Touring the aisles of the International Gift Show a couple of weeks ago, we came across the tiny booth of a new company called Bourgeoisie 3d that stopped us in our tracks. The beautiful furnishings it showcased were at once familiar and fresh. There was a kind of purity and perfection about the wooden chairs, tables and stools that drew us in and made me want to find out more. After chatting with the owners, John Bourgeois and his wife, Emily, who is the lead designer of the furnishings, we learned about Emily’s thoughtful and inspired approach to design, which explained why these pieces immediately resonated. Her ideas are in line with our pursuit of the “spirit” of good design—an underlying essence that brings a touch of the sublime to man-made things. Here’s a portion of a later conversation we had with this talented designer:

T12: Would you elaborate on your training with Keith Critchlow? Tell me about who he is and how he influenced you as a designer.

Emily: Keith Critchlow is a British teacher/architect/philosopher who has taught the universal geometries in the UK for decades. He is a consultant to The Prince of Wales and has served as a faculty member at The Prince’s Foundation. As a teacher, he convinced me that each of us is complete and that if we pause long enough to let go of worldly influence, our Maker will show us true beauty. Musicians, writers, dancers, architects, and artists come from all over the world to study Sacred Geometry under him. A week at his math camp is designed to strip away your layers of earthly influence, and with amazing lectures, a complete mastery of mathematics, and a whispering spirit, teach you to see with your soul. You learn that your best work comes when you reconnect with your Maker and let go of earthly process.

Does it sound like hocus pocus? Perhaps. But, I was a math major in undergraduate school and the over-disciplined daughter of a Citadel graduate. I naively attended Keith’s summer math camp in Bath hoping to memorize Palladio’s five orders of classical architecture. They were never actually mentioned. And, yet, I left knowing all I needed to know about them. There was nothing in my past to prepare me for what happened that week. We began each morning drawing a large circle on our craft paper pads with our trusty compass. A lecture and more circles followed. I felt completely out of sorts for the first 48 hours and then something clicked. Five days into it we were told to close our eyes and concentrate until we connected with our Maker and then, with our pencil, draw a circle on the large paper in front of us. With that lesson, I learned what it’s like to cross the line and truly connect. I opened my eyes to see my circle—a perfect 8″ circle. Excited, I immediately lost my concentration and quickly checked it with my mechanical compass. It was off not even 1/64th of an inch anywhere. Faith is a fleeting thing. It takes practice. But, I left with a deeper understanding of faith and where it lives in me and how it brings me freedom.

T12: We’re interested in the impact of design on people’s behavior or sense of well-being. Do you see design has having the power to influence people from an emotional or spiritual perspective?

Emily: Absolutely. We like to be in spaces we understand at a guttural level. This means colors, shapes, materials, even sounds are in sync with what we know to be “true.” Rome was built with six simple shapes. A color palette is more soothing when it is limited to three tones: two cool and one warm or two warm and one cool. We have an innate disgust for anything that is over aggrandized, so hierarchy is another facet of design that must be held to a level of absolute appropriateness in order to create peace. But, when all the elements are “true,” we transform. Our mind relaxes. Our spirit is freed and takes over. We laugh. We love. We play. We learn.

T12: You mentioned that you rely on the Golden Mean as a guiding influence in your work.

Emily: The Golden Mean is one of a number of mathematical ratios that we use. Eighth-grade math is all one needs to create proportions that are pleasing to the human eye. The Golden Mean, or phi, can be found throughout nature and has been used in everything from villas to cathedrals for centuries. Thomas Jefferson’s rotunda in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a perfect example of how phi can be used to create a design that will pull people from all walks of life. Over and over again, I have sat on the lawn just to be near the structure. And each time I walk into its view, for just a moment it appears to breath. It cannot be easily explained and does not need to be fully understood. For it is only in the lack of understanding—the letting go of the science—that we experience truth. The lesson is simple, when the math is right the appeal is subconscious and enduring.

T12: What is the one quality that you think gives an object or a room design integrity?

Emily: This might be the question I like to answer the most. It is such an important element in design and yet so seldom talked about. For me, the notion of honesty was reinforced by [the 19th-century English critic] John Ruskin’s “Lamp of Truth” in the Seven Lamps of Architecture. Design is either ego driven or beauty driven. Ego-driven design is anything done to show power—a competitive action—earthbound. All true beauty comes from our Maker. When design emulates nature and is guided by what is truly beautiful without concern for our cultural expression, it is honest and humble. The result is a room that is soothing. We know when we are being lied to and once we realize that something is amiss—a marble is really plastic or a piece of artwork is fake—we are no longer charmed or engaged. Our mind remains alert and on guard.

The simplest of rooms can be beautiful and in budget. Art, after all, can be real without being expensive. It can be a framed hand-print or a natural object. A simple blank wall awaiting the perfect piece is far more beautiful than a wall cluttered with a cheap imitation. And, our brilliant and forever awake subconscious sounds the alarm even if we want to ignore it. Whatever you do, do it well. One more notion from Ruskin, if you cannot afford the finest marble, use granite. If you cannot afford a fine granite, choose concrete. If not a high-level of craftsmanship in the concrete, choose wood, or Formica, and so on. But, do what you do honestly and the room will be beautiful.

T12: When did you launch your company?

Emily: We started building furniture in April of 2009, but were not manufacturing furniture full time until August of last year.

T12: What are some of the eco-friendly aspects of your furniture?

Emily: We use solid hardwoods that are grown in close proximity to our South Carolina plant, in the Appalachian Mountains. And, we use water-based finishes. However, we feel a different element of eco-friendly is being overlooked all too often in our country. Our mission with our line is to put Americans back to work. A furniture plant in South Carolina went off shore, leaving several hundred workers out of a job. We saw a community’s investment in their craft and skill differently and recycled as many of the machines as we could afford to purchase and have slowly begun rehiring craftsmen to turn them on again. We started with four men and relied on peripheral support from our parent company. The past two trade shows have allowed us to hire more full-time men and women and we fully expect the October High Point show to dramatically change our numbers. It took energy, materials and years to train the 400 men and women that lost their jobs that day. That is a renewable resource that we find too precious to throw away. Eco-friendly is nothing more than valley talk if not pursued within the context of sustainability in every aspect of our society.

To see more of Bourgeoisie 3d’s beautiful furnishings, visit its Web site. Incidentally, I bought a pair of the company’s stools to place beneath a desk in my foyer. I’ll post a photo of them after they arrive.

The Supper Table by Bourgeiosie 3d.
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