December 11, 2023

Martin began his career as a furniture maker and still loves working with wood

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Vancouver designer-maker Jeff Martin, of Jeff Martin Joinery, says people often have quite a strong reaction to his work.

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“You either hate it, or you own one,” he says.

Martin began his career as a furniture maker and still loves working with wood, but as a medium, the colour palette can be limiting. Fourteen years into his career as a designer, maker and artist, Martin has expanded to work with blown glass and glazed. The results are incredibly colourful.

A strong network of vendors has helped him do this, he says, which has allowed him to leverage their expertise across many different mediums. These include a bronze foundry in Mississauga, Ontario, originally tooled for auto manufacturing to a generations-old Italian quarry.

Sarcophagus by Jeff Martin Joinery.
Sarcophagus by Jeff Martin Joinery. Photo by Jeff Martin /PNG

“When I started my business, I had this super ambitious and totally unreachable goal of having my own glass blowing studio and quarry and foundry, and the reality is it’s much better to work with a network of experts,” he says.

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Their knowledge base and expertise are invaluable, he says.

The designer is frank about his lack of formal design education, stating he learns better by doing.

Martin takes a hands-on approach when working with materials like ceramics or clay, with the design forming in his mind as he works. He says that drafting and drawing shapes aren’t the way he creates, but instead, he likes to work with his tools and learn via experimentation and trial and error.

Glass blowing has piqued the designer’s interest of late, and, based in Vancouver’s iconic Parker Street Studios, Martin is working with a glassblower located nearby.

He loves working with glass because of the many directions it can go in; its freedom fluidity.

Martin has recently been receiving a lot of attention for his Sarcophagus cabinet. The inspiration for this originated from his wife giving him a “hard time” for the assortment of treasures he is always collecting and displaying around the house.

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After initially wanting to make a wall-mounted cabinet to store his personal items, gathered and traded over a lifetime, the prototype was quickly sold to a collector who reached out after seeing a photo of it on Instagram.

Tables by Jeff Martin Joinery.
Tables by Jeff Martin Joinery. Photo by Jeff Martin /PNG

A gallery in New York snatched up the second in his sarcophagus series, and yet another was sold to a gallery in Los Angeles. So while the maker hopes the fourth one he’s made will finally be the one that can house his personal pieces in, there is already interest in its purchase.

“It’s really an organic piece. It doesn’t happen with all our work. There’s stuff I’ve designed that I’ve been very proud of, and I’ve only sold one in 10 years,” he says.

His client list is as diverse as the materials Martin works with. About 90 per cent of his work is sold directly through his company’s website, and there are emerging relationships to sell the works through galleries in the United States.

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Clients reach out to him from all over the world, he says. Mexico City, London, Hong Kong and Miami are just a few locales where a Jeff Martin creation can be found. The bulk of his works find their way into the corridor of mountain towns from Whistler to Jackson Hole, he says:

“The market just keeps opening up for us.”

Work by Jeff Martin Joinery.
Work by Jeff Martin Joinery. Photo by Jeff Martin /PNG

Martin says he is very grateful to have earned the kudos over nearly a decade-and-a-half of joinery and design and to see others get excited over pieces of his creation that excite him. He feels that the fundamentals are now in place to take his business financially and creatively in any direction they want.

Something that also interests him is adopting a flat business model for running Jeff Martin Joinery. The thinking behind this is that everyone employed by the company can afford to buy a house and have a decent standard of living, with all the decision-making equally shared. The end result being he is as accountable to those who work for Jeff Martin Joinery as they are to him.

“It’s been one of the goals of the business for the last 10 years,” he says.

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