Jason Rens, Furniture Designer

Jason Rens’s future as a designer pretty much began — though unbeknownst to him at the time — the day his grandpa bought him a Taliesin West t-shirt. Rens was still a kid growing up in Arizona, and his grandpa, Al Farnsworth, was an architect who liked to make pilgrimages to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed winter home each time he came to visit. When Rens grew up and graduated high school, he worked at a clothing company slash record label for awhile, but then a random job at a design/build company activated some long-dormant impulse buried inside him: I want to be an architect, too. He made it halfway through architecture school in Boulder before shifting gears and finishing his degree in crafts in Portland, where he’s now known for both his interiors and, increasingly, his Rason Jens line of sculptural objects. “In architecture school, I started to feel like what I wanted to do was a bit different from standard traditional architecture, maybe more sculptural and artist-bent,” he recalls. “So much of the conversation there was about is this art? Is this design? Putting these things into categories. I thought it was cool where they all met in the middle. Finding people like ROLU, Alma Allen, and Martino Gamper, those were all real epiphanies for me, where I was like, ‘Holy shit, you can do this.’”

Unfortunately his classmates in Portland didn’t agree, unanimously trashing his 2012 graduation project, a series of raw wood shapes and totems called Pink/Frequency that had little discernible function except to engage the eye. But it didn’t matter — Rens was already gaining a reputation in the Portland design scene for his contributions to the interior of a cultish local art gallery and waffle café, Jace Gace, and through the shared studio space he’d founded in 2010, Supermaker. After graduation, one of his studio mates introduced him to Joseph Magliaro and Shu Hung of the new concept store Table of Contents, who changed the course of his career again, unexpectedly putting the very graduation project he’d had to defend into the context of a retail store. Rens is now looking forward to expanding the Rason Jens line and selling the objects on his forthcoming online shop. “I’m really interested in expanding function beyond utitlity,”  he says of the work. “I think a lot of design becomes so functionally dominated it almost becomes sterile; it loses feeling. I really believe that the act of everyday living, and having a home, and being in that home with objects — that’s real life. Having a beautiful object or something that inspires you or makes you see things a little differently is a completely valid function, and one I wish more people paid more attention to.”

Design object you wish you’d made: “The ones I haven’t made yet! I have so many feelings and ideas that I want to create. So many incredible objects surround us every day. Everything from this computer I’m using to the window I’m looking out of. The creative flow is so deep and wide. It’s a joy being able to take a swim in it for a bit and see what comes up, you know? I look forward to being able to work with more people, in more ways and in new places.”

Tell the entire story of your life as a designer in seven words: “In appreciation of simplicity and minimalism, I did it in six, haha: ‘All situations are stages of change.’”

What you’d make if you weren’t allowed to use any wood: “Well ,I already use other materials besides wood, but if I imagine moving outside of working with physical materials, my mind quickly goes to making music and/or film. Which is funny to say because I’m developing some works with film and digital video currently. It’s in the early stages, but we plan to be shooting this spring/summer. Looking forward to working in this medium — no sawdust!”

Best thing about living/working in Portland: “Affordable, European­ish, entrepreneurially friendly, proximity to variety of natural landscapes.”

Worst thing about living/working in Portland: “You can’t see the stars very well and the sun gets really shy in the winter.”