Nicole Hodsdon, founder of Ciseal, found Midcentury Modern by inhabiting it. Working in a building designed by Eero Saarinen ignited an interest and appreciation for mid mod design that eventually led to her own career in MCM-steeped design. Nicole tells us more about her relationship to Midcentury Modern.

Ciseal Ray tablet stand
Nicole’s first product design has become the Ray tablet stand, pictured here in Sapele. Photo courtesy of Ciseal.

Bred in Michigan

Nicole’s first introduction to Midcentury Modern came when she worked as an automotive engineer at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan—a campus, she describes, “filled with Eero Saarinen’s beautiful, intentional International style architecture and interior design.” That was a revelation for Nicole, who explains, “Working there made me realize for the first time that design is so much more than a pretty face—it can affect people’s moods and work ethic in mysterious ways.”

Her time as a summer intern in Midland, Michigan further ignited Nicole’s appreciation for MCM. “Touring Alden B. Dow’s home and studio for the first time opened my eyes to the beauty of Midcentury’s combination of clean, intentional lines and natural shapes and materials.”

Nicole Hodsdon, Ciseal
Meet Nicole Hodsdon, founder of Ciseal. Photo courtesy of Ciseal.

She discovered the wonders of bent plywood, primarily from Charles & Ray Eames’ designs. “The first time I saw their LCW chair, I was hooked. It’s such an elegant design with subtle curves that make the relatively rigid plywood hug the body in a super comfortable way. They took the medium and stretched the possibilities in truly inspiring ways.”

Irish Layers

“After earning my BFA in Industrial Design, I was freelancing as a product and graphic designer. I was doing just about all of my work on the computer, and I was beginning to miss working with my hands and creating physical products. So, I set out to design and make something for myself. I learned how to make bent plywood while at the College for Creative Studies, and the process really stuck with me. The first product I made was what became the Ray iPad stand. Some friends encouraged me to try selling them online, so I set up a shop on Etsy. When I got that first sale to a complete stranger on the other side of the country, I knew I was on to something.”

Interlochen Stool Ciseal
Interlochen Stool in Birch is one of the handmade products Nicole offers through Ciseal. Photo courtesy of Ciseal.

Thus began what grew to become Nicole’s “full-time obsession,” Ciseal, featuring her bent plywood designs, and all of it is handmade in her Michigan studio. Nicole explains why she chose the name “Ciseal”: “Bent plywood gets its strength from its layers, and Ciseal means ‘layer’ in Irish. Since I have a lot of Irish blood in me, it seemed like a natural name for my little bent plywood company.”

Nicole describes her guiding vision for her work at Ciseal: “There are so many things being made, sold, and bought in the world today.  If I’m going to add to that plethora of things, my products need to be beautiful and useful and they need to spark a smile whenever you see them and use them.”

A Day in the Life

“The process typically starts by spreading glue onto multiple layers of thin, flexible sheets of wood veneer. I then press them into a 2-part mold using clamps to keep even, strong pressure over the entire surface, making sure there are no gaps between the layers. When the glue dries, the layers become one, creating a rigid piece that’s much stronger than its individual layers.”

Alden table, Ciseal
An aerial view of the Alden table showcases some of Nicole’s handiwork. Photo courtesy of Ciseal.

Most of Nicole’s day is spent in this process. She takes us through a typical day, beginning with bulletproof coffee and tending to administrative tasks and any blog posts. Then, Nicole says, “I get to make things.  I start each day in the studio with molding products since it takes about 6 hours for the glue to dry.  Then I start making dust as I trim and sand the products I’ve molded on the previous days.  I try to work in batches so I can be most efficient with my time.  The end of my day in the studio is usually for putting the finishing touches on products that are ready to go and then boxing them up so I can ship them the next day.  I know it’s quitting time when my dog Fozzie starts bugging me for a walk—he insists on one every afternoon.”

Atomic Ranch is Celebrating Women’s History Month!

March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, join us as we showcase some of the midcentury’s most beloved women designers as well as some modern makers inspired by their legacy. Click here to read more about the ladies behind your favorite designs, pieces and places.