Huston & Company has done many installations over the years in homes, hotels, residential buildings, libraries, schools, and various other corporations and organizations. The deliveries have included planes, trains, cranes, automobiles, vans padded out with heavy moving blankets, moving trucks filled to the brim, power tools, hand tools, and blood/sweat/tears. No install has yet to compare to the most recent installation that happened recently on Portland’s waterfront in the new Sun Life office complex. This post is on the recent install and how it came to be that 7 craftsmen, 4 flights of stairs, and a grand ocean view welcomed home a gorgeous 18’ long functional art form: the Sun Life Community Table.
A bit of a backstory, about a year ago Huston & Company was contacted by Red Thread to see if they would be interested in working together to design and build furniture for Sun Life’s new office complex being built at 58 Fore Street, the former site of Portland Co. Complex. The 100,000 square foot complex broke ground in 2020 with visions to create dining, hospitality and entertainment venues, and feature direct access to Portland’s waterfront through scenic public park plazas. Sun Life made commitments to work with local talent in Portland and surrounding area, both in their field of finance, and also in the build out of the complex space.
Red Thread is a group of designers who transform workplaces to engage employees and support their best work by integrating furniture, technology, and architectural systems. Their name was crafted after an ancient Chinese Proverb that says:
“An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”
They say, “The legend of the ‘red thread’ expresses the way our brand, culture, and values are translated into our work environments through furniture, technology, and architectural systems.”
Red Thread made a call to Huston & Co. to begin the web of connection from the woodshop in Kennebunkport to the seaside of Portland, Maine in the new home of Sun Life. Sun Life: is a leading global financial service company helping clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. They currently have offices located around the world, including offices in South Portland and Scarborough that house over 500 employees.
In discussing the formation of this collaboration, Huston & Company Owner, Saer Huston recognized the unique connection made between his small business and a large global corporate partnership group. He stated, “we are a unique fit for corporate spaces, often these larger scale buildout projects choose more run of the mill production furniture.” He was intrigued by their interest to work with Huston & Company to purchase locally as well as work with them to create something that was not only functional, but also held the qualities of warmth, character, artist aesthetic of the local landscape.
During the design process, the contract landed on building furniture for a total of four conference rooms and multiple pieces for their soon to be Community Area. Together they decided on working with natural Ash as being the main wood for the majority of the furniture, and with Claro Walnut slabs chosen for the large Community Table.
The conference rooms included custom builds of the classic Newton Trestle Table. The Newton Trestle Table balances modern design with the longevity of traditional handcrafted, hardwood furniture. These tables were originally designed in collaboration with interior designer Erin Gates. Two of the conference rooms were outfitted with big 78” round custom Newton Pedestal Trestle Tables. The other two conference rooms were outfitted with custom rectangular Newton Tables 54” wide x 84” long. The Newton Table is inspired by mid-century design, offering clean lines and a juxtaposition of natural materials; brass intermixed with the natural wood. Both the custom round and rectangular tables were customized with electrical boxes and solid brass feet, combining functionality and elegance.
In all the conference rooms, the Newton Tables were accompanied by customized Newton Sideboards. These Sideboards were customized with recycling sections and various storage compartments to meet the functional needs of Sun Life’s community.
On the 4th floor of the complex is the Community Area. Huston & Company designed and delivered three custom pieces to this communal gathering space: a round Balance Coffee Table, a large custom Balance Console, and the Sun Life Community Table.
The round Balance Coffee Table was inspired by The Balance Collection, which are a group of builds with graceful curves and floating tops, and seen as sculpture-like works of art. A true father and son collaboration from Bill & Saer Huston, the tables in the Huston & Company Balance Collection employ bent wood curves to create free-flowing forms inspired by the ocean.
The large customized Balance Console in the Community Area is particularly dramatic with its 8’ wide stance that looks as if it defies gravity.
