When furniture artisan Judson Beaumont was growing up in North Vancouver, becoming an artist was not on his radar. The baby of the family, in the late ’70s a long-haired, 19-year-old Beaumont was the youngest kid still living at home, perfectly content delivering pizzas for a living and having fun.
His father saw artistic potential in his son, and, in an attempt to steer him on a course, insisted that Beaumont attend art school. But Beaumont didn’t want to go, and remembers that he practically had to be dragged to the Capilano College campus to sign up for classes.
Escorted by his father into the building, Judson reminisces that they knocked on a door in a hallway full of classrooms. When it opened, Beaumont’s first glimpse of the art world was of a female model seated in the middle of the room, posing for a nude portrait. She turned to look at him and winked. Beaumont thought, “ok. I’ll give this art school thing a try.”
Thirty four years later, Beaumont has earned awards and accolades for his “furniture as sculpture” designs, which defy both convention and categorization. He has travelled the world to design for brands like Disney and Crayola, and has designed art installations for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver Public Library, YVR Airport, Disney Cruise Lines, and Princeton University, among others.
Beaumont traces the roots of his success back to the building that he walked into right after completing his visual arts degree at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 1985.
Beaumont, who was already commissioning his art while still in school, saw a small ad in the classified section of the Vancouver Sun for artist studios just prior to graduation. When he first arrived, the 100-year-old building’s windows were all boarded up, and there was no heat.
The pioneer tenant at 1000 Parker Street Studios in East Vancouver, which now houses over 120 artists, Beaumont is still there six days a week, his sprawling 3,400-square-foot studio alive with active projects on workbenches, all custom orders from international clients, in various forms of incarnation, and all with an aura reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. The building full of sculptors and furniture designers feels like a community – and the artists still sometimes borrow each others’ tools.
"That’s a big part of me surviving so long – being in a building full of creative people,” Beaumont says. Beaumont named his business Straight Line Designs, a tongue-in-cheek moniker, as most of his creations are characterized by everything but straight lines.
Beginning his artistic path with paintings, Beaumont always “stuck chunks of wood” on them, and he remembers that he “couldn’t paint flat." He tried sculpture next, and then took that concept into the woodwork shop.
To finance his art career he made “normal things” during the days, and at night would work on whimsical ideas. Beaumont defines normal as a table top, and whimsical as everything “wavy, melting, and exploding with personality.”
Inspired by iconic animated movies like Roger Rabbit and Toontown, Beaumont began to emulate the theme of furniture coming to life. "I had to go keep going back to the theatre to watch – I noticed the buildings were swaying, and the windows had eyes, the mouth was a door, and there was something about that. So I started curving the shapes of my furniture,” he relates.
Beaumont laments being labelled a children’s furniture designer early in his career, but admits his pride at designing children’s play areas for Disney, and that the “24-carrot” car he built for his son, complete with hydraulic brakes and rack-and-pinion steering, won an award at the Kitsilano race car derby.
Elements mall in Hong Kong did a public art installation where kids danced in costumes based on Beaumont’s furniture designs.
“I hit a plateau when my furniture came to life. I thought that was pretty cool,” Beaumont says.
His favourite, and most challenging design was the “Boom Cabinet,” with virtually exploding drawers that are, remarkably, still functional as storage spaces."That was all done before computers,” Beaumont remembers. “It was all pencil to paper.”
The “Little Black Dresser” is still one of Beaumont’s best sellers, as is the “Sullivan” grandfather clock, named after a client from Texas with a tall order to fill. When the client passed away, his daughters all bought what Beaumont calls the “granddaughter” clocks.
Focused on the present and future, Beaumont has introduced his wall-mounted “Surfboard” cabinets as part of his Spring 2019 line. The live-edge, west-coast design is inspired by the Beach Boys era – the ’60s. Beaumont kept drawing surfboard shapes, but had to figure out how to make them into functional pieces of furniture. The cabinets can be used as shelving space for almost anything, but Beaumont imagines them as wine and whiskey cabinets for free-spirited west coasters.
Also for Spring 2019, the tree-ring stools, cut hollow with LED lights lit from within are an homage to outdoor get-togethers. The bright colours are inspired by the colour stains the notorious pine beetles leave on tree rings in British Columbia’s forests. While Beaumont still gets orders for his signature “Little Black Dressers” and “Sullivan Clocks,” he’d rather put his focus on future endeavours.
“When I get a call from a client, I’m convincing them that they don’t want another Sullivan Clock – I say, ’you want a brand new piece.’ I don’t want to re-do anything. You wouldn’t ask a painter to paint the same picture over again,” Beaumont says.
“I just want to keep pushing the limits. I’m always curious about what hasn’t been done, about what could be done.”