We had the chance to speak to Parker Cook, pro skier who also operates his own custom furniture company, Parker Cook Design . From the gnarliest things he’s done on skis to his process of designing a piece of furniture, here’s what we learned about Parker!
How long have you been skiing?
I was raised a ski patroller’s kid, so I’ve been in the hills pretty much my entire life and on skis for about 29 years now.
Photo credit – Courtesy of Discrete
What was running through your mind the first time you hucked yourself off a cliff?
Excitement mixed with fear, mixed with adrenaline, followed by a life long addiction to flying in the air on skis.
What’s the gnarliest thing you’ve done on skis.
There has definitely been a handful of insane ‘experiences’ I’ve put myself through, but I’d have to say the weekend in 2010 when I followed Julian Carr around Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon and we punched every massive cliff we could find. I think we logged over 500 feet of air time in just a few days. It was menacingly fun. So I’d say following Julian around can be one the gnarliest things anyone can do.
How did you get into custom furniture?
It sort of developed over time. I mean if you would have asked me 5 years ago what I’d be doing, I certainly wouldn’t have told you I’d be running my own small furniture business.
Photo credit: Parker Cook Design
It happened randomly actually. I was in a furniture boutique in Salt Lake and overheard a woman complaining to the salesperson that an iron table was too big, but liked the style. The salesperson repeatedly told her that was the only one they had, but would check with another store. I then checked the price tag of the table, and then instantly inspected the table to see if I could make its smaller, better, chicer twin. I decided I could, tapped the woman on her shoulder, and told I could make it for her. Now 3 years later that’s what I do for a living and my work can be seen in restaurants, bars, homes, and offices.
Who are your designs influenced by? Do the mountains/nature influence them in any way?
Honestly when you really start to notice, furniture design is everywhere. This obviously isn’t shocking but when you actually take time to realize how much furniture is involved in our daily lives, you’ll then begin to appreciate the complexities of its design.
I pull design influence from everywhere I go. Natural and industrial. My phone has an equal amount of pictures of random nonsense (skiing, kittens, sunsets, stock piles of selfies) and pictures of sides of buildings, odd storefronts, or weird cool old bars from Chile to Aspen. Traveling has a very big role in my work. I love seeing new things. New things inspire. I’ve made conference tables inspired by the tram towers of Snowbird. I’ve used wood for restaurant tables that have spent decades as snow line fencing. I gather design ideas from many places, turn of the century industrial factories, old beaten down weathered ski resort lift shacks, English pubs, art museums. Influence is everywhere when you’re looking for it.
How do you describe your artist style?
To me creating a piece is very organic. I like to let it come to me. I enjoy the process as much as like the finished product. I’m a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to sketching ideas as in I’ve got dozens of coffee stained notebooks scattered throughout my shop, truck, and office. I pretty much have a notebook on or near me at all times. You really never know when an idea will hit you. Some of my most unique pieces hit me in the middle of the night or I’ll be driving and have to pull over and feverishly sketch out an idea.
What kind of materials do you use for your designs?
Photo credit (left): Parker Cook Design
I use as much reclaimed material as possible. Reclaimed wood offers so much more character, and that character plays a big roll in telling the pieces’ story. Our quiver includes weathered douglas fir, trestle woods, historic oak, beat up distressed hickory, rough cut ash, knotty pine—the list goes on and on, but those are some of my favorites. I’ve made shelving units for a storefront out of 90 year-old rebar pull from a construction site. Turned out beautiful, and hopefully it will be there for another 90 years! Currently I’m working a dining room table that has 105mm howitzer artillery shell casings used for avalanche control work in Little Cottonwood Canyon for the table legs! Ultimately my recipe is pretty basic. Iron and wood.
You have an idea for a piece. What’s the process of turning an idea into reality?
I pride myself on turning someone’s idea into reality. I’ve become quite good at extracting visions and creating them. It all starts with a sketch. I’ll sit down with a client and we’ll look through design magazines or websites and start pulling out things that they might like. Then I take those ideas and draw up my own unique take on what they want. After we agree on a direction, I go back to my shop and draw out the idea on my wall sized dry erase board. From there I bring it to life in my little shop in downtown Salt Lake City.
Is there one design or piece of furniture that you’re most proud of?
Absolutely. It was more of a project than just one piece. It was a job I landed for a restaurant/bar in downtown Salt Lake called Bodega. A super rad basement bar, killer lighting, old exposed brick, wild art on the walls, record player playing everything from The Stones to Biggie to Charles Bradley. They have an awesome menu and the best cocktails in Salt Lake. My kind of place. I had met the owners for a bid and I ended up landing the gig. It was my first big commercial job. I owe Bodega huge because they definitely took a chance on me. And I crushed it! All done and said I’m their go-to for everything furniture. If you’re ever in the downtown SLC area definitely check it out.
Is it tough to strike a balance between your passions?
Photo credit (right): Parker Cook Design
Actually, they reflect each other with balance. One feeds the other, so to speak. Not to sound too “out there,” but it’s kind of a yin and yang. On the hill, it can get intense. Conditions can get gnarly. You can find yourself in situations that are super dangerous. People get hurt. I’ve been hurt. Obviously, we search out for those situations and directly put ourselves into harms way, but that’s part of being a professional freeskier. And I love it. It’s an endeavor of extremes, skiing can be super fun giving you the greatest highs but it also can take away everything in a split second with injury. But here’s the beauty of my work. After a super gnarly day skiing and shooting, I retreat into my shop where everything is calm and I control the variables. It balances me out. At one moment of my day I could be punching a giant scary-as-hell cliff or line and then 5 hours later on the phone with an interior designer from Park City talking about decor and the coloring of her chalet’s crown molding and building a beautiful one-of-a-kind dinning room table.
Building my brand. More clients. More businesses. More restaurants. Bigger shops. I’ve hired on a super talented kid from my neighborhood named Dustin Swan and he’s bringing in more business for us as well as building pieces. We just did Canada Goose’s Sundance ‘presence’ which is fancy for “gifting booth.” They loved our work and want us back next year. We also re-vamped Discrete’s trade show booth so there’s definitely a future in that world for us. Until then we’ll be taking it as it comes.
How can we keep an eye on what you’re up to both on and off the slopes? How can we buy your designs?
Right now, I enjoy the interactions and accessibility of Instagram. Many might scoff, but to me it’s right to business on IG. Just a simple pic of our pieces either in our shop or at the client’s house or business. I enjoy engaging people that are fans when we post pics. A ton of our business comes from IG and Facebook. We hashtag #parkercookdesign to most of our furniture unless the client doesn’t want it be public. Although, honestly, word of mouth is our biggest form of landing work. Nothing beats word of mouth. Our website is under construction but should be updated mid-Feb and will have a handful of popular pieces in multiple sizes in stock and for sale and then a link to custom-made stuff.
For my skiing.. I use the same IG and FB account. I want people to know who’s behind the furniture. One day, it’ll be a skiing slash post of a publication in the latest mag and the next day I’ll post a custom table. People seem to like it.
If it’s ok I’d like to thank my sponsors.
Photo credit (right): Will Wissman Stellar Media
Photo credit (hero image): Scott Markewitz