Designing for the 99% – How FN Furniture is Giving Back to the People

The idea of having designer furniture in our home can often feel like the lifestyle of the elite. FN Furniture – led by Ken Landauer – aims to give the average person affordable designer furniture.

Ken grew up in a Levitt track house in a multicultural Long Island neighborhood composed mainly of Black, Hispanic, and Jewish families. The Levitt & Sons company was responsible for building low-cost and easily assembled housing after World War 2, which helped to develop the idea of the ‘American Dream’ – where every American citizen could be a homeowner. Whole blocks of houses were built in a day thanks to William Levitt’s utilitarian building style. Neighborhoods sprung up across the country and the concept of ‘Suburbia” was born.

The Levitt housing was marred by controversy as the initial housing contracts stated (in bold capital letters) that the houses could only ever be occupied by “members of the caucasian race”. At the time, these newly developed houses were being sold to veterans of the U.S. Military, yet this clause excluded anyone who was Black, Hispanic, or Jewish. As the ‘American Civil Rights Movement’ made progress, families of color were able to purchase housing in the Levitt suburbs.

It was Ken’s upbringing in a multicultural suburb, which had overcome racial segregation and also spawned a revolution in architectural design, that made him the person he is today – a boundary-pushing designer who works with everyone in mind.

Ken had a varied career, designing both architecture and furniture. He was living in New York when the 2011 ‘Occupy Movement’ happened. These protests were being held to draw attention to the stark wealth disparity between the ‘elite 1%’ and the ‘common 99%’. Ken says, “The idealism, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of the Occupy Movement redirected [me].” Ken wanted to find a way to make his art and his furniture accessible to everyone – ‘the 99%’.

FN Furniture has been consistently releasing new and exciting designs over the last couple of years. Once the initial designs were completed, Ken began designing prototypes and even replaced the custom furniture in his home with them. After showing off his prototypes to the public, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City commissioned 35 pieces.

Their high chairs feature minimalist design aesthetics which give the piece a clean look. The rounded edges give the chair a softer feel which allows it to fit comfortably in any space; whether that is a living room, a bedroom, an office space, or even a classroom. The chaise lounge is made of curved sheets of plywood which create a headrest. The rounded edges which keep the natural color of the wood help retain a contemporary look.

The lounge chairs feature a dip that allows the user to sit deeply in the chair, keeping legs slightly elevated to help with blood circulation. These chairs have had the honor of being featured in Marvel’s Wakanda Forever (2022). A design like the desk rocker shows the simplicity in the design philosophy of FN Furniture. A CNC router has been used to create the curved rocking legs of the chair.

The color choices for the furniture go across the spectrum, but all of them are bright and give a lot of energy to each piece. They don’t draw attention away from other pieces of furniture in the same room and help to create harmony in a space. The edges of each piece are often left uncolored, allowing the natural plywood colors to peek through.

Ken uses a CNC router to cut many of the pieces. In his own words, “Plywood is uniquely suited for CNC production”. “CNC has tremendous new production possibilities for small shops,” says Ken. Smaller studios are able to create complex cuts at a fraction of the cost, as CNC routers are shared amongst shops, allowing everyone to use them as needed. FN Furniture doesn’t own a CNC router itself as “one is always nearby.”

When asked why he prefers using plywood, Ken told us there were numerous reasons. Plywood has a simple look, showing the warm wood coloring without being overbearing. It is a strong, sturdy, and efficient material which is widely available and can be easily sourced and worked with on a number of different projects – especially long-lasting furniture. There is a consistency in how Plywood designs come out, and this allows furniture makers like Ken to always meet the needs of his patrons and customers. Plywood is often the most economical choice and is usually the most ecological choice – birch trees grow quickly and are in abundance, and plywood can be recycled for future projects.

Ken has formed a design process that allows his work to stay consistent as he meets growing demand. Going back and forth between models and drawings, Ken and his team build prototypes of the design. These are made and then re-made with hand tools until the piece is “comfortable, simple, strong, and the pattern is close to zero waste”. Creating a zero-waste world that allows everyone to have enough is something FN Furniture strives for with its work. Whatever the initial order size, Ken will always make extra furniture if there are enough materials.

Once the piece has been refined, a sheet of plywood is cut. The edges are trimmed, sanded, rounded over, and finished, the joints are then squared and clots are cut for the fasteners. His team can then assemble, clean, and deliver the finished project directly to the customer. Alternatively, the furniture is designed to be easily disassembled and flat-packed for shipping.

As FN Furniture continues to grow, Ken wants to continue to simplify the processes for designing and building the furniture. He coordinates with neighborhood shops to help reduce storage, packaging, and shipping through local production and direct delivery. FN Furniture wishes to sell to people who want to “own” their furniture, and avoid mindless consumerism. This results in less waste as those who buy a piece of furniture from Ken will be able to “enjoy it for decades”.

Furniture that is for everyone. This is what Ken and his team at FN Furniture continue to strive for every day. Keep an eye on this studio, they will soon be at the forefront of furniture design for ‘the 99%’.

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