Artist Feature: French Kiss Furniture
If you've ever met Casey Poehlein, you're sure to remember her. Her quick wit, style, and honesty leave an impression. French Kiss Furniture is owned and operated by Casey, and we are super excited to have her work stocked in our online shop. We were lucky enough for a chance to pick her brain about how she navigates conceptual art and craft. With a background in conceptual art and a strong feminine aesthetic, Casey's personality shines through in her wood work. Check out her work, and read on to learn more about this wood working woman!
You're a conceptual artist working in a very craft dominate field. Do you feel this influences your design decision making differently that someone approaching woodwork from a more craft or technical stand point?
Definitely! So I went to school for sculpture, and I think that the program I was in was super based in theory, and concept, with only some focus on craft. I’ve always been really into domestic spaces, and often created pieces with a pretty strong connection to furniture during my undergraduate degree program. One of the things that really struck me when I first started getting more seriously into woodworking was the kind of bland marketing I was seeing from a vast majority of woodworkers on Instagram. A lot of their pieces, pages, and overall aesthetic was indistinguishable. It’s a field very dominated by kind of hyper masculine guys, and I think that sometimes lends to a strong focus on craft, but less of a focus on beauty and creativity. I first thought to bring in some really interesting branding into my business would set it apart from the rest. Also, being a girl, I wanted the products to be imbued with femininity which has always been important in my artistic aesthetic. I think when I thought up making the Marlboro magazine box I got pretty excited. Because that started to feel like I wasn’t just changing branding on the same products everyone else was making, but really delving into my own ideas.
Your branding aesthetic definitely caught my eye! You have a strong feminine voice in your other work as well, so the French Kiss Branding felt totally on point. I've seen some of your work- painting, sculpture, video, and even stylist work. What drew you to wood specifically?
Well my grandad is an amazing woodworker. So I’ve been watching and admiring him make such beautiful pieces my whole life. As a kid he used to take me to George Nakashima’s studio, its actually run by his daughter Mira Nakashima now, I remember thinking it was SO rad when I was a little girl that a woman was continuing on this beautiful tradition. His studio is in New Hope, PA, right near where I grew up and currently live. This question is kind of going to bleed into one of the next ones, haha, but basically when I moved back from Los Angeles, I really wanted to learn a craft and I thought I would just go down to my Pop Pop’s house and have him teach me whenever I got the chance. What ended up happening is that I was given a job as an apprentice at this 50 year old cabinet-making shop in my town. They were trying to create a furniture line within their business and me and my coworker Chris were spearheading that. I picked up on the techniques really quickly, and found a lot of joy in the craft. I started building my own workshop, and basically decided to launch my own company in my free time. For me, creating conceptual art is always going to be #1, but the woodworking allow me to be creative with my hands, and create functional pieces that we’re still cool and inspiring to me. I’m actually trying to push more toward making some weirder pieces that I think are more attuned to my artistic visual language for my next iteration of work for French Kiss Furniture.
We've never seen anything like the Marlboro Magazine box before, what inspired you to create the piece, aside from.. obviously, Marlboro?
Well, unfortunately I smoke marlboro lights, hahaha so that was definitely part of the inspo, lol. But more so, as I said before what I’ve seen a whole lot of online among woodworkers, is beautiful slab tables, cutting boards, maybe a bench. I wanted to make something different. I started to think a lot about objects, kitsch, kind of more playful, less serious pieces. I wanted to make something I hadn’t seen before, that I thought was you know “cool” and different, haha. It just kind of hit me one night when I was out playing pool, and I looked at my box of cigarettes. I first made a little wooden case for a pack of cigarettes, which I had seen before. And then I thought maybe this doesn’t need to be this size. It’s definitely related to like pop artists in my mind, just these capitalist icons like a cigarette box hold so much visual weight. And I thought that’s something I would want to have. It was definitely the most difficult piece I created, and the most out of my comfort zone as far as craft goes.
Marlboro Magazine Box, available in our shop
You were living in L.A. for a bit, working in an art gallery and with stylists before moving to PA to start woodworking. What was the catalyst for this cross country lifestyle shift?
I think I’ve basically spent the last three years or so since graduation trying to figure out what it is I can do for money, shocker I know. I moved to Los Angeles because at the time I thought it was very important to be in either New York or Los Angeles if I really wanted to take my career in art seriously. I thought maybe I could be a stylist, maybe work in galleries, I was looking for something that was tangentially related to my field, that would still be fulfilling for me. But I just wasn’t getting what I wanted. I was struggling super hard to make ends meet, working a bunch of different jobs, and still not finding the time or the funds to really produce art. I was basically like, okay Casey you’re never going to have any success in this field if you can’t make the work. In addition I found working as a stylist to be just very vapid, honestly. I mean it was fun to a degree, I got to assist on a bunch of shoots with Migos, who I love, and that was all pretty exciting. But it just wasn’t for me and I could really feel that. I decided to move back to my hometown, with the initial intent to apply to grad school in 2018, that didn’t happen by the way hahaha, but I’m still learning to balance my art practice with financial endeavors and that’s what I’ve spent the last year focusing on.
