Q + A

the voice of austin aaron

Nature has a unique way of inviting people to share an experience of beauty regardless of their backgrounds. A source of inspiration for artists of all disciplines, nature is perpetually en vogue, especially in the instances of home décor, furnishings and design. For Dancing Grains founder Austin Aaron, nature goes beyond being a source of inspiration; it’s the concept, the material and the end product — the latter of which can take the form of cabinetry, dining tables and custom furnishings. More importantly, it’s the vehicle he operates to tell a story of sustainability.

What’s your story? How did you find your start in woodworking? Have you always been in Colorado?

I first got interested in woodworking while I was carving spoons under trees working wilderness therapy in Utah. We often had a lot of time to pass, and I would use it to carve spoons, then spatulas and other utensils. After acquiring a few tools to use in my off time, I started having ideas about bigger pieces — furniture especially. After moving to Boulder, I found myself with a ton of energy and ideas. I had no idea what I was doing, but a lot of attention to detail and determination to figure it out.

The passion never wore out. To this day, I’m still trying to find more time to jot down and keep track of all the designs I’m excited to build. The difference is that now I have a shop, the tools, the staff and the resources to bring those ideas to life. The only piece I could use a little more of is time!

How does your surrounding environment impact your designs? Where do you seek inspiration?

My inspiration has always come from nature. I commonly see shapes while in the outdoors that give me ideas for pieces to build. Designs with a dynamic nature always appeal to me.

Having some level of design risk involved always keeps things exciting too, so I do like to play with balance and proportions in a way that grabs attention. When people find that a design looks risky or unstable — it is actually quite to the contrary — it really ups the ante.

Beyond that, curved lines tickle my fancy. I find that when I encounter curves, I tend to relax a lot. My body says, “yes,” right away.

“We have overall shapes that seek to say something, but the wood tells the story of the tree within that canvas. The best projects have a visceral unity between the design and the grain patterns.”

Describe your creative process, starting from inspiration to a final product.

Generally, when an idea comes up, it needs to get put to paper as soon as possible. I hand-draw first and translate the drawing to the computer later. Sometimes, the wilder designs can be difficult to translate into CAD.

The computer gives legibility to designs that makes it very easy for the shop to produce. When it was just me, I would figure out all of the part sizes and details in my head, but I’ve gotten much more organized with it all over the years as more craftsmen have come into the shop.

Then we get started making templates and cutting wood. This is where “Dancing Grains” come into play and the wood begins to speak. We have overall shapes that seek to say something, but the wood tells the story of the tree within that canvas. The best projects have a visceral unity between the design and the grain patterns. Every piece creates a dance between the design and the material.

At this point, the details tend to come out at least as good as the vision, but they often have an even more striking influence.

Tell us about your studio/retail space in Boulder and how your team works together to achieve beautifully designed furniture and cabinetry.

The gallery on Pearl is a long-standing vision that I’ve carried with me through all the evolutions of Dancing Grains in the last 13 years. It is a place where we can display everything we have to offer and gives us a place to show off a portion of what’s possible; to display raw wood slabs so that people can see the origins of what we build and be a part of the process of bringing it to life.

Thus begins the exchange of driving energies. Our customers get inspired by what they see and bring their leanings to the table. With our experience and expertise, we can guide the process toward a design that is most functional and aesthetically appealing for them.

How do you source sustainable slabs? How important is the story of their source?

We work with tree companies to source logs that are coming down in regular city maintenance. We have two sawmills to allow us to mill logs of different sizes down to slab form. We also buy slabs from other sawyers in our network to keep the inventory fleshed out.

Urban logs are the most sustainable form of lumber available because these trees are coming down regardless of whether we are able to use them. We do not lose any standing trees that could live on to sequester carbon for years to come, we do not consume as much fuel in transport and we save these amazing logs from the chipper!

I think Americans are tired of the chain of heartless consumer goods and are becoming more interested in being surrounded in a space with furnishings that have a story to tell, offer more energy back and add to the overall greater good. By sourcing this way, we are doing the most we can to offset our environmental impact, while also bringing materials from the area with an emotional significance.

To whom do you attribute your success?

I attribute our success to the team of people that come to work every day. We are a family of craftspeople and supporters of the craft — all of whom really want to produce our best. Beyond always creating something we can honestly stand behind, we all really love the game. I think having our hearts in it really makes the difference at the end of the day.

In what ways do you manage a work/life balance?

Well, this happens to varying degrees dependent upon timing! Nothing cools me off better than getting outside. Nature is my inspiration; it’s what fills me up. I spend my free time, skiing, mountain biking, paragliding, whitewater rafting, camping and traveling. Nature is baseline.

Beyond time in the outdoors, relaxation for me involves not doing. There’s so much to do on a daily basis that just setting it down and turning it all off is best for me. My home helps me do that by not being too much more or less than what I need.

In your opinion, what makes a house a home? How does thoughtfully crafted furniture impact a space?

A house becomes a home by giving back more than you put into it. When set up with intention, a house has a lot to offer. It can be functional and effortless, it can be inspiring and uplifting; and it can be a constant reminder in daily decisions to do what’s best for you. When you surround yourself with everything that you care about and appreciate, you’re influenced to make your choices in life from the same place.

If your home is created with the beauty and abundance that you want to experience in your life, there’s no way it can’t affect you toward that end. It’s sort of like an energetic investment — with diligence and care, you choose what you surround yourself with and over time it becomes easier to be on the best path for you.

Integrate the beauty of sustainable wood furnishings into your home by visiting Dancing Grains online or in-person at 1545 Pearl Street in Boulder.