Why hide the way things work and how they are built? Architect/designer Eric Jacoby certainly doesn’t. With his growing collection of tables, chairs and toys, he captures design transparency for all to see and enjoy. 

Look closely at the folding chair to the left and you’ll notice something is missing: camouflage. The joints, structural supports, plywood laminations and moving mechanisms are all out in the open. And that’s exactly as its creator Eric Jacoby intended. “Seeing how something works and how it is built is completely engaging to me,” says Jacoby, who uses the terms “tectonic” and “transparent technology” to describe the exposed and exaggerated systems that characterize this chair’s form as well as those of everything else he designs, ranging from clean-lined home and office furnishings to architecturally detailed toys. “Instead of hiding connections and components, I try to express and celebrate them,” he explains. 

Photo Courtesy of Brooke Derek Johnson

Jacoby grew up working with his dad in his wood-and-metal workshop. During his youth, he developed a hunger for product design, and later, he studied architecture to feed it. He earned his Bachelor of Science in architecture at the University of Utah and completed his masters at UC Berkeley. After years working for HOK Architects in London and the Netherlands, he returned home to join his father and brother in family-owned Jacoby Architects in SLC. During his two-decade architectural career, Jacoby worked on complex multi-million dollar projects, but in his heart, his passion for designing products burned strong. So in 2017, he branched off from the family firm and opened Eric Jacoby Design. Now he conceives and creates everything from the streamlined boardroom tables and chairs to the structural toys that compose his current collection, each piece handcrafted in Salt Lake City. “I love architecture but this is more creative,” he says. 

Photo Courtesy of Brooke Davis Johnson

To explain his design philosophy, Jacoby compares wind-up mechanical watches to today’s smart phones. With the former, you can actually observe and understand the motions and interactions of the rotors, gears and levers. The technology of the latter, however, is intangible. “The moving pieces and intrinsic relationship between the technology and the form fascinates me,” he says. His Tectonic Coffee Table, one of Jacoby’s first offerings, illustrates this. Beneath the glass top, a steel frame supports a Baltic birch plywood box that serves multiple functions: a display surface for art objects and a storage cubby for books and magazines. “Each is carefully arranged into a unique sculptural system with modern lines and refined proportions,” he explains. The table’s construction and purpose is completely transparent and its design is honestly presented. And therein lies its appeal. In fact, all of Jacoby’s offerings—most are patented—share these qualities. 

Photo Courtesy of David Israelsen

Take his toy collection, for example. The wooden animals—giraffes, bison and snakes—all feature obvious mechanisms and structural parts. Their pieces are cut from the remnants of furniture production to minimize waste, an important objective for Jacoby. Their playful shapes and simple movements enchant children—including the designer’s young son and daughter—while their wooden forms attract adults who see them as architectural accessories to admire and display for years to come. 

Photo Courtesy of Derek Israelsen

The designer’s line of bugs, made of a biodegradable plastic, similarly capture physical forms and movement. “I’ve always wanted to do a line of insects because their exoskeletons are really exposed structures,” says Jacoby, who integrated moving parts in these pieces’ playful forms. Pull on the Tectonic Bee’s body to rotate its wings, lift one of his Tectonic Dragonfly’s wings to pivot another or lift his Tectonic Grasshopper’s front leg to make the back one kick. Simple movements that elicit simple pleasure. 

“I try to come up with things that are interesting and that I’d want in my house,” says Jacoby, describing the varied pieces he creates. When he isn’t busy sketching ideas or making products in the workshop/studio behind his family’s charming Salt Lake City home, Jacoby is brainstorming new product ideas with his kids, writing inspiring blogs for his avid followers, teaching workshops and participating in local design exhibits. “I’m really fortunate to be able to be doing this,” Jacoby says. “Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love driven by joy, curiosity and passion.” And that reads in everything he creates. 

Feature Photo: Derek Israelsen

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Brad Mee
Brad Mee is the Editor-in-Chief of Utah Style & Design Magazine.