The fundamental nature of art,” says Tate Pray, “is that it has no use.”
But the Charlottesville-based designer seems bent on proving that maxim wrong, crafting wooden furniture that’s both functional and reflective of his playful sense of humor.
Pray seems to thrive on contradictions. He uses traditional woodworking techniques to give his stylish Modernist designs a rustic touch. And he balances his pieces’ clean, stark lines with witty accents. He’s built boxy dressers and side tables that hunch on insect-like legs, crate furniture “fastened” with cartoonish painted-on nails, and a trestle table with surface planks that follow the contours of the tree from which the boards were cut.
“I love humor and whimsy,” Pray says. “I think they are two of the great treats of life. So they have, and will, find their way into my work so long as I feel the expression is worthwhile and original.”
From his woodshop off Harris Street, Pray collaborates on projects with local interior designers and creates his own furniture and accessories. Furniture has to work like it’s supposed to, he says, but it also needs to look good. Pray says he tries to strike a balance between form and function that will best meet his customers’ needs.
Pray’s currently renovating a 500-square-foot showroom space next to his workshop, planned to open in late spring. There, he aims to “develop a cohesive collection of furniture, art, and home accessories that I hope will be a resource for designers as well as my local community,” he says. “I’m going for a New York loft-like, home-decor gallery vibe.”
The showroom is key to Pray’s goal of building his own brand here. “Charlottesville is wildly supportive of the arts and design,” he says. “If I can add something unique and honest to that, I know this town will support me.”