Jesse Damrow grew up in a wood shop immersed in his father Michael’s business making staircases. Crafted with exotic wood for the well-to-do, these products range from spiral shapes to wide, sweeping flights for grand entranceways. In that Twin Lakes shop, Damrow, now 35, learned about types of wood and honed his carving skills. After graduating from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s architecture school, he struck out – way out – on his own, and moved to the Caribbean to work for an architecture firm that specialized in large commercial projects. But when the Great Recession struck in 2008, Damrow found himself in the market for something else to do. And the search led him back to that Twin Lakes shop that smells of freshly sawed wood.
Under the moniker Joint Effort Studio, Damrow began crafting couches, desks, chairs and custom furniture pieces that have midcentury Danish angles, but mini- mal hardware. The wood joints are fashioned without brackets or metal supports, a time-consuming process. The results are pieces that look impossibly sleek.
At the same time, Damrow began collecting vintage pieces of a similar style and selling them online. Creating his own, however, remained his passion. Using Wisconsin woods like black walnut and ash (“it’s local, cheap, abundant”), he’d carve away at the boards until a fully formed piece emerged. Even after joining a Chicago firm as an architectural consultant, Damrow kept at the furniture because, he says, “this stuff is really fun to make.” It’s apparently fun to use, too.
A couch he made with sloping edges and leather cushions caught the eye of Adam Barone, the managing director of a New York City sound mixing firm called Sonic Union. The firm had hired a renowned architect and was looking for furniture to complement her futuristic office design. “We wanted to be playful but we wanted to have a bit of a throwback to it,” Barone says. Damrow’s work fit the bill. With the help of UWM grads, Damrow designed a sort of reverse lazy Susan: three chairs, attached at a single base, that rotate around the anchored table. “I’ve seen three senior ad agency creatives… spinning around on the table, having a conversation,” Barone says.
Milwaukeeans will soon get to see Damrow’s work up close; this month, he is scheduled to open a retail-cum-studio space in Walker’s Point*. This means he’ll get to showcase designs like a double crib he built for his twin children. Called the “Lifetime Crib,” the cribs can transition into conjoined toddler beds, then two single twin beds, and then, perhaps a decade later, reconfigured into a single queen-sized guest bed. His thinking might be that his children will pick up the woodworking bug by osmosis, just as he wound up designing couches and chairs whose edges form graceful bends like the ones he learned from his father.
*This story was updated to reflect that Damrow is opening his studio and retail space in Walker’s Point, not the Menomonee Valley home decor district.