“Chairing” is Caring: A Look Into J. Rusten Furniture Studio

Categorized Under: Arts , Business Spotlight

By Jessica Nguyen

J. Rusten Furniture Studio in Downtown Stockton is a place where woodwork is brought to life. Jared Rusten, founder, owner, and creative mind behind (and in!) the studio, utilizes rare and natural materials to handcraft unique furniture pieces that effortlessly elevate any space they’re placed in. Jared’s talents are so recognized that he was even featured on Buzzfeed’s “Worth It” series. We wanted to know more about the man behind the popular California-shaped table and his studio, so we asked him a couple questions.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

“I grew up in San Jose, CA in the 80’s and 90’s, skateboarding, playing in bands, and generally trying to create as much cool stuff as I could⁠—whether that meant hammering together ramps or fussing over craft projects to try and get a girl’s attention. Pursuing education and opportunities, I’ve lived in Arizona, Los Angeles (where I did most of my woodworking apprenticeship), New York, Oakland, and San Francisco. Along the way, I exhibited furniture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, built a bar with an architect friend while also teaching woodworking in Brooklyn, and got to work on a variety of interesting projects for movies, companies like Google and Levi’s, and for many cool clients who have become friends. In 2015, my wife Emily and I weren’t enjoying living in San Francisco any longer. We were tired of paying SF rents, and we wanted to find a community that we could contribute more to. We found Stockton, purchased a 100-year old warehouse building downtown, and moved the design studio here while we continue to slowly renovate the building.”

2. How did your passion for woodworking start? Where do you get inspiration for your pieces?

“My first exposure to “fine woodworking” as a teenager was watching PBS shows like The Woodwright’s Shop, and The New Yankee Workshop. I started checking books out from the library about woodworking, timber-frame construction, and Japanese joinery. There was barely any Internet at the time, and Youtube was still 10 years away, so most of my initial education came from books and bothering older craftspeople with lots of questions.”

“I knew my career was going to be something creative and design related, and the further I got into the craft, the more I knew there was nothing else I would be happy doing than to explore form and utility with wood as a primary medium. My early pieces were mostly inspired by the joinery-heavy work of Japanese temple builders and the luminaries of the American Arts & Crafts movement like Greene & Greene. But, in the early 2000’s my aesthetic shifted to a cleaner, more “modern” style where the wood is allowed to demand more attention than the way it is put together. These days, I try to pair compelling silhouettes with pretty wood—most of it salvaged from local hardwood trees that had to be taken down for whatever reason. Some of my favorite pieces were built from walnut orchard trees that had outlived their nut-producing years.”

3. What are a few of your favorite pieces/which are you most proud of?

“Even though it’s not the most technically demanding piece, I have to acknowledge my series of California-shaped tables for paying the rent for many years. For a long time, I sold at least one or two a month. But, it’s probably the “Modern Rocking Chair” that I’m currently the most proud of. Each one takes almost a month to build, and its design and construction engages all the skills that I have developed over the last 20 years. It’s really more like a piece of functional sculpture than just a chair, but there’s no way to say that without sounding pretentious.”

To explore these (and other) pieces, visit: jrusten.com

4. What was it like to be featured in Buzzfeed’s “Worth It” series?

“Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Buzzfeed’s programming or it’s “Worth It” series when they called me. I was a little dubious since my rocking chair was going to be featured as the highest priced option, which is often reserved for some pretty obnoxious, ridiculously opulent things. And, I knew some people would consider my chair ridiculously opulent, and obnoxiously priced. But, I thought the editing was very complimentary and the entire Buzzfeed team could not have been more cool or fun to spend an afternoon with. After the shoot, I was stoked to tell the hosts and production staff a little more about Stockton while we walked down to Cast Iron Trading Co. to enjoy a great lunch.”

Watch the video!

5. Why did you choose Downtown Stockton for the location for your studio?

“When Emily and I were looking for a place to settle outside of San Francisco, we had a set of criteria and Stockton checked all the boxes. Some of these were:

  • Not too big, not too small⁠—with a walkable downtown. 
  • Affordable enough to buy a property. 
  • Warm summer nights (we were tired of the fog and chilly year-round wind in SF).
  • A rich history, with lots of remaining historical structures.
  • A welcoming attitude among local folks.
  • Opportunities to get involved in the community.
  • Close proximity to a variety of different California landscapes⁠—the delta, vineyards, Sierras, foothills, etc.”

“The other thing that really excited us about Downtown Stockton was the sense that it was a blank canvas. The downtown felt like it had been abandoned by most Stocktonians years earlier⁠—leaving a playground of civic potential. We’re definitely proud that we have been able to take a derelict, ugly, boarded-up warehouse and contribute at least one better-looking property to the landscape of the city.”

6. What do you like most about Downtown Stockton? What are your favorite lunch and coffee spots?

“I think the scale of Downtown Stockton is perfect. From our studio we can easily walk to the waterfront, the arena, two great theaters, tailors, painting supply stores, dry cleaners, and a bunch of great restaurants. And, I love seeing all the vintage architectural details that remain. We appreciate all of the businesses that have chosen downtown⁠—both the legacy businesses and the friends who’ve opened in the last few years like Cast Iron, Trail Coffee, The Deliberation Room, etc. We try to spread out patronage among all of them as best we can.”

Although Jared’s studio isn’t open to the public, feel free to email him at [email protected] to set up an appointment if you’re interested in seeing or purchasing any of his pieces. Additionally, you can view and learn more about them on his Instagram account: @jrusten.