“Have you found your own style?”
Taylor Donsker ’10 heard this question a lot while studying at the USC School of Architecture. He eventually found his answer not in towering skyscrapers but in grains of wood.
As a major, architecture was a perfect fit for Donsker. He loved studying form and structures, and a study-abroad program in Asia opened his eyes to different techniques. “I fell in love with Japan’s traditional architecture and the temples, which were constructed out of wood with handmade joinery,” he says.
The pen is the most powerful tool you can have when designing or building anything.Taylor Donsker
But few firms were hiring when Donsker graduated. Spare time led the USC alum to explore woodworking and furniture design in his parents’ garage. His passion for hand drawing — a craft he refined in the “Architect’s Sketchbook” course under mentor Miller Fong ’64 — played heavily in the process. “The pen is the most powerful tool you can have when designing or building anything,” Donsker says. “It allows for working through problems or schemes in architecture or furniture designs much more quickly than a computer.”
He eventually landed a job at an architecture firm but after two years became disenchanted by its overseas projects and the heavy use of computers. “I longed for a closer connection to my projects, to see what I was designing transform and be built,” he says. He left and threw himself into woodworking full time, honing skills through books and videos. The switch felt like natural. “In many ways, woodworking is a smaller-scale form of architecture,” he says.
USC-trained architect finds his design voice in furniture
In 2012, he debuted his work at an interior design fair and landed on a website featuring new talent. Some furniture orders followed, but he still wondered: I have all this cool stuff to share. Why is nobody calling me?
It came down to timing — and expressing himself. “I hadn’t developed anything new in the world of furniture, and clients were watching and waiting for me to make something unique.”
First, you have to develop a mastery of what you’re pursuing. When you find your true voice — that’s what people have been waiting to hear.Taylor Donsker
Over time, he has come to draw inspiration from trees themselves. “Now, I look at the roots of a redwood and see a chaise lounge, the stump of a eucalyptus tree that should be a throne or a decayed walnut tree that needs another material, like bronze or glass, mixed in.”
Taylor Donsker Design makes 10 to 15 large-scale works of furniture per year. His international client base is grounded in architects and interior designers — longtime fans who find his organic designs work well with their projects. Sunset magazine recently lauded him as one of 2020’s emerging designers to watch. On the horizon is a move to Northern California to establish a permanent studio.
Twelve years after graduating from USC, Donsker believes he has finally found his style. “It takes time,” he says. “First, you have to develop a mastery of what you’re pursuing. When you find your true voice — that’s what people have been waiting to hear.”