What They Bought
Paul Loebach at the Brimfield Antique Fair

Once or twice a year, Brooklyn furniture designer Paul Loebach gets out his straw hat and bandana, ties on a pair of crappy old sneakers, drags out his huge canvas tote, and drives up to Massachussetts, where dealers from all over the Northeast gather every spring, summer, and fall for the Brimfield Antique Show. He spends three days there, snacking on lobster rolls and hand-cut french fries and mining the more affordable stands for quirky bits of inspiration he can take back to his studio and study: handmade crafts, bits of Americana, pieces that use unique construction methods — anything that shows evidence of the kind of resourcefulness he’s after in his latest work, modern furniture that draws on traditional American materials and manufacturing. “I’m really interested in people making use of the materials that were around them, and using primitive means to create something very impressive,” explains Loebach. To that end, Brimfield is a goldmine.

Most of the objects pictured here, two-thirds of which Loebach purchased, will seed future projects in ways he has yet to predict. Just don’t expect the translation to be literal. His upcoming sophomore line for the New York design store Matter, for example, will be based on old Adirondack furniture, but with a the typical Loebach twist. “I’m starting to work with a factory up in Pennsylvania to create a modern abstraction of a stick, machining its shape out of lumber using a CNC mill,” the designer says.

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"The guy I bought these bottles from has a serious collection of glass from the 1910s and '20s. But behind his booth, he had these bottles ‘in dug condition,’ and I loved that. Many are old elixir bottles from the early 1900s. I bought eight, including the big brown and white ones directly in front of me in the photo. They’ll definitely inform my designs. Hypothetically if I was designing a candle holder, I might look at 10 to 15 round objects and collage them together in my mind, drawing on just the lip of that brown bottle — the thickness and proportion of the top rim in relation to the neck."

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Loebach played with lip proportions for his recent collection of polymorphic Wood Vases, which are CNC machined out of solid blocks of maple.

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"I’m inspired just by the fact that someone is collecting chickens, even if I’m not inspired by chickens. Every other thing you see at the show is: ‘Oh my god, you collect napkin rings?’ And there’s always this whole body of knowledge behind it."

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"The guy on the right is obviously from a time when someone couldn’t just go buy a bunny at the store, so they made one. It’s a sawdust-filled burlap bunny with button eyes, probably made as a gift during the Depression. I bought it because it’s a symbol of resourcefulness, and it reminds me of how quickly things change. It’s not that long ago in the scope of things that people were sewing Christmas gifts out of burlap scraps."

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"These painted-pine balusters were bought for an architectural project they never made it to. They’re not that old, though they’re old enough to be fancier than anything you could buy now, in terms of craftsmanship. I bought them all, they came as a chunk. It’s interesting how these singular things can become this massive object, so I thought of that as inspiration for a table, along with the the amazing matrix of negative space happening between the rails."

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The Chair-O-Space is a good example of what happens when Loebach does turned wood — computer-driven machinery and a complex, experimental 3-D design process substitute for traditional hand craftsmanship.

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"When I took this picture, I was like National Geographic, zooming across the field to catch a photo of the rhino. I didn’t buy him, but his construction was interesting to me, and I figured I would study it later. He’s a crazy, soldered-together patchwork of whatever he is — brass? — and he’s almost pleated. They had to take the patches and slice them to get them more three-dimensional in certain spots."

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"The man who runs these dollar tables is famous at Brimfield. All the serious folks line up outside before it opens — it separates the pros from the amateurs. (I’m somewhere in between, but leaning towards amateur.) The tables are stacked thick with junk, and collectors and stylists come out of here with bagfuls of stuff."

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"In the foreground you see an amazing vintage jar opener that I bought. You turn the handle one way and these metal pieces underneath telescope out, then you turn it the other way and they telescope back in, grabbing the jar lid and twisting it off. It’s like having Robocop hands. I’ve gotten to know an expert on American kitchen utensil patents, and he thinks this is the best jar opener that’s ever been patented. It’s such a nice thing, it needs to be back on the market."

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"He looks like a deer hunter. It looks like he’d have a real deer sprawled out in front of him, so it’s kind of awesome that he just has this Bambi thing. How tough can you be sitting behind that? But he’s trying."

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"The way these old plastic dressers are stacked is so amazing. They were obviously boxed at the factory but never sold. So it’s interesting to get to see how they were packaged, how they all nested together and made this strange pattern that reminds me of Samurai armor. It has the same shape of the curved, overlapping plates."

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"I bought this mysterious rattan lawn object without knowing what it is. But I’ve been working on a design for a garbage can, and it has the same elements: a woven container base with a bent rattan handle on top. It’s already on the boards, so when I saw this object, I thought ‘Whoa, there it almost is!’ I’m just obsessed with umbrella-shaped handles, especially upside-down like this."

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"The dealers at Brimfield talk about promotionals a lot, which is what many of these old objects are. If you were a vendor or a general store and you bought a whole bag of flake soap, you might get a soap scoop with it. This one was from a soap company called Dutch Boy. It has a nice patina and shows its age very well. I love the way the letters got all distorted and the glaze is crackling."

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"A bear made out of cow. This is an amazing example of creating volume out of something two-dimensional. It’s one flat piece of leather whose form comes from the way someone cut it, folded it, and made one stitch in the bottom of it."

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"You see this quite a bit where the webbing of these cheap nylon chairs has frayed away, and resourceful people have taken whatever they have around and woven it back over the aluminum tubing. It’s an ongoing genre, but most of the time you see simple, friendship bracelet–like patterns. This is the first and only time I’ve seen anything figural, like a horse."

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"After Brimfield, my girlfriend Yuki and I took a trip to the Adirondacks and visited the museum in Adirondacks State Park, which charts the history of tourism in the area beginning in the mid-1800s. Back then it revolved around people who wanted to have an adventure in the wilderness, when vacationing was still this new thing. They’d come up from the big East Coast cities and get a guide to take them hunting and camping and fishing. In this photo you see the museum’s collection of miniatures whittled by a couple who lived up there and sold these to the tourists as souvenirs."

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Loebach's upcoming second collection for Matter will reflect on the research he did in the Adirondacks. The Victor chair, pictured above, was from his first. "It has the comfort of traditional upholstery, while the exposed maple framework underscores the simple use of high-quality natural materials. The Matter pieces are made with the same basic methods in use 100 years ago, but my job is to adapt these principles to the nuances of our modern lives."