For designer Ben Erickson of Erickson Aesthetics, craftsmanship knows no boundaries. Growing up, the Brooklyn-based creative would often visit his grandparents’s turn-of-the-century mansion in Madison, New Jersey, where he was exposed to impeccable interior architecture and his grandmother Bunny Brown’s taste in art and design. “From a really young age, I began to notice quality craftsmanship and certain design details, thanks to my grandparents’s house,” Erickson says. “The grandeur of their home really struck me.”
Today, Erickson demonstrates his own aptitude for craftsmanship with a furniture collection of non-discriminative compositions. From an amorphous sculpture that defies conventional furniture standards to a traditional lounge chair in rosewood and tanned leather, the self-taught designer constantly balances a piece’s functionality with his artistic freedom. “I want to have furnishings that are functional yet look like sculpture,” says Erickson. “Design and art are closely related.”
He points to artist Donald Judd as a prime example: “As a conceptual sculptor, Donald Judd was essentially creating furniture. I’m not sure if anyone is going to use his pieces as furniture, but they’re still familiar with the form from a design standpoint.”
Erickson, who studied art in college, sensed a shallowness to the industry, so upon graduation he decided to open his own shipping business, building wooden crates for antiques and modern design. The exposure to the handcrafted pieces incited his appreciation for history and materiality. “I was always in the back of the warehouse admiring pieces,” recalls Erickson. “One day I realized that I should be making the objects inside the crate rather than the crate itself.”
As a side gig, Erickson created custom art for private collectors, which inadvertently prompted his first foray into furniture design. “Some of these art collectors didn’t have the best taste,” adds Erickson. “I would look around their spaces and say, ‘Why don’t we add a bench right here, or let’s fill in this area with a beautiful cabinet.’ Every time I would hang art, I walked out with a design contract.”
In 2013, Erickson launched his own collection that largely took a modernized approach to design classics. His signature EAE lounge chair bears a striking resemblance to armchairs crafted by Hans Wegner, Mies van der Rohe, and Charles and Ray Eames in the midcentury. Meanwhile, Erickson’s XX ottoman is based on the customary campaign stools from British travels into Africa that took place centuries ago. “Nothing is ever really new,” says Erickson. “There are some people who are really inventive, but I bet even they are inspired by precedence.” After all, it is the past that informs the future.