I design and build furniture here in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I’ve been doing this for twenty years, making each piece one at a time, in a relatively small shop where any given tool is only a few steps away.
Though I’ve designed and built a wide range of projects, I’ve never considered expanding into a larger, more production-oriented shop. For some reason, staying lean and independent has always felt right. It keeps me involved in each step of a project, and it allows me the freedom to wrestle with a design--whether my own or in collaboration with a customer--and the time to develop that into something unique and personal.
When I did finally stop to wonder why this particular path felt so right, I found the answer wasn’t close at hand but lay in the past, when working with wood wasn’t woodworking at all.
When I was a kid, tromping through the deep woods surrounding our neighborhood, trees were magical--great, mysterious creatures of the forest, each with its own personality. I collected bits of them--fallen limbs, pine cones, scales of bark--testing their hardness with a fingernail, smelling their sap, inspecting their grain and color. And at some point, I began wondering if making something “useful” from these marvelous materials, might permit them into the more civilized world of our home.
The first piece I can remember making--I must have been nine or ten--was a reading lamp built for my mother from a twisted locust limb, speckled with tiny insect holes, which I attached to a slab of oak left behind from a chainsawed stump. It’s as strange and ungainly looking today as it seemed beautiful back then, but seeing it instantly brings back the mystery of making it. There was the joy of the first idea, and then the great wonder of its crafting: the feel of the cutting and sanding, the smell of wood dust and the glean of the wood from a rag and finishing oil. And then, of course, there was the final wonder of seeing it stand completed on a night table, shedding light to read by.
As indelibly as these early experiences imprinted themselves on me and the way I work, they’re probably not altogether foreign to a person who’s never worked a piece of wood at all. Anyone who has owned a treasured piece of furniture—a chest of drawers, a favorite chair, a mirror, or dining table--has probably felt, through them, a bit of this connection to nature. Wood, in a sense, always remains alive. It expands and contracts with the seasons. It changes color over time with exposure to light and air. And it gains a rich patina from the touch of human hands. These valued pieces live with us, companions through our time.
My challenge has always been the same. To create objects soulful enough to be worthy of this companionship.