The ground is thick with wood chips and shavings, the air perfumed with sawdust and hot metal. A trim figure dressed in a white crewneck shirt and white denim, Aaron Poritz is alternately restless and focused. One moment he is polishing the edges on a piece with pointed intensity, and the next he is doing pull-ups on a ceiling pipe. Aaron moves around his woodshop with such energy that the sawdust never quite settles.
He shares this workshop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard with several other woodworkers, the path towards his side of the shop mired with various unfinished projects. Today, he and Karol Cylwik are working on a custom piece — a credenza, which lays claim over the workbench. Both figures bend over the corner of the piece, whose elegant curves and tambour wood sliding doors gleam in the filtered sunlight.
On the bench alongside them, a toolbox, but not made of the standard plastic or metal that one might expect. Masculine and elegant, it is a clean rectangular shape in dark, black walnut wood, with crisp corners and attractive, yet subtle, finger joints at its edges. This toolbox is a handsome, handmade piece of artistry and functionality. The piece’s simplicity recognizably distinct, an element of Aaron’s architectural signature: function meets timeless design.
At Poritz & Studio, Aaron sells, in his catalog of handmade products — ceramics, furniture, and other woodworked goods — this elegant box as the Abner Toolbox, named after the grandfather who taught him his craft.
Abner Segal was a craftsman who honed Aaron’s interest in ceramics, woodworking, and metalworking. His father, Sidney Poritz, was a sculptor, developer, and builder. “I grew up building houses,” Aaron explained, “and because I had grown up around things being built, I have a much better and [more] realistic understanding of what worked and what didn’t.”
Between these two figures, it’s no great surprise that Aaron would eventually choose architecture as his path, completing his Bachelors of Architecture at the California College of the Arts in 2008. After working for a New York architecture firm for three years however, Aaron became restless. His uncontainable kinetic energy urged him to take a hiatus.
While visiting friends in Nicaragua in 2012, inspiration struck. Aaron met someone who was working to salvage wood from the felled trees of 2007’s Hurricane Felix. Faced with the raw materials of beautiful hardwoods, Aaron found an outlet for his creative energy. He envisioned creating a line of furniture that was well-designed, high quality, and affordable. “I decided to design about 30 pieces of furniture in three months, and prototyped all of them … one thing led to another, and I ended up getting a New York Times Home and Garden article.”
Though orders came rolling in, his venture in Nicaragua wasn’t meant to last. “I tried … for several years … [but] I couldn’t make it work,” Aaron sighs. “The quality control in Nicaragua is different than here. The wood was beautiful and very old, but it wasn’t being dried properly, so the change in climate from Nicaragua to here was too drastic, and the wood was splitting.”
The famous British architect, Norman Foster, once said, “If you weren’t an optimist, it would be impossible to be an architect.” Aaron’s relentless sense of optimism and purpose gradually propelled him to shift and adapt his operation to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
His goal was to create an interdisciplinary studio that celebrates great design and craftsmanship, and creates products that have a good story, thus, Poritz & Studio was born. Through this company, Aaron collaborates with other designers and makers. This model of working in collaboration has allowed Aaron to continue designing and building houses, create custom furniture, and build heirloom quality products to enhance everyday living. Poritz & Studio’s wooden handiwork lends warmth and texture to Washington DC restaurants All Purpose, The Red Hen, and Tail Up Goat. In addition to these design projects and work for private clients, he also makes smaller wooden products for use in the home — jewelry and tool boxes, bowls and trays, and richly hued cutting boards.
Though it was a trip abroad that initially moved him to make goods like these, the process of making them has reconnected him to his roots. He grew up in Leverett, Massachusetts, near the Berkshires, in a town of 500 people, where the sense of small town community is strong, a spirit very much at play in his collaborative work model.
Twice a month, Aaron collects and selectively harvests wood from his father’s properties in Massachusetts and Vermont, where he owns nearly 400 acres of forest. “I do use, whenever I can, oak and cherry from my father’s land.” Besides providing the wood for his smaller projects, Poritz & Studio has another connection to Massachusetts.
“I grew up doing ceramics,” says Aaron, so to keep himself from being inspirationally spent, he reconnected to the most grounded process imaginable; he started making ethereal, multi-hued pottery, firing the vessels using the oldest known method. He begins by making ceramic forms — round pots, deep bowls, cups, and vases — in Brooklyn, and brings these forms home to Leverett.
There, “I dig a hole in the ground and then make a big fire,” says Aaron. He nestles the pots into the ground, covering them with wood shavings, leaves, metal oxides, salts, sawdust, and dried manure before sealing and setting the pit ablaze. “You get these beautiful, cosmic-looking, carbon-trapped patterns on the pottery,” Aaron says.
Through the grain of the wood and the hue of the clay, Aaron maintains these connections to his home in the very materials of his distinctive work. Be it in the form of a smooth, oak baguette board, a deep ceramic bowl, or an inviting wooden table, Poritz & Studio invites texture, artistry, and the spirit of collaboration, into the homes of those who support them.
Photos by Brian Elledge, Video by Joe Kramer