For the first 40 years of his life, Ian Love was a musician. He played guitar in a band called Rival Schools; recorded two albums and toured the world. After leaving the band, he became a producer, creating music for television and movies. But about five years ago, while enduring a series of family crises, he began to work with wood and something shifted in his soul.
At first, he made objects for his home in Hampton Bays. Then Love met a man who lived in Speonk who sold firewood and had a steady supply of the gnarled and diseased parts of trees that inspired him. So Love bought a chainsaw.
“This is the first thing I ever made,” he said, pointing to a meticulously finished stool made from a single piece of cherry wood so wide and deeply scarred that it must have come from an ancient tree. “Once I made this I thought, ‘there is something very primitive and very cool about this.’ ” A friend in the design business thought so too, and told Love he thought he might be on to something.
Love crafts stools, tables, chairs and office furnishings from discarded wood that he finds along the side of the road or hears about from friends. “There is no shortage of trees here,” he said, which is fortunate, because almost from the start, Love had no shortage of commissions for his work.
One of his early commissions was for a client that wanted a 16-foot-diameter tree root with lights and crystals to hang in their offices. Love started with a four-foot root system, and built the rest of the roots from branches and limbs that he attached to it. He then installed the enormous, naturalistic chandelier on the 76th floor of One World Trade Center in New York.
Working on a commission for a large architecture firm, he created 20 pieces for an Amazon office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including the 27-foot live edge reception desk that graces the entrance lobby.
He hauls tree trunks, logs and other discarded wood to his studio and workshop in Riverhead, where he stores the pieces that speak to him and transforms them into refined and useful interior furnishings for architecture and interior design clients and private clients.
His work is displayed in a number of galleries including Verso at Hudson and Duane street in Tribeca, Michael del Piero Good Design in Wainscott, and Blackmun Cruz in Los Angeles. His smallest pieces, mainly stools and side tables, start at around $2,000.
Love often use tree trunks with small limbs to make animalistic shapes, each unique. He loves to use wood that is spalted — marked by irregular, black lines that are the result of fungal decay. Striated lengths of spalted oak and holly are carefully stacked in his storeroom. He’s drawn to black walnut, a fine-grained hardwood with a dark cast that he gives a hand-rubbed oil finish that takes hours to apply. “When cut, it begins to lose its color but as soon as you add any kind of oil it gets darker,” said Love. “For me, the challenge is how to get it looking as dark as when I cut it.”
Love grew up in New York, starting playing the guitar when he was 11 years old and attended the esteemed LaGuardia High School for Music and Art, but did not graduate. He struggled with addiction from the age of 16, until at 23 he went into rehab and was able to get well.
For a person who grew up in the city, where artists play musical instruments and hold paintbrushes but rarely wield power tools, Love has adapted to the technical demands of working with large pieces of unfinished wood. In addition to his chainsaw, he’s learned to use a roofer’s torch to create a burned surface on some of his pieces — a charred black layer that enhances the natural grain and imperfections in the wood. Saws and sanders, a mechanical hoist for moving large pieces and a lathe for shaping smaller ones are all part of his toolbox.
Bleach is another important tool especially for oak and ambrosia maple, a type of wood that is often full of holes from being eaten by a beetle. He pointed to a piece of wood the color of sunrise, full of holes and tunnels. “This is called ambrosia maple, and it’s sometimes eaten by a beetle that does ultimately kill the tree,” Love said. “I bleached it. It has these pink and gray hues.”
Love didn’t really think about why he got so much satisfaction from transforming diseased and broken living things into objects of beauty until his mother got cancer. “Seeing her fight for her life with this terrible disease. I didn’t know it at the time, but something was obviously happening. When she passed away, I made the connection. That’s when I decided to go for it and hone the craft.”
His process is painstaking and, in spite of the demand for his work, done by hand, by him. Each piece requires hours of sanding and finishing, and he sometimes carves decorative areas on chairs and benches using a hand gouge. “I don’t want to farm it out to someone else; it’s not the same. I want to have my hand on every single piece,” he said. “There are a lot of people who make live edge tables. I want to do something different. I do it in a way that adds my own character.”