Collette Collins Design: The art of living

From music to math, Collette Collins talks about the inspirations behind her award-winning creations.
Artist Collette Colins

Artist Collette Colins

Collette Collins chair

Collette Collins chair

Collette Collins has been designing furniture, cabinetry and residential, commercial and public space for 30 years. Her award-winning creations appear in restaurants, feature films, museums and private homes. She has worked in furniture restoration, cabinetmaking, set design, prop building, sculpting and display.

Her love of art led her to first study music and then fine arts at Cabrillo College and San Francisco State University. Today she finds inspiration in a range of sources and materials. Because she is not attached to just one art form or medium, Collette draws from a broad body of knowledge and incorporates a range of materials into her fashionable, cutting-edge pieces. From exotic hardwoods to encaustics (hot beeswax paintings), rubber, fabric, leather, acrylic, even salvaged objects.

Collette works from a studio in Georgetown. Her work is currently on view at the Seattle Design Center's William and Wayne Gallery.

Alice Kaderlan: You started out life as a musician and there is a certain musical flow to your designs. Is that conscious?

Collette Collins: I don’t think so but I do equate everything to music. In classical music, you have a theme and I feel that same way about my work. There has to be a theme. There’s also proportion in music and my work does have certain proportions. And when I write music, I start out with all these notes and chords and then I say, “Ok I’m going to take out everything I don’t need so it’s really simple.” The Stones, Dylan – they play nothing that they don’t need. I see my furniture the same way.

Your work seems to spring naturally from the physical environment.

Yes, my work is very organic, even in my colors and shapes. If I make a paisley shape, there’s an organic feeling about it. And there’s always a story. Even if I make a door, there’s a story there.

What do you mean?

My wood door tells the story of the life of the tree. I use things in wood that other people don’t, like knots, because people have arms and legs and trees have branches. In woodworking, people often try to get rid of those knots but we all have them, both people and trees. So if I cut out the bad parts, the knots, it disconnects the tree from us.

So what kind of story can a wood door tell us?

It tells me the story of longevity, of the flow of life. I see all life as connected and a tree is connected to us. One of the reasons I’ve always loved wood is because it’s been alive and I am trying to give that which has fallen a new life.

How does that desire to give new life carry through to your other work, including your encaustics where you add leather to the beeswax?

There’s always reality to my work. With encaustics, my goal is to bring the beauty and soul of an animal to life, to give it a second life. Animals sacrifice their lives for us and our pleasure, so to make a thing of beauty from them is important to me.

Your work requires an understanding of math to get the proportions right. Were you good at math?

It’s true that my work is very scientific and mathematical. I wasn’t that great at math in school, but I use applied geometry every day. I may not follow a strict formula to get to the end point but I do use the idea of the Golden Mean [the ratio considered the most aesthetically pleasing] and never have more than three materials in my work. And I combine materials in unusual ways. I may use wood and leather together, or rubber and fabric.

Is this a hard and fast rule about not using more than three different materials?


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