Furniture design student carves inspiration from nature

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A. Sue Weisler

Byron Conn, a fourth-year furniture design student in the School for American Crafts, enjoys some downtime on one of his creations inside his woodworking lab.

While nearly 500 miles separate Montauk, N.Y., from Rochester, both communities have had an impact on Byron Conn.

“I spent a portion of my summers growing up in Montauk, learning how to surf with my uncle and it’s a large influencer 
of who I am,” says Conn, a fourth-year 
furniture design student in the School for American Crafts, College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. “While admiring the ocean and the beach, I grew a strong appreciation for nature.”

Conn’s appreciation for his surroundings followed him to RIT and “narrates the 
inspiration I have for my work—both 
visually and functionally. I relate the connections I see in nature to the relationships people will have with objects I create.”

Born in Basking Ridge, N.J., Conn became drawn to design and woodworking after a high school woodshop teacher instilled in him a passion for making things with his hands—so much so that he first began to consider furniture design as a career.

“I took some college-level math and physics courses in high school when I thought I might pursue a mechanical or aerospace engineering degree, but when I applied for college I knew I had to work with my hands and I couldn’t sit behind a desk for the rest of my life,” he recalls.

Conn applied early decision for RIT’s woodworking/furniture design program and knew immediately he was right where he was supposed to be. He credits furniture design professors like Rich Tannen and Andy Buck as well as their Materials and Process furniture studio course for furthering his passion for design and refining his woodworking skills.

“It has been rewarding to see Byron’s development as a designer and maker over the last several years since his arrival at RIT,” says Buck. “He has made some very sophisticated work. He has a balanced 
approach to his creative process, using a range of tools to bring his ideas to life—from simple pencil sketches to computer renderings.”

Tannen sees a strong motivation toward design and business in Conn. 

“Byron combines a strong entrepreneurial spirit with an unwavering commitment to quality in both the design process and in the process of object making,” says Tannen.

A class in grant writing and marketing for nonprofits paid off for Conn—literally. Applying the skills he learned in the course, he secured a Furniture Society Educational Grant that he will apply toward the cost of enrolling in the artist-in-residency program in SAC’s furniture design studio. Conn plans to develop a furniture line, Byron Conn Design ( 
during his time there. He’s also planning 
to apply for a Fulbright grant, which 
would allow him to study design at a 
master’s level outside of the United States.

“Ultimately my goal is to teach,” Conn says. “I have always been passionate about what I do, and I feel that teaching could 
instill a similar passion in others—as all 
of my professors have done for me.”