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Art People: Aaron Poritz | furniture designer

  • Aaron Poritz<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Aaron Poritz<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Aaron Poritz<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Aaron Poritz<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Two simple words — El Presidente — that appear on Aaron Poritz’s business card are a fitting description of the 28-year-old architect-turned-furniture-designer and new business owner. Although he has a workshop in Leverett, he spent much of the past year in Nicaragua, where his work is constructed at a local mill. The draw to the Central American country? The literally tons of hardwood trees littering the jungle that fell during Hurricane Felix in 2007.

“There’s thousands and thousands of trees there that are dead and rotting,” Poritz said in an interview last week at his Leverett workshop — a three-car garage on his father’s property. He stumbled upon the trees last year when he was in the country visiting a friend.

Since he was between jobs at the time, he decided to do something using the wood. But what? Being an architect, he naturally thought of designing houses, but those are expensive to build, and a risky investment, he says. Other options, like making flooring or importing the lumber, didn’t speak to the artist in him. But he had made furniture before — little pieces, he says, since he was a child growing up in Amherst and Leverett. That would be it, he decided. So with no business experience to speak of, and not a lick of Spanish under his belt, Poritz started his company with plans to design and build prototypes in Leverett, then travel to Nicaragua, where the pieces would be built.

Poritz says it’s a model that suits him well: Because he primarily uses wood that is already down — guilt-free wood, he calls it — his work does no harm to the environment. “The biggest concern is that the trees will rot before anyone can clear them,” he said. And, because he uses local labor, he brings work to the region.

The plan also supports his artistic sensibilities: He likes thin lines, he says, which means using less wood.

“I like that from a sustainability perspective, and using less material is a fun challenge,” he said. “It forces you to get to know the material.” He often uses 150-year-old frijolillo, a heavy, strong, dense wood that fell during Hurricane Felix.

So far, his 21-piece line includes chairs, stools, tables, desks, beds and a sofa, as well as a lunch box and a toolbox.

Poritz, who calls himself a minimalist and modernist, says he designs his pieces to be comfortable, strong and functional.

“It must have an artistic infusion of what I find to be beautiful.” Poritz said. “To be beautiful is to have something proportionately right. ... I keep things pretty rectilinear and angular,” he added. “Geometric forms grab my attention. There’s a simplicity to it.”

Poritz uses design concepts from his architecture studies at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Even so, he says, the learning curve has been steep.

“My first line of furniture I built just all broke,” he said. “The guys in Nicaragua they would look at me funny, at my drawing, and they’d say, ‘It’s not going to work.’ I’d say, ‘Just do it’ — and it didn’t work.”

But it’s all part of the process, he says. “The whole learning experience has been a fun and exciting.”

— Kathleen Mellen

For more information, visit aaronporitz.com

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