Jack White Is Getting Back to His First Love: Upholstering Furniture

Awash in orange light, with a blast of blue hair waging a quiet battle of bright colors, Jack White pauses the video interview and starts to get up out of a striped booth. “I’ll be right back,” he says. “I gotta show you something.”

White, 46, took the call in his house in Nashville—specifically, from the bowling alley wing of it, which he can’t help but laugh about. (“Everyone has one, right?”) “Three Pin Alley,” as it’s called, was designed by White himself, built to his whimsical specifications over an 18-month construction period, during which time he would often start the morning by drafting a day plan over coffee with the carpenters and contractors, a hands-on approach he says he prefers when it comes to creating something. “CAD drawings and blueprints and stuff—they don’t really inspire me,” he says. “They make me kind of scared that we’re going to go down this path that we can’t take back.”

When White returns to the booth, he has in his hands a green spiral notebook, which he says he stumbled on just a few days ago in his attic. Flipping through the pages, he explains that this was the notebook he used when he was a teenage upholstery apprentice, writing down techniques and tips for repairing and recovering furniture. “I remember scratching some things down and stuff, but oh, my god, the amount of notes I took, the drawings I made,” he says, holding up a sketch of the Herman Miller designer George Nelson’s coconut chair. “I was really paying close attention and really trying hard. And falling in love with it.”

Jack White with “‘My Sonic Temple,’” early in its restoration process. Photo by Olivia Jean.

Courtesy of Jack White and Third Man Upholstery

White has not one but two new solo albums on the way—Fear of the Dawn, an electric phantasmagoria out in April, and Entering Heaven Alive, an acoustic jaunt out in July—but he recently released an entirely different project online, quietly launching an art and design website detailing multimedia projects from across his life. Beyond writeups that span sculpture to photography to entire building interiors, the site also offers a look at the upholstery work that he’s been doing in some form or another for about thirty years. And in some sense, it’s the upholstery that’s the purest combination of all his other artistic interests: “You have to learn like a thousand different tasks” to work on furniture, White explains. “You have to basically be a carpenter, you have to know about fabrics, you in turn end up being a de facto interior designer by the end of it, you need to know how to sew like a seamstress. I mean, you’re turning all these disparate fields into one package. It’s wild.”

As a visual artist, White operates in much the same space as his music—slicing through any inhibitions about what might constitute “too much,” often to thrilling, destabilizing effect. He takes liberally from the aesthetic of his beloved De Stijl art movement, and works largely in variations of red, yellow, and blue, each color appearing to have a loose connection to a different focus of his life: red for the White Stripes, blue for his solo career, and yellow for Third Man. Even in something seemingly straightforward, like the restoration of an old Masonic bench—a gift he recently completed for Johnny Walker of the Soledad Brothers, who runs a studio in Dayton, Kentucky, known as the Lodge KY—somehow he’ll manage to choose a detail (in this case, a scorching blue velvet fabric) that makes the piece feel like a living, breathing thing.


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