(Pictured in the Sun Life Community Area: Balance Coffee Table and Console)
Last but surely not least for the installation is the large slab Sun Life Community Table that went up to the top floor. In thinking of the design for this Community Area, Owner and Designer, Saer Huston, worked with Red Thread & Sun Life to meet the intention of creating a space where nature meets community. Together they designed a piece that brought in the raw natural aesthetics of wood to connect with the rugged Maine coastline as well as create a physical space and landing for people to circle, gather, and collaborate. The table was built with a base of natural Ash and the slab on top was made of Claro Walnut (a Californian Black Walnut). Claro Walnut is an American exotic tree, native to the upper Sacramento River basin. The lumber it produces is known for its deep rich colors and intense figure. The particular slabs of wood for the table had natural voids (holes) which were filled with strips of solid brass.
Saer’s design ideas had its own invisible “red threads” of connecting people to place and as a result he designed a piece that included function, artistic aesthetic, and connection to landscape. To begin the build, he and his team began with two raw slabs from the same tree that started at 2 ½” thick by 6’ wide and together measured over 26’ long. The two slabs once cut and brought together created an 18’ long table with waterfall ends (a waterfall edge is a mitre in the slab, cut when grain is wanted to “fold over” and creates a waterfall look and effect, allowing the grain to continue down the side leg panels folded over). Because the two slabs were a matching set (bookmatched) it created the ability to put them end to end and create a mirror effect and seamless transition from slab to slab.
(Sun Life Community Table begins: raw slab)
(Sun Life Community Table: Mitered cuts complete; waterfall end)
In trying to figure out how to manage natural voids and characteristics in the slabs, Saer wanted to steer away from a more commonly used epoxy pour to fill the holes. Instead he used brass strips as a nod to traditional joinery with a modern twist. This detail allowed the natural character and beauty to come through, as well as created more of a tactile experience for the user. When speaking of the design, Saer spoke of this detail in a way that increased engagement with the piece. “This detail may draw people closer in to explore the beauty of the piece, and yet the feature is still functional enough that you could slide a water glass across it without it tipping over.”
(Fitting brass strips over voids)
(Modern brass strips)
Installation day came in phases. The conference room pieces and the Balance Tables in the Community Area were easy pieces to be delivered. The massive Sun Life Community Table was another story. It took seven guys walking up four flights of stairs, carrying up this large table in two sections, with less than an ⅛th inch to spare. Saer had gone to the site a half dozen times with tape measure and full size template to make sure it could actually fit through the stairwell and up onto the top floor. The day came and went, and sure enough they made it up to the Community Area and assembled this work of art with draw bolt connectors. “It looked absolutely stunning,” Saer said as he reflected on the day.
(Finished product in its home, Sun Life US, Portland, ME)
Now on the other side of the Sun Life project, Saer’s shoulders rest a bit lower as he sips his morning coffee with ease, no longer up at night thinking about the 146 stairs and ⅛ of an inch pass through. He reflects with gratitude for the opportunity to work with both Sun Life and Red Thread. “A small company like ours might often be overlooked in a project of this magnitude. I am grateful for the opportunity to work locally and together.”
This large table is the second table of the big Live Edge Slabs that live on Portland’s waterfront. The first build of this caliber was for the Luna Bar of the Canopy hotel, now the home of a Huston and Company backlit slab table. Portland’s premier Interior Designer, Jaqueline McGee of Ealain Studio Design, mentioned in Decor Maine that visiting the iconic Luna Bar table has become a weekly stop point.
(Luna Bar Table)
Huston & Company is currently working on an additional large scale table in Maple, slated to be delivered to Maine Savings Federal Credit Union in October. This project is a collaboration working with Creative Office Resources to design a memorable piece for the Credit Union offices. This project is a “massive” u-shaped table, 24’x12’x24’ with elements of the live backlit river edge and a vertical privacy panel, similar to the Luna Bar.
(Render for the Maine Savings Federal Credit Union Table)
Huston & Company may be a small operation, but the designs, intentions, and details are quite large. I may be biased as I am married to Saer, but trust once you sit at one of these tables or stand near a console, you too will feel a thread of connection to something greater.