I started working alongside my dad when I was a young kid. It wasn’t until relatively late in his career that he decided to become a professional carpenter, but he was working on things all the time before then, including our home, which he fully restored. To me, it seemed like there wasn’t anything that he couldn’t make or fix.
Some of my best childhood memories are of the two of us building decks together when I was eight. But, more than the practical experience, I picked up on his confidence. His belief in himself that he could build anything, that’s what stuck with me through the years. Nothing intimidated me, either.
Almost everything I know today about carpentry and crafting furniture, I taught myself. It was rarely pretty, but I was always better for it in the end. And I always somehow managed to achieve exactly what I set out to do.
Seeing beneath the surface
Also around the time of those decks, I figured out that I could assess a situation pretty quickly, though, of course, I had no idea that that’s what I was doing. As I got older, I saw what it meant to people to see them for who they really are. Traits and qualities that seemed obvious to me weren’t as clear to everyone else. Or, at least, weren’t as clear as quickly. I’d meet someone and, after a few minutes, feel like I knew him for years.
Once I realized that it was something a little out of the ordinary, I consciously started cultivating it and then applying it to my craft. It’s a common misperception that a furniture designer has a single-minded vision for his work. Truth is, I draw inspiration from all around me, most prominently, when I’m commissioned, the clients themselves. I’ll meet them in their home because it gives me a clear understanding of the space the piece is destined for. But it also helps me get to know them a little more. The modern home is a very telling environment. Seeing how someone lives, from what they keep on their kitchen counter to where they position their TV in the living room, not to mention all of the aesthetic choices intertwined within, gives me a bottomless reserve of insight to work from.
Before I leave, I usually have a clear concept in mind. The same goes for even the most involved carpentry projects. I can see a two-story addition in its finished form, paint drying on the walls, as though I’m about to unveil it to the homeowners. My recent kitchen renovation in Lambertville, NJ, was very much like that. I knew what I wanted for that kitchen as soon as I set foot in it and they shared their ideas for it. The trickiest part was asking them to trust me when I had nothing to show them.
The thing is, though, I never lose sight of that visual. And it’s not just some generic perspective. I can see each detail and even the emotion it’s going to elicit. That part comes relatively easily. The work comes in deconstructing it and figuring out how to make it. Just because I’m seeing something doesn’t mean it’s like anything I’ve ever built before. In fact, within any given project, whether it’s an armoire or a stripped-to-the-studs bathroom renovation, there’s bound to be aspects I’m building for the first time.
Breathing life into a design
Much as I love the challenge, I’ll admit that it’s not always the most efficient way to work. It is, however, the surest path to a one-of-a-kind design. I look at Phillip Lloyd Powell’s pieces, and there’s no way for me to describe them other than alive. They don’t reflect a certain period or a prevailing style. They’re constantly evolving, becoming relevant in a different way each time you see them. Not that I’d ever dare compare myself to him, but I’d like to think that my work holds some shimmer of that quality. Yes, I’m designing toward a modern-home aesthetic, but, really, I’d prefer to think of it as just beyond classification. I’m not just challenging myself for the sake of the stimulus; I’m often building things in a way they’re not usually made because it’s a smarter design.
My integrity, then, becomes the crux of what I do. This is going to sound bullish, but if I can’t build something the way I see it being made, I’d prefer not to build it. In this day of 3D CAD renderings, again, I know it’s a lot to ask. I’m coming to the table empty-handed, only my portfolio to offer as evidence that I know what I’m doing, and asking you to trust me with a months-long investment. It’s a difficult spot for both of us. But, where I may have had no right being as confident as I was back in my twenties, I’ve proven myself too many times since, never cutting a corner, never delivering less than what was promised, to not trust absolutely in my ability now.