Q&A: Brianne Boettner of Timber & Tulip on Becoming a Wood Nerd and a Maker of Industrial Modern Furniture
Smooth, refined, luxurious, but with metal and wood grain to bring the designs decidedly down to earth. It’s possible that, under the capable hands and discerning eye of Brianne Boettner, industrial modern furniture has found new aesthetic expression. As the maker and designer of sumptuous, sleek furniture pieces, Boettner has been building her business since 2016 as Timber & Tulip—after creating a coffee table out of a railroad cart for her new apartment.
A former financial controller, Boettner now works out of her studio in the Northrop King building in Northeast Minneapolis. We caught up with her after last month’s Minneapolis Home + Remodeling Show, where her furniture was a hit.
Why did you leave corporate life to become a maker?
Corporate burned me out! The nice salary and benefits were great, sure, but all the things that come along with that career (e.g., corporate politics, meetings to discuss other meetings, email overload, etc., etc.) finally got the best of me. I needed out. And I always knew I wanted to go out on my own, but struggled with the “to do what” question. So when I found this crazy passion to design and create furniture pieces (initially for my own loft and then eventually selling to other people), I finally found the confidence to make the leap. And I haven’t looked back for a second!
Lots of small companies like yours are popping up, creating one-of-a-kind furniture pieces. What sets your work apart? Materials? Design?
Both. Every piece I create has some unique feature that sets it apart from anything else you see on the market. The design itself (I love playing with angles that defy gravity), or, if the design is more traditional in shape, a material that is unexpected—like monkeypod or Honduras mahogany. Another distinguishing factor is the client’s ability to customize. I want to create pieces that fit a client’s space like a glove. So in order to do that, I allow the client to pick from a wide range of wood species, metal finishes, and dimensions for each of the designs offered. This approach lets the client be involved in the creation process while maintaining the original integrity of my design—so a win-win!
How/where did you learn to design furniture?
I am 100-percent self-taught and still have a lot to learn! I have a natural eye for what is aesthetically pleasing and love coming up with ideas for fun and unique pieces to create. Where I have had to really ramp up my learning these last six months was with construction and finishing—mainly so I can have a substantive conversation with my fabricators on my vision for the final product. It’s been a challenging but rewarding learning curve to say the least.
How would you describe your style?
I always describe it as industrial modern with a midcentury modern flair. I love to use contrasting materials (like the wood and metal), but also appreciate a clean design with a streamlined silhouette and straight lines. This type of design allows the materials to really shine and, since I tend to gravitate toward some of the more luxurious woods of the world (all sustainably sourced of course), it is a nice balance.
Talk about the materials you work with.
On the wood side, I work with so many different species it is hard to keep track. I want to use anything that has a dramatic, contrasting grain. Some of my favorites include maple ambrosia, monkeypod, shedua, marblewood and walnut. I’ve also started working more with live-edge slabs (wood pieces that retain the original shape of the tree), which opens up a whole other world of shapes and grain patterns. If you can’t tell, I’m sort of turning into a wood nerd. I just can’t get enough.
On the metal side, the primary materials I’ve used to date have been steel and stainless steel: both have a raw and burnished finish. I absolutely love brass but it can be quite cost prohibitive so I need to save it for the right client.
What are your hopes for the business?
I want to build Timber & Tulip to a point where I can confidently say, “I made it,” and don’t have to go back to working for someone else. I’m not quite there yet, but getting close! I have big growth goals over the next five years but at the same time, it’s important to me that each piece retains the integrity of being locally made, embodies a personalized customer experience, and high quality. Also, I miss having a team, so I have plans to hire one or two full-time personnel this next year if all goes well. The journey is always more fun when others are along for the ride!
by Camille Lefevre