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Office space: John Anderson, designer at Utilitarian Workshop

John Anderson at the new Utilitarian Workshop showroom opening this spring.

Anderson at work

Anderson says that an important part of his working process is to let the reclaimed timber and steel dictate the end game of work’s aesthetics. “I prefer to allow natural character to inform any additional decisions,” he said. “There is more spontaneity and freedom that way.”

When finished, he draws his satisfaction from the devotion it takes to work with reclaimed material. “There’s an unrivaled character hidden in oldgrowth lumber that, once revealed, is intoxicating.”

Special to Ink

John Anderson, 37, works well with wood and steel. Yet it’s his collaborative nature with fellow artists and visionaries that is giving his latest effort life.

Anderson and partner Nicole Williams are the founding proprietors of the Utilitarian Workshop, a modern collaborative design studio and retail co-operative giving local craftsmen and artists a permanent place to showcase their work.“I have friends here who make furniture pieces that are so awesome,” Anderson said. “But so often they are commissioned pieces that go to Boston or directly to a Mission Hills home. Most people don’t know that this work is being done here.”

The Utilitarian Workshop is using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the design of its new retail showroom at 1659 Summit, which was once a filling station.

“We want to create a platform for artists and craft makers to have a retail outlet that’s outside of a gallery setting,” Anderson said. “We want to provide a space that encourages and cultivates creativity, a space that encourages the consumer to interact with the craftsman. We live in this society where a lot of that personal touch has been lost through the way people shop now. We want to bring that back here.”

What he does:

Anderson holds dear a set of hand tools passed down to him from his great-grandfather, who was a machinist for the Western Electric Co. in Chicago. It’s with a similar doting prescription that he makes and designs furniture.

Anderson is out to design functional heirloom furniture that will survive generations of families, much like his great-grandfather’s tools.

“Pretty much everyone you know has something that’s been handed down to them,” Anderson said. “We’re not creating pieces that will be thrown out in three years. We’re getting back to that idea of getting people to buy things that will have sentimental value. Heirloom value is a sustainable model.”

Where you can see his work:

The Utilitarian Workshop’s new space isn’t set to open until May 2013. But Anderson’s work is visible in Kansas City. Letterpress design studio Hammerpress, soda fountain favorite Little Freshie and the Westport eatery Port Fonda are flush with Anderson’s interior design work.

Anderson worked from square one with chef/owner Patrick Ryan to create Port Fonda’s interior feel. Ryan opened up to Anderson and let him craft his restaurant into an inviting, chic space.

“He trusted my vision for his space,” Anderson said. “He was like ‘I want you to do your thing. You wouldn’t come in the kitchen and tell me how to cook.’ ”

Anderson wants to make Port Fonda-like designs and furniture accessible to the everyday Kansas Citian.

“If you like the interior design style of Port Fonda or Hammerpress, you can come and look at and purchase pieces like that for your house or office,” Anderson said. “You can go from A to Z in our shop, and most of it will be controlled or designed locally.”

Kickstarter campaign:

The Utilitarian Workshop is looking for funding through Kickstarter, the funding platform for creative initiatives, to jumpstart the new store’s launch.

The workshop has a pledge goal of $15,000 and is well on its way. Anderson says that involving the community and receiving donations via Kickstarter is a way to allow people to help take ownership of something in their community.

“It’s the perfect platform for us to have a grassroots way to raise money and put it into the design fabrication and curation of the space. It’s a chance for everyone to interact and be a part of the process. Ultimately, it’s going to benefit the people in our community.”


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