Thai woodworker Charnon Nakornsang has turned his Bangkok home into a space where craftsmanship can thrive. with his atelier only steps away from a clean-cut family lounge that doubles as a showroom for his furniture designs. His practice is centered on functionality and permeated by a profound reverence for wood as a raw material.
From studying the lifework of seminal furniture makers George Nakashima and James Krenov, Nakornsang developed an appreciation for traditional tools and joinery methods, and a passion for making furniture by hand. But his work also evokes Thai woodwork heritage. Until not so long ago, wooden houses, furniture, and tools were the norm in Thailand;
Nakornsang's fascination with these objects extends beyond their aesthetics, and lies in the inherent honesty they bear in both purpose and material.
Similarly, Nakornsang’s designs are often born from his own household needs, with each piece in his showroom having a functional purpose. “Everything starts from the function. I first think about its use for the human body, and its scale and structure. Then I think about how it will interact with the space,” he explains. From there, he sketches a rough idea on his notepad, though he rarely sticks to the plan; it’s in the making process that he finds out what the piece will become. “To me, this is the difference between craft and mass production—the freedom to feel emotions and to stop when you sense you’ve completed something.”
Nakornsang works alone, with only in the wood for company. His workshop is infused with the soothing scent of hardwood—his favorites are walnut and cherry—and is a refuge from the outside world where he cultivates his relationship with the material. He works with a mix of manual and electric tools, but he favors the former for the flexibility they bring. A sense of harmony is fundamental to his design philosophy. and it manifests itself in the balance between ability and reverence. “Good proportions and shape tell us something about the maker’s experience. But I think the wood grains and fibers that the maker chooses to incorporate in their work show how much they respect the material. These elements are an imprint of the tree’s story,” he says.
The craftsman makes the conscious decision to feature and harmonize such elements in each piece he creates. For instance, his joineries play with the character of different woods and bears an aesthetic value beyond holding the structure together. It's always a tight fit, but the joinery is still reinforced with glue. “Glue is like tree resin,” he says. Each piece is then finishes with natural oils, giving a natural tactility.
It was only recently that Nakornsang made the craft his full-time occupation. Trained as a graphic designer, he spent more than a decade in the corporate world creating motion graphics for a large Thai bank. Seeking a lifestyle change, he began learning woodworking from the artisan Phisanu Numsiriyothin, who is regarded as a master by the younger generation of Thai woodworkers. Soon, when pandemic restrictions are eased, Nakornsang himself will welcome students to his atelier.