Regina Connell

Regina Connell

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The Modern Classicist: Forest Dickey

A Martini. The Little Black Dress. A dry aged steak. Pretty much anything Hermes.

These are classics that somehow always feel modern. They’re what we always come back to after ill-advised dalliances with things like Cosmopolitans, gypsy prints, and quinoa, it’s what always feels just right.

Experiencing any of these for the first time is a rite of passage, something into which you’re inducted as an adult. Sometimes it’s passed down from a parent, or even a dapper grandparent. Or perhaps it’s something you discover when you’re in a retro phase that you never leave.

To do them right, though, these classics are never simple. As with the perfect martini or the beautiful-but-never-boring LBD, it takes an eye that strives for perfection, an obsession with material and technique, and an exquisite sense of balance.

That kind of quality is apparent in the furniture of Forest Dickey of Varian Designs. It’s quiet, but with power. Simple but not simplistic. Sophisticated and very adult but playful. Noble but approachable. The pieces reveal their charms over time, like the perfect Bordeaux (or that dry aged steak.)

Arris Bookcase, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs 

His pieces are, as he says, “designed for you, made for your grandchildren.” Like the Patek Philippe watch ads which say “you never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.” This thinking is so right on, so brilliant, so now.

Whether it’s his Freyr chair, his Bartizan desk, his Ashlar table, or Fiona desk (complete with iPad compartment), the furniture is perfect for the graduate of all things Eames (or even IKEA): someone searching for flair but not craziness.

Freyr Lounge Chair, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs


Freyr Leather Chair, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs  

Bartizan Desk, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs 

 Bartizan Desk, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs

His Ashlar table, in particular, mixes solidity with a powerful lightness courtesy of a steel base inspired by bridges. And my new favorite, the FV-01 chair is a very American take on Danish Modern dining chair.

Ashlar Table, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs 

Freyr Chair Black Walnut, Forest Dickey of Varian Designs 

San Francisco-based Forest hails originally from Wisconsin, where he was first introduced to furniture making in woodshop. After graduating from the University of Chicago (where he studied Fine Art and Art History) and a stint teaching in South Korea, he found his way back to wood, taking classes and apprenticing.

Forest Dickey of Varian Designs 

Graduate school at the University of San Diego followed, where he studied with the famed sculptor and furniture maker Wendy Maruyama. He founded Varian Designs (named after his grandmother) in 2008.

His influences? The long low slung buildings and strong lines of his native midwest; an uncle and grandfather who were both dock builders; Scandinavian design (also his roots); and designers and artists ranging from Jean Prouve to Sam Maloof. All are visible in his work.

This tie to the past is a powerful draw for him. As he says, “I’m interested in the extended history of which my furniture is a part. Be it the building from which the material was reclaimed, the tree from which the material was harvested or the architectural and furniture designs that inspired different aspects of its form, I feel it’s important to recognize the made object’s place in a timeline. I like the idea of honoring those inspiring elements so that when the furniture enters a client’s home, it carries with it an understanding, a commitment, to maintaining a standard of craftsmanship and design.”

All images by Barry Calhoun and courtesy of Varian Designs.