John Sorensen-Jolink didn’t start as a furniture designer. In fact, being one “freaked him out” for a time. But today, he lives in a Brooklyn home that is filled with many pieces he created—and, in fact, it acts as something of a design laboratory.
Sorensen-Jolink started his career as a modern dancer. “For 10 years I was a professional dancer and I traveled all over the world,” he says. “At a certain point, I started craving a sense of home and a more tangible creative practice—something less ethereal that doesn’t disappear after an evening performance.”
He took a woodworking class while still dancing regularly, and a new career was born. When the class was over, he apprenticed with the teacher and began creating his own line. Today, through his company Coil + Drift, he produces furniture, lighting, and some accessories. The link between them (and with his former career) is a three dimensional quality and a sense of movement.
“Two years into it, I started freaking out about not being a trained designer,” he says. “Then I realized that, by being a dancer, I had been training. Intuitively, I had a sense of movement, form, and an understanding of space that I brought to my pieces.”
He brought that sense to his apartment in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. He and his husband stumbled across the place on their way to view another apartment and, once they saw it, there was no question they’d found their new home.
“It’s a unit on the ground level of the owners’ townhouse,” Sorensen-Jolink. “It’s an old building, and they did a great job of preserving the original details.”
Those details include a glowing hardwood floor, a large fireplace with rustic details, and windows endowed with scrolling ironwork and shutters that fold into the walls like pocket doors.
With his furniture business well underway, Sorensen-Jolink began using the place as space to experiment with and try out new pieces. “I’m always using it as a laboratory, and it continually shifts as I bring new pieces in and out,” he says. "I'll often bring a piece home and live with it before adding it to the collection."
In the living room alone, there’s his Soren chair (the half circle brings to mind a pirouette-like dance move), a Dusk coffee table and side table (with bases that give a new geometry to the traditional table form), a June mirror (whose lines evoke spinning) and a wall-mounted Hover shelving unit (with asymmetrical shelves that suggest a swaying motion).
That’s not to say everything here is made by Sorensen-Jolink. “We have a number of vintage items,” he says. “If we need something I don’t make, I’m looking for something that has a lot of style and is very well made. In many cases, that’s a piece of vintage furniture.”
Case in point: The antique candlestick by the fireplace and the metal-and-leather chair designed by Anton Lorenz for Thonet.
The kitchen, which is open to the living room, came with simple, white cabinetry. Sorensen-Jolink gave it a midcentury modern look that jives with his creations by adding a vintage MCM table and Marcel Breuer chairs.
An international flair comes from the numerous statues that decorate the space. “We have put a ban on new statues entering the house, but it’s a rule we constantly break,” says Sorensen-Jolink. “My husband came into the relationship with a number of folkloric masks and statues from all over the world. And, in a few cases when we've traveled together, we found ourselves buying a new suitcase to transport new discoveries.”
The bedroom is furnished in a similar handmade-meets-vintage mix. The classic Heywood Wakefield dresser, Eames chair, and flea-market find reading lamps live beside another Coil + Drift shelving unit and wooden chair.
Brand new pieces, such as a gray-velvet sofa from Article in the living room and a new Helix mattress in the bedroom round out the mix.
But this designer isn’t limited by the built realm, for a complete experience he delves into the worlds of nature and scent.
First, the natural element: “I just don’t feel that any home is complete without plants. It gives every interior a sense of life,” Sorensen-Jolink says. “Maybe it’s because I was raised in the lush, green environment of Portland, Oregon.” In his home, plants populate the areas near the windows.
Next, the more intangible element of scent: “Scent is so under-appreciated when it comes to creating a feeling. When I was traveling a lot, I would always carry a small candle with me. Unpacking it and lighting it gave the hotel rooms I stayed in a sense of home,” he says. “Now, I make a candle that has a light scent of fig and sandalwood. Because I burn it often, it’s a scent I associate with home.”
It was the need for a sense of home that launched Sorensen-Jolink’s furniture design career, and it is a need that has been fulfilled by this apartment. “I’ve been able to express my design sense here,” he says. “It feels comfortable and comforting to me.”