High Point, N.C. -- Dakota Jackson, a leading designer of high-end contemporary furniture, once made his living catching bullets in his teeth.
"I began flamboyantly," he admits. The 45-year-old designer -- at the International Home Furnishings Market to introduce his first mass-market collection for the Lane Co. -- furrows his patrician brow and smoothes the silvery hair that curls over his collar and almost matches the color of his elegant suit.
Although he's talking about his design career, Mr. Jackson's early life was flamboyant as well. He grew up in a family of magicians and performed professionally as a conjurer throughout his teen years.
"Magicians have to be tinkerers," he says, explaining the progression from sleight-of-hand to designing furniture collections.
The latest tinkering project for the high-style, one-of-a-kind furniture designer is a debut collection for the mass market, New Rhythms. The 60 pieces in the collection aren't knock-offs of his high-end furniture, but a sophisticated, comfortable grouping with broad appeal.
That's not to say the collection doesn't have the stamp of his own personal style. Andrea Loukin, market editor of Interior Design magazine, believes Mr. Jackson is unusual in the industry. "He's looking to do his own thing, rather than following market trends. If it works, great."
The name of his new collection comes from the interplay of
grid-like geometric shapes and what Mr. Jackson calls a "second visual theme of undulating flowing curves." The group of living-room, bedroom and dining-room furnishings is done in ash with a natural open-grain finish, coordinating textiles and ornate cast-bronze decorative hardware.
Mr. Jackson's designs for the Lane Co. will be appearing in local retail stores in the fall. Prices will range from $400 for an end table to $2,500 for a bed.
His signature furniture, handcrafted with more daring designs, can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
It began in 1973 with a phone call from Yoko Ono. She was looking for a one-of-a-kind birthday present for John Lennon. Could Mr. Jackson, who at the time was working as a special-effects consultant for magic shows, films and rock concerts, design something wonderful for her husband?
He had always had a fascination with conceiving an object and then building it, so he decided to give it a try. The result was a writing table that opened up like a Chinese puzzle if you knew its secret pressure points.
He followed it with other fantastical furniture designs for other celebrities, such as Diane Von Furstenberg's Eclipse bed, which gave off aurora borealis beams of light when night fell.
As Dakota Jackson's unique furniture business grew, he found himself becoming more and more interested in basic design. It was all very well to be making art furniture like the "Self Winding Table" -- with three stacked glass levels that moved at a touch -- but it was perhaps even more satisfying to design a new library chair, sturdy and clean-lined.
"A good one," he says, "hadn't been designed since the turn of the century."
He designed a good one in 1993, which Metropolitan Home called "simplicity itself" and said "marks design's new austere mood."
In the '80s, Dakota Jackson moved from one-of-a-kind to multiples. His pieces, such as the Ke'zu, 'CuB-a and 'vik-ter chairs, were, however, still handmade to order. While the names were funky, the designs attempted to define the essential nature of a chair or a sofa, build it with style and keep the price competitive.
All along, however, Mr. Jackson has had an eye on designing for an assembly line.
"Ask me what I am first," he says, "and I'd say a manufacturer or an industrialist."
So what's next for the conjurer-turned-furniture designer? He's already the architect of a synagogue and has designed a house in Philadelphia. "I'd like to do more," he says.
The made-to-order end of his business is expanding rapidly, with a new showroom opening in New York. He's extending his fabric collection and will introduce a lighting group in the fall along with a line of domestics (bedding, tableware and the like).
Mr. Jackson is known as a superb public speaker -- he was, after all, a performer for much of his early life -- and plans to continue doing a lot of it. (He'll be giving a talk at the Baltimore Museum of Art tonight on contemporary furniture design as the century draws to a close.)
In his spare time, Dakota Jackson plays seven or eight musical instruments ("I'm virtually self-taught in everything," he says) and spends time with his wife and two children in New York.
As fearless in his private life as his professional, he likes to go in-line skating with them in Central Park. "It feels good to fall down every once in a while," he says.
WORKING THE ROOM
What: Dakota Jackson's talk on contemporary furniture, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects
Where: 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive
Cost: $10 at the door ($5 for students with ID)
Call: Baltimore Chapter AIA office, (410) 625-2585