In our own business, we don't think we could have grown as much as we have if we still lived in L.A., do you feel similarly about starting and growing your business after making the move back to your hometown?
For sure! So right now I am still working 40 hours a week at the cabinet shop. Starting my own woodworking business on top of that has been quite a feat, honestly, and I’ve been learning to dial back in certain areas, and you know constantly realigning my priorities etc. L.A. for me was not conducive to a high level of productivity, mostly because income wasn’t steady, and I couldn’t afford to rent a studio space. Living here has provided me with a respite from high rent, and the hustle of the city social scene to focus on developing a business and being creative way more consistently. Now I am planning a new change that I think is going to be really productive for the business and my own personal creative growth. I’m going to be leaving my job, because doing woodworking 40 hours a week, and then coming home and doing more woodworking is a lot, hahha. Too much sawdust even for me. I’ll be starting a part time job, renting a new studio, and be able to focus on making some more experimental furniture pieces.
How does working for a woodworking company influence your personal work?
The job I currently have was invaluable to the business I started. I mean I really learned so much. Just being able to work in a woodshop, with people who have been doing this for twenty plus years is amazing. At my work, everything we do is held to a super high standard and that pushes me a lot. We work to the 32nd of an inch, and so there really isn’t a lot of room for error. It has made me way more comfortable on various tools, just given me a language in woodworking that I never would have had before. Another thing that it does sometimes, is leave me frustrated at home. Learning woodworking in a shop with endless tools and access to any supply you ever need has made my shop sometimes feel inadequate, but my problem solving skills come into play, and things usually work out.
As with any craft, practice makes perfect. What's something you have been practicing a lot in the shop lately?
I think for me patience is really key. Looking at things I have made before, and understanding why they don’t work is another thing. I try a lot of things that never work out, and that’s okay because I learn a lot from them. Lately I am really trying to learn to take the things that I do know, and use those skills to make something I haven’t seen before. I’m also super interested in focusing on how I can make affordable but beautiful products. I’m researching using materials that are more affordable for the customer, and how I can make those materials seem super high end and desirable. Just transforming different kinds of wood into something innovative and interesting basically.
What's one of the biggest challenges for you in the shop? One of your favorite parts of working in wood?
I think one of my biggest challenges is definitely patience. I run into a lot of problems, and things always take longer than I expect. I even get really frustrated about clean up, hah, as I’m sure everyone does. I’m not a master woodworker you know, so it becomes a lot of trial and error, asking questions, looking things up, and sometimes I’m doing things there’s just not an answer to online. So I think really being patient with myself will be a big attribute for me in the future. My favorite part of working with wood is how malleable it is. That might sound funny to some people, but as I’m sure you know metal is a whole different thing. I took some metal working classes in college, and after that, going back to woodworking felt like butter. I just think its amazing how you can make so many vast shapes out of it, and I love the different kinds of wood. Some of the grain on the pieces I get just blows me away. At my work a lot of the customers just want wood with the least amount of grain, no knots, very uniform. I get to take home a lot of amazing pieces simply because the piece is “too unique” that blows my mind.
It's not always easy to keep creative energies flowing, especially when you are trying to make a living with it. Where do you find inspiration when creativity feels dry?
I think in January after the initial launch of my website in December, and I was prepping for the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, I felt super burnt out. Like I said I do woodworking for my day job too, so I was like, if I never have to see a piece of wood again I’d be happy. So after the flea market I decided to kind of take a little breather on it. I was still working on some commissioned things, cutting boards, some frames, and they didn’t require a whole lot of creative energy, just getting into the shop. What’s helpful for me is to oscillate back and forth between different creative worlds. So I spent most of February working on a painting and applying to some art residencies. Being back in that mental space of making conceptual art really allowed my creativity toward making functional pieces to recharge. It’s like, oh my god, I forgot that I actually really like making furniture and thinking about weird new ways to look at that process. So taking breaks is key for me, and I also think once my day job is not in a wood shop, I’ll find it even easier.
Any new projects in the works?
Yeah! So now that I took that little breather, and am feeling reinvigorated I have a whole new set of ideas for pieces I want to work on this spring and summer. I did a bunch of sketches, and I’m feeling really excited about them all. I think the first iteration of pieces I made was for the most part, just building confidence in my own skill set, and seeing what I was capable of. The marlboro box started to step out of that and I really enjoyed where that was headed. As I mentioned before I want to look into how I can make things that are affordable, and accessible to a broader range of people, but still keeping the level of craft way up. I want to develop my own visual language with woodworking, and also use some new a different materials. I’m hoping to incorporate lucite, some more upholstery (which I did for the first time on the bench I have in my shop and really loved), and maybe even some lighting elements into new pieces. Right now I’m preparing a move to Philadelphia, and once I’m there I get to start work on all these new ideas I’ve got, and I can’t wait! <3