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Meet Clair van der Swan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Clair van der Swan.

Clair, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up as painter in a very small town in China. One night, in another small town in Italy called Perugia, a musician gave me his interpretation of the difference between the making of art and the making of music: the form of art looks somewhat loose, but it requires much discipline; on the contrary, music requires much precision just to sound right, but the making of it can be as free flowing as water. At that moment, I realized that making sculpture-like furniture is both “art” and “music” for me. The first part of my career was a quite intoxicating journey.

I attended Instituto Europeo Di Design (IED) in Rome, a perfect spot for art, architecture, wine, and late night smokes! During my second year, I started looking for something new, somewhere new, and applied to Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles and became the first student in IED history to be accepted into their design exchange program. I was also the first exchange student ever selected for the “Chairing Styles.” (Chairing Styles is a unique collaboration of 30 students – 10 Textile Design, 10 Fashion Design and 10 Interior Design. Students are paired in teams of three to collaborate and create an end product that is quite unique.) I had the honor of having my Chairing Styles design presented at the FIDM runway show and gala. Being a small town girl, that was a big night for me, and from that moment on I knew I wanted the feeling of fulfillment I had that night to stay and that furniture design was going to be my career.

After FIDM, I went back to Rome and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Architecture Design, right before I graduate, a super fun restaurant project in Florence with great budget fell on my lap and I moved to Florence my laurel wreath crown graduation. But here is the brutal truth about me: I believe in true love, and I believed L.A. was my one true love. Italy was divine and comfortable but the economic atmosphere and design limitations (along with a lack of stimulation for me… sorry, Italy) made me question whether I should stay there or pursue a career in L.A. I made a spreadsheet or pros and cons, pinned it to my wall, and stared at it for weeks. But in the end, I realized all the pros and cons didn’t really matter. All that mattered was the ONE reason most important to me: I felt like I belonged in L.A. So I booked a ticket, and here I am.

Designing furniture has always been my sanctum. Each piece is its own small-scale work of architecture that I have complete control over. I believe in crafting with a human perspective, forging a new reality that brings craftsmanship and technology together with poetry, romance, and history, bringing renaissance modernism into the world. While working as an interior designer for studios, high-end residentials (where I learned a lot about the market), I started to have artisans hand-make my own furniture designs. In the autumn of 2018, I had the distinct privilege of being selected as one of the twelve leading architect/designers invited by WestEdge Design Fair and Knoll to create a “re-imagined” one-of-a-kind Bertoia Chair for the silent auction at that year’s edition of the WestEdge Design Fair’s Opening Night Party, presented by WestEdge, Knoll, and LALA Magazine. Proceeds benefited Safe Place for Youth, whose mission is to inspire, nurture and empower the resilient human spirit of homeless youth by providing immediate and lasting solutions, one young person at a time. It has been an interesting journey of inventing and making and finally bring them to its audience.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I’m really tempted to say, “Damn it hasn’t been easy from any perspective,” but I don’t want to be one of those people telling their sad stories in dramatic black and white contour lights with a violin playing in the background. So when there were struggles, I would get through it by focusing on the creative part of the design. As I said: that was my sanctum.

The edginess of trying to perfect every piece, every choice, and every detail, combined with my own insecurities (those crazy thoughts that circled like vultures above of my head, — “What if nobody likes it?” “What if it’s not buildable or it’s uncomfortable?” “What if it’s just too weird?” “What if I can’t find the perfect wood for it?” “What if, what if, what if…”) are the demons I’ve had to face and will probably always have to face. Call it the struggle of balance between daydreams and rational creativity, the longing for belonging and acceptance. But in the end, when I see the final product, I know the struggle was worth it and the demons have been exorcised. At least until the next time!

In the end, opportunities come with responsibilities. If the design represents my voice, I need to be the person standing behind it, embracing every story behind it. Because, in the end, I feel the responsibility, both professionally and personally to translate humanity into craft, and my own vulnerability into strength. As our very own Vincent Van Gogh once said: “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My company, van der Swan, exists primarily as a way for me to turn my daydreams into reality. Our handmade furniture and accessories are always unexpected, genuine, provocative and entertaining. We are not only known for the “Out of the Box Chair”, “Oblivion Seating,” and many other pieces, but also for the diary-like personal stories and artisan craft behind them. We walk the edge of old-time romance with the alchemist, forging the eclectic reality through the rebellion poet. We are not just a furniture company, it’s an exquisite welcome of your most exciting dreams yet to come.

What were you like growing up?
I was the kind of kid who grew up reading Jane Austin and the Brontës, painted all over the walls in our family apartment. My father is an architect turned into a contractor and my mother is a fashion designer, she has a pretty unique sense of aesthetic for art and a rather snobbish critic to my wardrobe, which actually served me well! She literally raised me all by herself while she had a full-time career, cause my father was always away at job sites in other cities, so probably a part of my fascination for architecture is me wanted to be closer to my father. I’m the kind of person who really doesn’t like to sit still, traveling is my high and the conversations with all kinds of encounters along the way add one of the most intriguing flavors to it, rock climbing, swimming, writing, movie, music, literature, art, I guess these are something I really can’t live without.


  • Out of the box Chair, $8000
  • Oblivion sofa, $5950
  • Yesterday Dining chair, $1995
  • The facade bench, $1100-$2265

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