In a quiet neck of the woods outside Kingston, the busy local beavers have nothing on woodworker and multimedia artist Ken Landauer, who has been nesting, conceiving, and creating here since 2004. Off an unassuming back gravel road, Landauer lives with his wife and fellow artist Julianne Swartz, and their eight-year-old daughter, Alma, in a wooden house that he built with his own hands—in only eight months, with a single assistant—and then proceeded to fill with his handcrafted furnishings.
The house-building process led Landauer to his most recent venture: FN Furniture, which was launched in September 2017 and is executed out of the studio/workshop space he’s created in a barn adjacent to his home. The name of the company, FN, is a wordplay that he says refers to both “function” and “fine art.” With 20 modern designs—from collapsible benches to dining tables to sheepskin-draped chaises—he keeps the prices low on his wooden, ergonomic furnishings, ranging from $199 to $699 per item. “I’m trying to make furniture that I can afford,” he says. “I don’t want to make cheap furniture. I want to make affordable furniture.”
Of course, in the world of high design, high price tags are requisite, and Landauer could have easily relied upon past associations to cater his work to an upmarket clientele. With some three decades of national and local installations and solo exhibitions under his belt, along with stints teaching at prestigious institutions like the School of Visual Arts, Bard College, SUNY New Paltz, and Rutgers University—making art while making serious money, which is the holy grail for artists—was well within reach.
Instead, Landauer shunned the path of making objects for the “one percent” in favor of accommodating the “99 percent.” In fact, this ethos fuels the FN brand with the motto, “making the most, with the least.” Inspired by the Occupy Movement’s resourcefulness, he aims to produce as close to zero waste as possible. As such, Landauer’s furniture designs use up to 99 percent of a standard sheet of Baltic birch plywood, tinkering tirelessly with the puzzle-like drawings he uses to conceptualize each piece’s development, before moving on to perfect the prototypes at his studio.
“I don’t want to contribute to the state of consumption we have now,” he explains, adding that the furniture he builds is meant to be “ethical, ecological, durable, and beautiful.”
Once a prototype is finalized, the plywood—finished in scratch-resistant, UV-cured acrylic, and available in 10 laminated or lacquered color options—is cut at a CNC machine shop, and the pieces are sanded, edged, and joined by Landauer back at his workshop. Virtual one-man band that he is (apart from the graphic design and photography assistance he gets from associate Patrick Farrell), Landauer will even deliver the assembled, built-to-order furniture throughout the Hudson Valley and to New York City himself, for free.
Creating functional furnishings isn’t a complete departure from his deep artistic roots. Instead, “It comes from an art background,” Landauer says. “I have an aversion to business, really. I felt like I would be selling my soul.” But the creation of FN has cured that fear. “Now I feel like I can put them together,” he admits.
And pair artistry with business he does. “If we’re inventive, we can make a whole other culture, basically,” he says. “This is my way of moving culture an inch.”