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Had Congress fulfilled L’Enfant’s vision of a city 10 miles square, Justin Couch would not be the local it-boy of furniture design.
Well, “it-boy” may be stretching it a touch. Couch has sold six of his District-shaped coffee tables—straight on three sides, jagged Potomac-edged on the fourth, with plenty of open storage inside. The design has been written up in ArchitectureDC as “clever, irreverent” and on a Washingtonian blog as “super-cute.”
Couch, 27, an industrial-design grad from Georgia Tech, likes the attention and hopes it’ll spill over to his other designs, but his big idea didn’t come by way of D.C. love alone.
He initially thought of a table shaped like L’Enfant’s other city, the one split in two with right and left banks. At one point, he also considered a table depicting London and its municipal lines.
“Then I realized I have the perfect shape to start with right here. A lot of cities are kind of blobbish…but the District has such a unique shape, it’s very strong geometry,” he says. Plus, he says, “as a cube with a chunk missing, it lends itself to storage, so it’s functional that way.”
Couch began selling the D.C. tables while living and working in Anacostia as an artist in residence through a collaboration of ARCH Development Corp., a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the neighborhood, and the Covenant House Washington Artisans Program, which teaches woodworking and other job skills to disadvantaged youth.
He was kind of busy there, so sales have not been as brisk as they could be. “It’s not like I have a factory churning these out,” he says. He does have a model on display at Home Body, 715 8th St. SE, and photos on his Web site, justincouchdesign.com. He’s taking orders from both places and currently charging around $600, depending on the material. He built at least one with a Formica exterior, but it was tough to cut and reproduce. The current version has a white interior and a walnut veneer exterior.
His plans include moving to Shaw (his residency is about to end) and continued exploration of both furniture design and ramped-up production that will, he hopes, make his work more affordable. His tables—even the ones without wards—are funky, nontraditional shapes, and he thinks they could be at home in lots of homes in the region. Eventually, he says he may even expand into couches.
“I’m sure one day I’ll get around to it. It seems inevitable,” says Couch, who affirms that, yes, that is his real name.