American Steel interview with Adam Arrington
Innovator of the Month
Want to make wood do things that make people stop and marvel at the beauty of a display case? Use technology popular in Columbus’s time while supporting the local economy and having a positive environmental impact? Adam Arrington is your man. An artist and builder who takes on challenging projects utilizing traditional materials in new and interesting ways, he is an expert craftsman dedicated to excellence in design and fabrication. With a background in Fine Art and Construction, he turns dreams into reality. An amazing listener, he strives to discover the heart of every project that he approaches and finds a way to make it happen, even if no one ever has before.
We interviewed Adam in the moments before he went to finish an install on a brilliant display case on Grand Avenue, a project he has been working on with local architect Ines Lejarraga.
American Steel: What do you do?
Adam: I’m a finish carpenter, cabinet maker, custom wood worker, artist, designer, and steam bending specialist.
AS: Why do you do what you do?
Adam: I want to push the limits of the materials I work with and do new and unexpected things. I’d been a finish carpenter before and became dissatisfied with the quality of cabinets and doors that I was installing. I decided I could do a better job myself. Here I am now, with my own fabrication shop, working on innovative wood projects in the East Bay. I grew up building things, drawing and dreaming about things I wanted to build. I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist. After completing my art degree at UC Davis, I found that my construction skills were more lucrative than my art. Not being afraid of hard work, I’ve had jobs in many trades before becoming a carpenter, including demolition, tree service, stone masonry, and landscaping. When I became carpenter 10 years ago, I began taking my wood working much more seriously. Now I feel that it has become my way of being an artist. I became interested in looking at art in a functional context, instead of one of pure aesthetics.
AS: What attracted you to Oakland?
Adam: Oakland has a high density of artists, a diversity of population, a mix of cultures and class that make it special. I find the raw industrial feel of the neighborhood inspiring.
AS: What brought you to American Steel?
Adam: I needed to expand my operation. American is an incubator with lots of space for artisans, artists, and makers. I am really happy with the space and community here. I have helped neighboring wood workers learn wood bending techniques.
AS: How do you see community integration as part of your business?
Adam: For my most recent project, the architect, the client, and the lumberyard were all local business within three miles of each other. The most important part of this
project was the collaboration between myself and a fantastic local architect, Ines Lejarraga. The design came out of the process of working together to push the boundaries of the material. Oakland is improving. It is exciting to see Oakland becoming a destination. Downtown shops, restaurants, and galleries helping bring people out on the street at all times of day. By helping commerce and public spaces become environments which appeal to all of the sense I am doing my part as a fabricator to improve the city.
AS: Tell me about the process of your collaboration on this project:
Adam: I first became interested in the process after seeing Frank Gehry’s staircase at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I researched the process, built my own steam box and
started steaming. After several attempts, I was able to make an beautiful oak steam bent spiral staircase for a client in Lafayette. I met local architect, Ines Lejarraga, and we discussed the process and what was possible with the steam bending process. I helped her on a steam bent wood sculpture for A. Bauer Porsche at Oakland’s Art Murmur. We used the opportunity to further investigate the properties of bending including, other woods, such as ash and poplar. I taught her about the wood bending process. I learned from her about using scale models to create many variations before building full scale.
This project inspired her to create something sculptural yet functional which allows Diana Yuen’s optical shop to become more profitable, not only by making more efficient use of the space, but by inspiring a feeling of well being in her patients. The design meet Diana’s needs for security, additional glasses display, and a capacity to handle more clients.
Ines Lejarraga used both digital and traditional model making techniques to create precision plans. I was an integral part of her design process, as I helped the detail
aspects of the design. Likewise, Ines became an integral part of my building process helping to improve the steam box and the mold building process. In this project we pushed the limits by bending unusually thick pieces of wood. The result has been a melding of art, architecture, and craft.
AS: Who is your ideal client?
Adam: An ideal client is someone who would like original forward thinking design with