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This Sculptural Furniture Designer Uses Wood From Trees Grown in Her Own Backyard

Greta de Parry Designs reflects its founder’s passion for hands-on processes and perpetual experimentation.

De Parry spent six years tweaking the design of her studio's Coleman Stools, pictured here.

Greta de Parry is a classically trained woodworker and sculptor, and it shows in her work, which simultaneously exhibits both the experimental verve of an artist and the technical elements of a true perfectionist. She’s been designing and refining her firm’s signature furniture pieces in her Chicago shop since 2007 (including the popular Coleman stool, which took six years of fine-tuning). She founded Greta de Parry Designs in 2010, driven by a desire to bring simple yet beautiful furniture to new audiences. For de Parry, sourcing materials is an important part of the process (some wooden pieces are made from trees grown on her studio’s property!) and she finds her joy in constant experimentation. Surface talked to de Parry about how she keeps her spark, and how she hopes to leave her mark on the world.

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De Parry in her Chicago studio.

Can you give us a brief overview of Greta de Parry’s history?
I founded Greta de Parry Design in 2010 in order to bring the passion for craft and quality that I pour into custom commissions to a larger audience. I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, focusing on sculpture and designed objects. During my first semester, we toured the Merchandise Mart and I was immediately drawn to the Herman Miller section and the Eames products and story. This aligned with my natural interest in woodworking—my father was a builder, and I had developed a hands-on mentality. Fully dedicated to creating sculptural furniture, I became the sole artist-in-residence at a post-graduate program affiliated with SAIC and apprenticed with a master woodworker for three years. When I started doing custom commissions, the focus was on quality materials and and construction techniques. Greta de Parry Designs continues to produce custom-commissioned work, and we also work with ethically oriented local fabricators on existing designs. We’ve grown a lot over the past several years, while remaining firmly aligned with our core ethos.

What’s the driving force behind your work?
The driving force behind my work is my pure, total, passionate—and slightly obsessive—love of furniture. I go to sleep thinking about furniture. I dream about furniture. I set my alarm for twenty minutes before I need to get in the morning up so I can lie in bed and think about furniture. There is no greater joy for me than creating something tangible, beautiful, and useful with my own two hands.

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A completed Mighty Oak table in de Parry's studio.
De Parry, woodworking in her studio.

What does good design mean to you?
I don’t think good design can be measured in a finite way—it inherently means different things in different contexts for different objects. But in relationship to furniture, I think good design is the result of a thoughtful process of elimination; of stripping an object down to its core and defining-shash-redefining its purpose. Good design, to me, is minimal, sculptural, useful, well-made, and evokes a sense of calm. It’s noticeable yet not overpowering, and makes sense in relationship to its setting.

What projects do you currently have in the works and when can we see them?
My husband and I just purchased a new home and my goal is to make every piece of furniture for it. Over the past five years, I’ve really focused on the operational aspects of growing my business, so I’m extremely excited to return to making furniture that I first and foremost want to live with. That is what has led to my best work in the past, and is my biggest motivator. You’ll probably see some of the work join my product line in the next two to three years.

The architectural elements of de Parry's Synthesis bench are perfectly set off by this open, airy space.
De Parry in her studio.
De Parry’s Morel tables.

(Photos: Courtesy Greta de Parry)

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