Michael Hurwitz – Furniture Designer

Michael Hurwitz began his career as a furniture designer after initially wanting to design and make guitars and wooden instruments. This had proven a little more difficult than anticipated and though he eventually was able to join a course to do so, the tutors, Dan Jackson, Tim Philbrick, Jere Osgood and Alphonse Mattia among them, were all trained woodworkers whose skills included high quality furniture making. It was the work of these tutors that helped Michael to see that there was more scope for creativity as a furniture designer than being solely focused on instruments.

Hard work and determination paid off when one of Michael’s pieces was accepted into exhibition by New York’s American Crafts Museum director Paul Smith; touring the US between 1979 and 1981. Through this there were inevitable gallery calls inviting work from Michael, among others developing from the “Hippy Counter-culture”, which led to work making kitchen cabinets which was “good money, and the work was not too difficult.” while also working on speculative furniture making. This was a great boom period for furniture exhibitions and Michael feels fortunate to have been a part of it.

Michael has been through several styles of furniture design, always changing to avoid parodying himself – such as painting furniture to express the marks of the making that would be difficult to discern with the natural figuring of the wood. The piece ‘Green Vessel’ (pictured) is one example of this style of work.

Later he went on to develop work from influences he gained on a three and a half month residency in the Dominican Republic. Incorporating the symbiosis of Spanish and African architecture; a combination of Branch and Twig huts painted in festive and celebratory colours; the piece evokes the sense of time and place of it’s location – “it took all morning just to walk to a guy with a bandsaw on which to cut up the legs”.

Michael has himself been a teacher of furniture design at the Philadelphia College of Art, and though it was not a natural fit for him, his struggle to explain his process to students enabled him to understand and clarify his processes to himself. While at the college he continued to work on his own projects – developing the gorgeous and sensually curvaceous Rocking Chaise in 1989, which was subsequently bought by the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian.

In 1989 he was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts which enabled him to spend Six Months in Japan to learn Japanese crafts – a subject he had admired for some time; the thought, care and skill of an unbroken tradition of visual culture. He studied under Kenkichi Kuroda, son of the legendary Japanese maker Tatsuaki Kuroda whom furniture designer Thomas Hucker had previously studied. Michael was keen to learn from the Zen tradition and came to find his tutors had a very different way of imparting knowledge than he was used to.

“The way to put yourself in the open path of experience is to humble yourself.” He also observed the way the master would make knowledge available, but not necessarily as the student expected it. Knowledge would be granted only if it was earned. Eugen Herrigel described this traditional teaching method in Zen in the Art of Archery:

Far from wishing to waken the artist in the pupil prematurely, the teacher considers it his first task to make him a skilled artisan with a sovereign control of his craft. The pupil follows out this intention with untiring industry. As though he had no higher aspirations he bows under his burden with a kind of obtuse devotion, only to discover in the course of years that forms which he perfectly masters no longer oppress but liberate. He grows daily more capable of following any inspiration without technical effort, and also of letting inspiration come to him through meticulous observation. The hand that guides the brush has already caught and executed what floated before the mind at the same moment as the mind began to form it, and in the end the pupil no longer knows which of the two— mind or hand—was responsible for the work.


After his Six Months in Japan Michael stopped teaching to focus instead on solely being a furniture designer and from then on developed great relationships with galleries across the United States and has built up a continuing catalogue of hugely impressive furniture design and making – that has never strayed from the lessons he has learned from his visits to Japan; thought, skill, consideration, and care.

Below is a short clip from a video interview with Michael from 2010 in which he discusses his use of ‘milk paint’ in designing the surfaces of his furniture pieces.

Use this link to visit Michael Hurwitz‘s website

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more about Michael Hurwitz, pick up a copy of the book Furniture with Soul (£19.20 amazon.co.uk), in which 10 of David Savage’s favourite furniture designer makers are featured extensively alongside his favourite up and coming furniture designer makers.


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