It can start with a windfallen tree or a barn door, maybe a magazine clipping of a vintage mid-century modern coffee table you can’t find at a store, or simply a room in need of a standout piece of furniture to pull it together. No matter the nature of your inspiration, Portsmouth-based designer and craftsman Jeff Soderbergh says, “we’re the design house that can produce it.”
Reclaiming found materials and honing non-toxic furniture finishing techniques dating back to the 1800s, Soderbergh and his team of passionate designers have built a uniquely sustainable practice that’s earned him national recognition in the likes of Esquire magazine, New England Home, Architectural Digest, and more. Since getting his start 30 years ago, self-taught Soderbergh has been challenging the notion that sustainable can’t also mean luxury.
Before he was a designer, Soderbergh recalls, “I was traveling quite a bit and seeing all of these buildings being demolished and all of the cool interesting elements ending up in dumpsters. These are beautiful shapes – if we take them completely out of context, cut them up and put them back together in a different way, we can make more beautiful things and give them a second life.” From there, the creative wheels started turning and through sheer will and countless hours spent in the library, Soderbergh dove into furniture making.
Describing a round 12-foot dining table project – from the process of sketching it out by hand to the different curves of each leg and the four-inch center tapering into a quarter inch on the edges – Soderbergh’s reverence for the craft is palpable. He’s reluctant – unable, even – to choose a favorite style.
“I love the most simple furniture to the most delicate and modern pieces. I just love design and I think there’s a right fit for every project. We don’t pigeon hole ourselves,” he shares. “Sometimes you want a very archaic, antique-looking piece, and that has a certain surface to it, and then another time you want something very clean and very contemporary, and that can’t look like a barn.”
Soderbergh relocated to his current 6,000-square-foot, near-waterfront dream studio and showroom just a month before COVID hit, and though the pandemic has made it difficult to visit each of his client’s spaces, it’s his preferred method of getting a feel for the room first. “You come to me when you want your home to feel like there’s a lot of authentic parts to it,” he says.
Originally from the Ocean State, the East Bay’s Farm Coast scenery and travels influence Soderbergh’s creations. “I’m quite literally immersed in the ocean. I surf year round. If I’m not getting in the ocean a few times a week, I become a different person,” he says with a laugh. “Part of what’s lovely about what I’ve carved out for myself is one week we get to do really fine inlay work in the studio, and the next week we’re literally blacksmithing outside, or felling a tree and milling it out in the middle of the woods. Another week we’re walking a site and picking out the proper stones that will work for the space. Nature influences everything for me.”
With each new project comes new spatial solutions to find, fresh methods to achieve a particular color of finish, and the sculptural work that goes into building something truly unique – and Soderbergh wouldn’t trade a minute of it for any other profession. “You play. It’s pure play until you get it right, and then you know it’s right,” he says. “It’s wonderful. I absolutely love my job.”
For custom interior and exterior furniture commissions, Jeff Soderbergh Sustainable Furnishings & Fine Art is available by appointment, with galleries in both Portsmouth and Wellfleet, MA. JeffSoderbergh.com
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