furniture design?
My parents were magicians, so I grew up in a highly disciplined environment. Performing magic requires constant rehearsal, reviewing and polishing. That can be applied to design as well, since both require flawless execution. Before I started designing furniture, I was a dancer and an accomplished pianist. I had moved into a loft in Soho, which was one of those derelict spaces that needed work just to bring it to a rudimentary level. During that time I realized I had a gift for understanding space and materials. I found it much more interesting to manipulate space and create a sense of place. I have the same feeling when making things and watching the material take on a life of its own.
What was your early work?
My first designs were lofts. Then I went back to magic. Then I combined magic and furniture. That was in 1974 and I got a call from Yoko Ono who saw my work and wanted a gift for John's 34th birthday. She wanted something like a Chinese puzzle, something that would have different components. I spoke to her a year and a half ago and she said the piece I designed for John was his favorite. I also love machinery. The Saturn stool is a machine-aluminum upholstered stool with lacquered rim (automotive lacquer). That piece brought me instant notoriety and became my icon. I got commission after commission. The stool was followed by the Tbird desk and a self-winding coffee table, both of which had a very theatrical aspect to them.
Has one style influenced you?
Perhaps the Danish style, with its molded and bentwood design. The library chair is an example, and more recently the Cascade table, with its laminated bentwood construction. Alvar Aalto has influenced my work since I'm drawn to steamed or laminated wood. I'm also drawn to Art Deco designs. Is there a common theme to your pieces? Perhaps a sense of movement. I usually use three or four materials, not one, with sweeping arcs and curves. My chairs are very elegant and graceful - like a dancer. Think Fred Astaire.
How did the Library Chair evolve?
There was a Bank of England chair that came out the end of the 19th century. Now you see the design in flea markets. It lasted 80 years so it became my incentive to create something that wasn't just one of a kind, but part of a landscape. My goal was to create a library chair with laminated bentwood, in the Eames and Alto tradition. It took a year to develop. Architect James Freed championed the chair. We made 1,000 for the San Francisco library. Now they're in more than 75 libraries, including Stanford, Harvard and UC-Berkeley. Plus, they're in Europe. And you've designed a Steinway piano. The last time Steinway had updated its piano was in 1905. They approached me to collaborate on the Tricentennial Limited Edition Piano, introduced in 2000 to mark the 300th anniversary of the invention of the piano. The 9-foot-long tricentennial edition brought the design into the 21st century. It sold out. Now we have a collaboration called Steinway-Jackson on one-ofakind pianos. Each takes 14 months to build (priced from $200,000 to $400,000), and typically they're in homes of musicians or patrons.
What's in your house?
Ninety-five percent of my home has my pieces so I'm surrounded by my successes and failures. I see them as a legacy for my kids.
Do you have a favorite?
Whatever my kids embrace, though my Steinway (a tricentennial limited edition) is very important to me. And the Library Chair. The Saturn stool is also important because it's precocious; it spoke to me and told me I had talent, a gift, and the only way to uncover it was through work.
What about your latest collection?
There are lots of new chairs, like the pull up and dining chairs, and each has its own personality. The IKO is a mixeddensity foam covered in leather that molds to the body; it's highly sculpted, very dynamic and extremely comfortable. I'm very conscious of how one sits down and the pressure points of the body. One learns over the years how to create proper contours for comfort.
Every year I design 15-20 new pieces. Right now I want to develop the Library Chair. I'm also designing public seating for a cemetery in Asia. Creating public seating for a cemetery is fascinating. You learn how a culture views death and the rituals of visiting the dead. A cemetery can be a place to visit and not just grieve.
Does anyone else in your family design?
Not really. My wife is RoseLee Goldberg and she is founder and director of the Performance Art biennial. She brings artists from all over the world to perform at a variety of venues, from the Guggenheim to the Armory. My daughter Zoe works at New York's Museum of Modern Art and my son Pierce is a video artist.
And when you aren't working?
I work 12-14 hours a day so when I have free time, I play the piano and I bike. I travel a lot. I spend time with my family at our summer house on Long Island.