Scott Bennett’s creations began on the race track and ended in the art gallery. The furniture maker and artist recently was featured in the Denver Art Museum’s gallery show “Unseated,” on display through May 2017, a collection of unique, contemporary chairs using innovative materials and processes. And though he started his career making race cars, Bennett now runs Housefish, a Denver-based modern furniture design studio that produces environmentally responsible goods using a fusion of high-tech methods blended with traditional craftsmanship.
What’s your race car background? I got a degree in automotive engineering and designed actual cars that would race. I did Indy cars for a while. I did one Formula One car. Then I ended up accidentally in furniture. I was doing freelance mainstream furniture—stuff produced in Asia.
How did that transition into making custom designs? The longer you do that, the more it strikes you that it’s really crazy. We’ll harvest trees in Canada and the U.S., ship the logs to Asia, turn them into furniture and ship them back. It’s insane. I started to think about how we could get stuff here. There were a lot of people making high-end furniture, which requires very skilled workers, and it’s hard to scale that up and bring the prices down to a more accessible level. So I started looking at some technology that had been used in racing, ways of automating things.
Does your automobile experience influence your furniture design? I’m sure it’s not a common career path, but I’m still using some of the same skills, apart from there’s more of an aesthetic focus with what I’m doing now. But I don’t see what I’m doing as driven by aesthetics as much as function— so, in a lot of ways, it is the same. You’re designing a car, trying to make it as efficient and elegant as possible, which tends to produce an attractive-looking object.
What’s the story of Housefish? Housefish in its current incarnation started in 2008. Initially, it was focusing on more of the environmental aspects, which we still do. We just don’t publicize it as much. I wanted to make sure there was no formaldehyde, all packaging was paper-based, there was no Styrofoam or plastics. We use sustainable wood and materials—all of the things I was feeling guilty about with the other company. That was the design criterion. And it would be easy to assemble. No screws—not like putting together something from Ikea with a bag you have to sort through. We get that comment a lot; people aren’t expecting the level of thought that goes into the packaging and assembly.
How has Housefish evolved over the years? When we started, the parts were cut by another local company. I stuck them in my garage and when I got an order, I took the car out of the garage and assembled it and shipped it. As we sold more, we moved to a bigger space. As I started wanting to add more products, we bought our own computer-controlled cutting system. Today, 95 percent of our stuff is made in Colorado, except for random stuff like screws.
What are some of the innovative methods you use? Most wood parts are cut by our computer-controlled router. Typically, you just cut shapes out of flat plywood, but we’re using solid wood and digitally fabricated joints. We just got a printer that allows us to print 3-D in ceramic, and we have a process to print directly into our waste sawdust. But even though there are computers, the furniture is still being assembled and finished by hand and there’s a lot of hands-on contact with the parts.
How did your cast concrete chair end up in the museum? The chair was designed for a museum fundraiser. It was an opportunity to do something that didn’t necessarily need commercial viability, a chance to do something different. The museum acquired one of the pieces and stuck it in its permanent collection. We don’t currently make the chair to sell, but it’s in the pipeline. You can’t buy it today, but hopefully you can buy it on our website by the end of the year.