Leonard, you were a carpenter, how did you come to do this job? What made you want to create your own collection of furniture and objects ?


I lived in Berlin, Germany from 2009-2012 and worked for a few artists there. I’m pretty good with my hands, and we were building things that there weren’t really plans for, so we had to figure it out as we went. When I moved back to California and needed to make some money, so I took on jobs doing bathroom and kitchen remodels. I figured if could build a 2 x 3 meter sculpture, I could make a box for a kitchen cabinet. Each job I did, led to a few other jobs, and eventually I was doing retail and coffee shop build-outs. It wasn’t easy, and I did a lot of the back breaking work myself. There was lots of trial and error, and a lot of YouTube tutorial watching. Carpentry was the one job I enjoyed that people would pay me for. I was able to accumulate tools and find more shop space thanks to the build-out jobs. I’d work 8-12hrs a day working on projects for money and squeeze in time for my furniture pieces after that. There were lots of all-nighters. In the beginning, I was mostly making pieces for my own house or things I hadn’t seen before and thought should exist.

“I make pieces as if they are visual or sculptural elements and then assign them a function”

You have this great ability to create objects and furniture that are very present visually, they cause a lot of emotion by their shapes and colors. Their function almost disappears in favor of their form, at first sight. Where does that sense of aesthetics come from ?

All of my education and sensibilities lie in the art world, but I enjoy the freedom of just making furniture and not having to come up with some groundbreaking concept as an excuse for its existence. I can just say it exists because I made it and you can also sit on it.
I worked for the artist David Thorpe and we made these monolithic cabinets and boxes that had Arts & Crafts furniture elements, but were doorless cabinets with no functional use, and were just sculptural. My process is a reflection of that, but like a mirror it’s reversed.
I make pieces as if they are visual or sculptural elements and then assign them a function. I think furniture has a much bigger job than just providing a utilitarian service in our spaces; its visual and spatial function are just as important.

Your universe sometimes reminds us of that of the Italian Memphis movement, you arrive with new shapes and new color combinations. Are the designers of this movement inspirations for you? Where do you find your inspiration generally ?

I’m embarrassed to admit, I wasn’t much of an academic when it comes to design history, and it wasn’t till I started making my own pieces a few years ago that I even discovered the Memphis movement myself. It definitely speaks to me. What appeals to me the most about the Memphis movement is its rejection of the design and social ideology’s of the 19th and 20th century. It was a radical movement and probably similar to the current sentiment that a lot of the world is feeling right now. People want to break free from the current order and systems, and I think that is reflected in the current trend of sculptural furniture. For my coming collection i’m looking at kids toys and action figures like GI Joes and Transformers for my color inspiration.

Objects for objects table lamp
Objects for objects pendant light

Do you think that being self-taught allows you to break free from many codes in your creations, to feel more free to create crazier pieces ?

In a way, yes, I was never making things with someone looking over my shoulder to tell me it was wrong or couldn’t be done. What has been advantageous to me is designing within my skill-set. It has forced me to forgo all the bells and whistles people try to amp up their designs with and just keep it about shape and form. I think teaching myself to spray finish has allowed me to get a little crazy with color because if something doesn’t work I can always just refinish it myself.

Do you involve other craftsmen in the manufacture ? Would you like to collaborate with other makers ?

Up until this point I’ve mostly been doing it on my own with an assistant here and there. I’ve hit my cap in terms of production and realized I can’t do it all, so I’m on the hunt for good craftsman and manufacturers that I can hand work off to. I’d love to start branching out and having things made in materials i’m less familiar with. I found a really great upholsterer for my soft wave bench which has been a wonderful experience for me. I wasn’t about to try and learn that skill set.

Does living and working in California have a particular impact on the way you work ?

California allows me the space and flexibility to discover materials and techniques. California is vast and with that comes this feeling that the possibilities are endless. I was raised here, and I’m familiar and comfortable with the way things work. In Los Angeles, there are is an endless supply of resources within a 30 minute drive. I try to imagine myself trying to do what I’m doing now in Berlin with a bike trailer.

Leonard Bessemer' favorites on Cool Machine

I love Cool Machine’s overall aesthetic, but what I like most is their roster of emerging designers and the weirdly beautiful objects they are putting out in the world. As for my favorite piece, naturally, the gradient pots and tumblers by Maryline Blais.

Can you tell us about your upcoming projects ?

I’m currently working on my collection for next spring. I have some collaborations with companies for products that were supposed to be released right now, but have been delayed due the pandemic. I just recently released some new options for the soft wave bench at the Los Angeles Design Festival. I’m waiting to see what will happen with next years design fairs and I’ll hopefully be able to participate in one way or another, all depends on what the world looks like in six months.

Photo courtesy Ye Rin Mok @yerinmok