Mary Little sat right next to me at a panel discussion. Once the Q&A part was over, she asked me to reflect on it. I welcomed a conversation -- always too shy about approaching someone myself. Once we got to introductions, I found out that Mary Little is an artist of furniture design who creates chairs as sculpture. Considering that I was in the process of designing my first chair, the meeting was serendipitous. When Mary's husband Peter kindly and thoughtfully delivered two glasses of water for both of us, I felt bold enough to ask for their input on my own project.
We met again. Both Peter and Mary were amazingly generous with suggestions that truly influenced my design. To reciprocate, I invited them to my place. This is when I heard for the first time about Mary's current project: a console table to house all of the accouterments for the clients' family observance of Shabbat. It was going to be upholstered!
When living in London, San Francisco then Connecticut, Mary had a tradition of hosting a viewing for friends and clients of major commissioned pieces before they're shipped for installation. Now living and working in Downtown L.A., she has maintained this tradition and I am invited.
My immediate reaction is to marvel at how simple and quiet the piece appears. Delicate. Soft. Minimal. Gentle. It is truly an art object with no suggestion of purpose beyond visual enhancement of a space. But that's exactly what the work of Mary Little is about. In her own words, she creates furniture "that works well, but does not look like it works well."
The console (Adi) has a rectilinear storage element with mitered joints and hidden openings to give a clean minimal aesthetic. It rests on a fabric-lined base with her signature gentle curve running along the front edge.
Unexpected. That is what these long-standing clients who have known Mary since college -- they saw her work in an exhibition in London -- expect from Mary. They know she would surprise them. Their children have left home and for their new house they want Mary's work to greet them.
They need a cabinet 16" deep that would be perceived from three sides. They object to the fabric idea at first because of the potential damaging effect produced by a south-facing wall of glass across. Mary proposes to use outdoor fabric to circumvent the issue of fading.
In addition, the clients envision an electronic picture frame resting on top. Naturally, Mary handles the electric cord, a potential eyesore, in the most subtle way. She curves the entire back ever so slightly to create a tiny slot that receives the wiring and hides it discretely. The result is something loaded with functionality giving an impression of effortlessness and simplicity.
It's been said that making something complicated is easy, but making something simple is very difficult. I've been thinking about that. Cluttering requires much less effort than carefully assembling and minding every detail. Opposite of convoluted is restrained and clearly understood -- relatable. Mary Little's beautifully appointed objects have a sense of familiarity with an element of surprise. They are memorable and, therefore, have a potential of making an impact. To achieve that requires mastery, depth and a lot of effort.