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Design: impresario of design.


Custom furniture designer Dakota Jackson assumes new role with a chair for mass production.

ACT I, scene one. Early evening in an empty theatre. A young boy enters stage left with a small table and a black cloth. He arranges the cloth around the front of the table. "It's ready, father," he calls as he exits, stage right.

ACT I, scene two. Years later. Another theatre. Among the dancers spinning about the stage, one tall lad catches our eye. We recognize his face.

ACT II. The young man has left the performing arts scene and is now a craftsman. Between rapid set changes we see him again and again. Here he creates a special puzzle desk as Yoko Ono waits. There he restores antique furniture. Here he is engrossed in piano building. There he designs and builds one-of-a-kind furniture.

ACT III. Time: the present. Place: a studio in New York City. At center stage, in the starring role for which he is innately suited, designer/manufacturer Dakota Jackson stands next to Vik-ter, a new chair he has designed for the hospitality and contract markets. He begins to speak as the curtain slowly rises. "I look at design as choreography," Dakota Jackson says. "From the moment I put a line on paper, people begin to move around like dancers. Suddenly, everyone is in motion. The problem for a choreographer becomes how to move all those people around on a stage so they won't collide and the audience will be interested and enjoy the performance. A good designer has to understand the full range of production techniques available. And he has to have a sense that it can be done," he adds.

"We lead with aesthetics and then aim for the technology to create it. I'm willing to take a design apart and work hard to find a way to produce it," Jackson says. "We believe in pushing technology. You can't have innovative design without innovative technologies. I'm using every available technique to create objects that people respond to."

Audience response is very important to Jackson, who became a stage assistant to his magician father when he was barely old enough to be in school. He was a professional magician for 15 years and also a post-modern dancer before becoming a furniture maker in the early '70s. He says he draws upon all of his life experiences in his work as a designer.

"Magic is my birthright," the designer continues. "It taught me how to employ aspects of illusion, spontaneity and function. No discipline can teach you that. Design is a free-floating entity influenced by culture, stories, materials, technology and the ability to interweave all these factors. You can't teach someone to be a visionary, all you can teach are the skills. Designers have to distill their own influences."

The magical mystery desk

Jackson earned his fame producing one-of-a-kind "magical" pieces of furniture with disappearing drawers and secret spaces. His first commission, for Yoko Ono, was a desk designed like a puzzle box for John Lennon. Even now, Jackson likes to include some visual surprise in his pieces. For the new stacking chair, Vik-ter, it appears as though the seat doesn't quite touch the leg. The back of the chair hangs as if in mid-air.

Vik-ter is a breakthrough for the custom designer. Simple materials and computerized robotic construction allow it to be mass produced and competitively priced.

Stacking chairs have generally been the domain of large contract manufacturers, Jackson explains. "The first consideration of the typical manufacturer is price point. Then he wants it to be small, lightweight and to nest easily. And it should be like the others in the market -- something the industry is accustomed to," he adds.

The struggle/the achievement

"We take a different approach. We start with aesthetics, then push the manufacturing technique beyond its apparent limits. That is the struggle," Jackson says. He reads aloud a dictionary definition for the word "victor:" achievement of mastery in a struggle. "The Vik-ter chair is the achievement," he says.

"My aim is to design an extraordinarily beautiful object. Then I make the choices that make it function," the designer says. In the case of the Vik-ter chair, function includes being stackable, comfortable for sitting, movable on a dolly, with the ability to take wear and tear.

"In magic, the craft is hidden. In furniture, craft is exposed. When I was restoring antiques, I would try to redefine what it is that makes a fine object. I would strip away all the gold leaf and ormolu in an effort to learn what the piece had to say.

"What interests me," Jackson continues, "is not how something is made, but the message conveyed by the process and the designer's vision. It should speak of more than merely how finely it is crafted. It must be well made, of course, but if the whole idea is about dovetailing, that is the wrong approach."

A study in form

The Vik-ter chair, which looks simple and spontaneous, was in fact the result of 18 months of hard work. It can be viewed as a study in form. The designer used only the forms that were necessary, and discarded ones that were not. He dissected and reconstructed each element to find the exact curves, tapers and supports that allow it to be stately, but not rigid, and still remain comfortable.

Jackson paid particular attention to points of contact between body and chair, devising innovative components to ensure comfort and smooth movement. The curving arc of the frame allows forward and reverse motion of the seat back. A rubber cone assembly is the spring or memory that allows the seat to flex. The flexible rubber connectors, joining the seat back to the frame, let the back hug the body in a range of positions.

This highly specialized assembly is an advancement on the cone assembly used in the original Eames chairs done for Herman Miller, Jackson says, adding that articulating joints for seats and backs are a typical difficulty for the seating industry.

"We push technology to accomplish all this," he continues, "to make these functions compatible. If the technology isn't available, we invent. If technical ability is beyond our plant capacity, we go to other manufacturers who are specialists."

For the steel frame and back leg assembly, Jackson says he needed specific cutting, grinding and surgical welding to make it merge and appear as one piece. Most metal production is geared to cutting, bending and spot welding, but he needed more finesse. The procedures are done for him by a company that employs robotic technology to produce medical equipment.


Jackson uses a range of other companies outside of the furniture industry, capitalizing on particular techniques that can be adapted to what he needs. "We have a unique relationship with other manufacturers," he says. "They are becoming our partners and we are becoming a company of production managers. We go in and restructure their production for our needs. Companies are invigorated when they are open to this kind of collaboration. They become a lot more innovative with their own lines."

Seat laminating, bending and finishing for the chair are done in Jackson's 30-man, 20,000-square-foot factory in Long Island City. Laminating and finishing are still done with 19th century techniques, he says. "Even when we set up a production run, people still stand there and manually feed the machines. We develop prototypes there so we understand where the hand of the craftsman is needed and where the machine should come in."

Vik-ter is offered with a standard laminated cherry seat and back, in colors of pumpkin, ochre, brick and plum. Legs are steel with a black, wrinkled epoxy powder finish. A molded foam seat in black and a leather-wrapped seat and back are also available.

PHOTO : An Oriental-influenced armoire/media cabinet from the New Classics collection is cherry with bird's-eye maple doors, lacquer mouldings and marble caps.

PHOTO : Dakota Jackson's new Vik-ter chair has a concave wood back and tapered seat balanced on a strong, but gently curving steel frame.

PHOTO : Jackson's CuB.a Collection was launched in February. The CuB.a high cabinet appears to float on cherry legs capped with his signature motif of cast bronze fingermarks. Doors are polished and brushed parchment.

PHOTO : The interior of the CuB.a high cabinet can be custom designed to serve as media center, bar or combination of both. The mantle may be either glass or marble.

PHOTO : A designer who is also his own manufacturer, Jackson created this classic Heraldic round table in cordovan mahogany.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Dakota Jackson
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Holz-Her outlines plans for the '90s.
Next Article:New finishing process enhances quality, reduces VOC emissions for Metropolitan.

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