Industrial designer Jonathan Olivares’ red vise has journeyed with him from his childhood basement to the world stage.

Of all my possessions, this 65-pound vise is the one I’ve had the longest. My mother gave it to me for my 10th birthday. I’ve always thought there was something comical about giving a small boy such a big vise, but she insists it was purely practical and that she thought I would need something sturdy for the woodworking I was doing.

Boston-born, Los Angeles–based designer Jonathan Olivares’s red vise has been by his side for almost 30 years. He’s used it to create everything from childhood toys to an instant-classic chair for Knoll.

Boston-born, Los Angeles–based designer Jonathan Olivares’s red vise has been by his side for almost 30 years. He’s used it to create everything from childhood toys to an instant-classic chair for Knoll. 



Photo by Michael Friberg

As a boy I used the vise in my basement workshop for making toys. As a teenager I used it to put together skateboards. When I started my design practice in 2006, the vise was there to help me make models of my first furniture pieces, including‚ later, the Olivares Aluminum chair for Knoll.

I admire the vise’s red paint and the patina it has gained over time‚ and the hard and soft geometries of the forged steel. Many of my furniture designs have been done in painted metals‚ including the Aluminum bench for Zahner and the Smith steel cart for Danese. Today the vise sits in my study and reminds me of the trust that my mother placed in me—take risks‚ work with good tools‚ don’t get hurt‚ have fun—and of the longevity and myriad functions of truly useful objects. 

Jonathan Olivares 

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