Where old meets new - The design problem

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At this point, Yousef was working in a 400-sq.-ft. space in the basement of his apartment building, and he realized that in order to produce work of the quality to which he aspired, he needed a larger shop. As a result, he took a shop space in an empty warehouse near the German Village district in Columbus. The warehouse was being converted to artists’ studios and shops. In this location, Yousef was surrounded by a variety of craftsmen — painters, sculptors, filmmakers and potters — creative people of every stripe. His time there was important not only for the space it provided, but also for the artistic cross-pollination that occurs when an artisan working in one medium discusses problems with artisans working in other media.

“That’s really half of the reason I wanted to be in that space,” says Yousef. “It was such a great opportunity to meet different people. And my customers just loved it when they came down there. They loved to see people painting, doing sculpture.”

Also at this point, Yousef realized he needed to commit a greater share of his time to his new trade, so in 2003 he shifted from being a full-time mechanical engineering student to being a part-time one so he could better meet the demands of his woodworking business. This delayed his graduation from Ohio State until 2005, but it did give his furniture-making business a jump-start.

After several years in the German Village location, Yousef decided he needed more space and more electrical service than the warehouse could provide if his business was to continue to grow. He searched the area and found what he needed a half-hour’s drive northwest of Columbus, near the Marysville Honda plant. The property included a comfortable two-story frame home in which he now lives, but Yousef selected the property because it included a large metal building that could be converted into a woodworking shop. This conversion began with the pouring of concrete slabs to cover the building’s original gravel floor. He then brought in 200-amp electrical service, partitioned off a large wood storage room, and rewired the shop, installing outlets and lights all around the perimeter of the shop’s 42' x 60' main room. He is currently partitioning off a room to be used as an office, and a large finishing room has already been partitioned off.

The design problem
Yousef’s designs typically begin with sketches on paper, but he moves quickly to the computer so he can rotate the form in space in order to “get a better sense of the total piece.”

Fairly early in the design process, he uses Finite Element Analysis to evaluate joinery options for particular designs because, although he often relies on traditional wood-to-wood joinery, he is “interested in the more modern joinery” as well, with threaded metal inserts being one example. Once he has established a design on paper and on the computer, he begins to assemble mock-ups, each of which will represent either a variation in design or a variation in joinery. Only then, after he has determined the optimum form and joinery, does he begin to construct the piece itself.

His current design work falls into two distinct categories. On the one hand, he is continuing his work as a designer of custom furniture. Recently, for example, the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus asked him to design a non-functional, but traditional-looking wing-back arm chair that would incorporate actual cacti from the conservatory’s collection. Yousef experimented with several versions of the traditional wing-back, and then decided to go off in a different direction.

“We developed a ribbed structure that would be designed and built in a way that would provide each cactus a firmer support and also prevent any possibilities of the outer mesh layer from sagging under the cacti weight.” He then moved into the shop where he began constructing mock-ups of this chair in wood.

He is also working on a line of spec furniture he hopes to market through retail stores. His goal is to produce a line of “really low-volume, high-end, high-quality furniture. Each piece will be made to order and by hand.” In part, the development of this line is driven by a desire to help purchasers of custom work articulate the kinds of forms and details they want to see in their custom furniture.