hen designer Scott Jarrett moved to New Orleans from the often-dreary Chicago, he noticed the thing that many others are hit with when they arrive here from less tropical locales.
“There’s color everywhere; I just started noticing color,” he says. “Just the sensation of seeing color. When I started making paintings, I did so just to get that color desire out.”
Jarrett, trained in photography, ceramics and sculpture, started painting and eventually, began making furniture after moving to New Orleans. His company, General Public Designs, features furniture, home wares and art characterized by strong contemporary lines and use of New Orleans-inspired color.
Jarrett is from Mississippi, where he studied at Delta State University as an undergrad. He started graduate school at University of Alabama and studied ceramics and sculpture before transferring to the Art Institute of Chicago to study sculpture and photography.
While in Chicago, Jarrett created a series of “precarious” sculptures made from the refuse of urban dwellers, installed and photographed around the city. The sculptures included a shopping cart hanging from a wood beam that’s leaning against a wall; crates balancing on a paint can; and mattresses shoved in unusual places: At first glance, they’re just assemblages of trash, but after repeated glances you realize the objects are engaged in delicate balancing acts. But Jarrett imagined channeling his creativity toward something more practical.
“I’d always loved design, and I looked at furniture and wished I was a furniture designer because I liked that practicality,” he says. “[The sculptures] are completely different from what I’m making now, although I think the stuff I’m making now is still a little precarious, but practical.”
Case in point: A series of floating record shelves he made for himself after coming to New Orleans (he had a lot of friends from his Alabama days living down here, prompting the move). While seemingly more practical, the square shelves, painted in different bold colors, are inspired by the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd. And the shelves are really difficult to mount on the walls, Jarrett says.
The shelves, along with a coffee table and the paintings, were the first pieces of General Public Designs. Inspired by the strong lines and angles seen in contemporary design, Jarrett’s furniture consists of plywood shapes cut on a CNC machine, which are sanded and smoothed after cutting, then spray painted and sealed. The legs of the furniture are made of metal. In a city of reclaimed wood everything and antiques, this future-thinking retro style of furniture is not as common in New Orleans.
“Most other furniture makers in New Orleans are making traditional things out of reclaimed wood. They’re very good at it; they’re good woodworkers. My style – if you go to L.A., New York, Austin, it’s all over the place, but not so much here,” Jarrett says.
Jarrett’s new collection, which he is poised to launch when we talk, includes signature furniture pieces like barstools, side tables and benches, as well as home goods like planters, candle holders (containing candles he will make himself), bookends and a lamp.
The simple designs pop with color, the palette reminiscent of the Bywater, where Scott lives (he does most of his work out of a shop in New Orleans East). The pastel blues, pinks, greens and yellows of his pieces call to mind the painted houses, fading industrial buildings, painted logos on the brick walls of old business, and tropical foliage of the neighborhood. Besides insight into his creative process, Jarrett is always capturing inspiring color moments in the wild – even finding beauty in parking lots and abandoned buildings – on his Instagram page (@generalpublicdesigns).
General Public pieces are sold at Modern Market and Little Flea, the weekly flea market in the Lower Garden District, currently. Some of his paintings, aesthetic sisters to the furniture pieces, are sold at Hattie Sparks.
Like many New Orleans makers, Jarrett is largely a one-man team, although friends help him with different things in exchange for custom-made furniture – which is not a bad deal. Even though Jarrett he is still figuring out how to transition from an artist and designer to a business person, he has a casual approach to making art in New Orleans: Just make something, and then move on from there.
“I’s way more chill here,” Jarrett says. “I can move at my own pace.”