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Musical chairs

Tor Clausen’s furniture makes noise.

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Sometimes the idea comes first. In the case of Olympia’s Tor Clauson, the owner and operator of Musical Furnishings, the idea was a bench with a xylophone in it. Then a treasure chest with embedded marimbas. His latest design is a modular table in which he can insert different harmonic and/or percussive devices (chimes, drums, cymbals, etc) to create a custom made instrument that four or more people can play on together. The thing is, although Clauson is an excellent woodworker, it’s not really his passion.

“I don’t give a f*** about woodworking,” Clauson says. For Clausen it’s all about the inspiration and the design. His inspirations have led him to become a craftsman, and a businessman, in ways that he wouldn’t have otherwise chosen.

“When I got the idea for these pieces I thought I would get someone to license them or hire me,” he explains.

That was in 1995. With no offers forthcoming Clauson set about learning how to make, market and sell his pieces, and more importantly, to ship them. Most of the orders for Clauson’s musical furniture come from outside of the area. This proved a problem when he sold his first pieces.

“I had slaved over two prototypes, and when I went to ship one of them it was two inches too long for UPS. That’s the kind of thing that nobody teaches you.”

Clauson bemoans the lack of mentors for artists like himself. Although his father worked on radios and passed on a certain amount of technical savvy to his son, when it came time to tackle the business Clauson found that he had to make a lot of mistakes and false starts on his own, “Luckily I had my work as a photographer to pay the bills, and a lot of support from friends and loved ones. It didn’t hurt that several of my prototype pieces sold when I was just getting started.”

Clauson says that most of the orders for his work seem to come from families, but that there is also a significant number of people who are purchasing these musical furnishings as “party furniture.” His latest table with it’s snare drums, cymbals, xylophone and a wide array of other possible (even customizable) sonic options sounds like something I’d love to put in a room full of musicians OR a room full of children (as long as I could have timeouts). He also says that he sells a disproportionate amount of his xylophones to people of Japanese heritage. It seems his xylophone chairs are a minor hit in Japan. There is even talk of a Japanese reality TV show bringing a celebrity to live in his apartment and help Clauson make a xylophone over the course of week in the life of Tor Clausen.

Looking forward to new undertakings like this, as well as public art projects and musical furnishings designed for the healing arts, Clauson is full of ideas, “These tables have legs, and I’m excited about exploring the possibilities.”

For more information on Tor Clauson’s Musical Furnishings, check out

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