Spotlight | Stangler Works: An Affinity For Wood

Once upon a time, furniture was built to last. Some people even passed it down from generation to generation. Then Ikea came along and changed the game. But just because particle board has become the norm doesn’t mean you must succumb to the siren song of mass-produced furnishings.

Ross Stangler is bringing back old-fashioned craftsmanship, enduring quality, and the natural beauty of wooden home furnishings through his Minneapolis-based furniture company Stangler Works. From custom commissions to one-off projects, he’s made everything from bar and restaurant built-ins to beds, ping pong paddles, skateboards, and wedding bands.

Form and function are primary for Stangler’s aesthetic, and he cites Tyler Hays and George Nakashima as two of his influences. “My designs are not overly innovative but they are pleasant to look at, timeless,” Stangler says. “It’s really focused on the material, letting the material shine through.”

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Stangler has an affinity for darker woods like claro or black walnut. “Character is what I look for,” he says. “The more checks and cracks and burls and knots, the better. Most of the objects I make are very simple and clean and that adds a layer of beauty.”

He sources materials from wherever he can find them, like a friend with a farm who barn-dries wood to a local church that recently cut down several trees, or the lumber supplier for the company that makes Apple’s furniture. Stangler avoids having to buy the wood if he can and tries to use all the scraps. “I have a plan for pretty much everything, down to beads for an earring or sawdust to fill in cracks,” he says.

Stangler came into furniture design unexpectedly. He began his education at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) planning to be a printmaker, but after taking a furniture and sculpture class, he fell in love with the ability to bring his 2-D drawings into functional 3-D objects. He changed his major in his junior year.

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After graduating with a BFA in 2005, Stangler interned as a designer and fabricator at modern rustic furniture maker BDDW in New York City. After completing the internship, he bounced around between Minnesota and Montana, eventually resettling in Minneapolis, where he now works in IT for the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Throughout all the transitions and various day jobs, Stangler has kept one eye towards growing his business. He currently works out of the Carriage House of the Casket Arts Building in Minneapolis with several other furniture makers. “There are about eight of us, an interchanging group of furniture and object makers,” he says. “We all share tools. We have our own studio space but we put everything into a kitty to buy what we need and maintain what we’ve got. It’s pretty nice.” The studio is open for special events like First Thursdays and Art-A-Whirl.

Clients often find Stangler Works by word-of-mouth. “Some people are really hands-on,” he says of the design process. “That’s part of the joy for them. And then some people are like, ‘I like what you do. Build me a bed.’” For the more involved clients, he creates a Pinterest board to get visual cues of what they’re looking for. That leads to sketches and final approval on a design. Lead times for orders depend on the size of the piece as well as his day job workload. Three to six weeks is the average time required for a custom bed or dining table.

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People who are used to $500 deals for a dining room table with four chairs at a big box store might balk at the $1,500 starting price tag for a Stangler Works dining room table. But Stangler says you get what you pay for: “It’s custom. It’s made with love. You’re supporting local. That’s a big thing.” While shipping can get tricky for the heavier items, Stangler Works has shipped larger pieces to both coasts; smaller pieces have traveled as far as France.

Ideally, Stangler would like to make furniture full-time, be able to hire staff, and stock a storefront with a constant supply of new products. “Design in furniture is starting to be appreciated more,” he says. “People are starting to invest in that.”

Interested in learning more? Check out Ross’s website at stanglerworks.com.
All photos © Ross Stangler