Ryan Thomson

For most furniture designers, it can take years, decades even, before awards and accolades come their way. But for Portland furniture designer Ryan Thomson, the first time was a charm. Thomson entered the prototype for his Res Table (below) into Show 2006, a local furniture design competition and exhibition sponsored by fix studio and held at Design Within Reach, and he walked away with best of show honors. “This was the first show I’ve ever entered,” says Thomson, 36. “There are so many people out there doing furniture design, and what they’re doing is great. It was nice to talk with other people who are using different techniques and materials and who are solving everyday problems on a human scale.”

   Thomson, who works in and manages the Model Shop at Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects LLP in Portland (where he creates his furniture designs in their workshop after hours), didn’t start out intending to win awards; he just needed some shelves. “I used to live in a tiny studio apartment in Northwest Portland, and I started building built-in bookshelves and desks to try to maximize the space,” he says. “From there I designed some entertainment credenzas and bookshelf boxes, and those pieces just kept leading further into furniture design.”

   Thomson, a Klamath Falls, Ore. native, holds an art degree from Southern Oregon University, but he studied photography and printmaking, not furniture design (he taught himself woodworking skills and furniture-making). He also attended architecture school for two years at Portland State University (“Between bike racing and snowboarding stints,” he says).

   Hoping to get your hands on the Res Table? Thomson is in the early stages of moving the piece—which can function as either a coffee table or, flipped onto its side (right), as a sofa table—into limited production. He’s secured a manufacturer to cut the thin slats from Baltic birch (the prototype is crafted from medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which Thomson then painted a buttery ivory color, slat by slat). Thomson estimates that the Res Table will cost less than $1,000. The original prototype isn’t for sale. “For all the nights that I was away from home working on it, now being able to put my feet up on the table is my payment,” says Thomson.

Contact furniture designer Ryan Thomson through his website,