2006 Great Home Design: Hand Made Furniture

Furniture that's not only functional but also a work of art

By: Ann Cochran

Lovingly Made by Hand

Why buy a mass-produced hall table when you can find a handcrafted piece at about the same price? Or, if money is no object, why not own a dining table that’s a work of art?

Beyond beautiful materials, characteristics of fine woodworking include one-of-a-kind pieces, designed and built on a small scale. The designer might be the maker, or there may be other artisans trained to execute the work. Studio furniture is contemporary handcrafted pieces that are equal parts functional and artistic.

Many pieces are built upon order; other pieces, called production, are made individually based on design specifications.

To learn more, a good resource is the Furniture Society, at furnituresociety.org. To search for craft artisans—not just furniture makers—by state, medium, artist, or price, go to www.americanstyle.com and use ArtSearch.

HARDWOOD ARTISANS
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Remember the Loft Bed Store? Hardwood Artisans has come a long way from its 1976 roots, yet its idealistic spirit remains.

Inspiration comes from Gustav Stickley, who in 1910 rejected badly constructed, ornate, mass-produced furniture. During the execution of each Hardwood Artisans order, every piece has the customer’s name on it. As they work, the wood-shop workers are encouraged to imagine the final product going to someone they like.

In addition to loft beds ($2,000 to $6,000), the four stores have armoires, dining sets, wall units, Murphy beds, wine cabinets, and desks. Small pieces include plant stands for $120.

Hardwood Artisans, Alexandria, 703-379-7299; Chantilly, 703-803-7785; Woodbridge, 703-643-1044; Rockville, 301-770-0337; main number 800-842-6119; hardwoodartisans.com.

KEITH FRITZ FINE FURNITURE
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At 29, Keith Fritz has already had years of fine-craft and business experience. He began making furniture on the family farm in Indiana and won statewide awards in high school. He graduated from DC’s Catholic University in 1999 and was successful immediately. Bill and Hillary Clinton commissioned a yellow yew dining table for their New York home.

Fritz is known for custom tables, cabinets, and mirrors and for exotic woods, such as Coromandel ebony. His work is rooted in classic decorative arts. Prices range from a $2,000 mirror to a $30,000 dining table, with most tables around $10,000.

He is represented exclusively by Jayson 15 at the Washington Design Center, where merchandise is sold “to the trade.” If you are not working with a decorator, you can still browse. Designers are paged at the request of unaccompanied shoppers who want to do business on the spot.

Jayson 15, Washington Design Center; 300 D St., SW; 202-479-4114; keithfritz.com.

RED ORCHARD
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Eyes jump from place to place in this chock-full gallery of American craft accessories and furniture. Although Red Orchard celebrates the beauty of natural material transformed into functional art, it’s not all high art. Bradford Woodworking step stools have ax handles for legs ($200), and chairs have backs made of pitchfork heads ($320).

Owners John Helm and Caroline Liberty opened their first store in 1997 in Vermont. They moved to Washington three years ago but still represent artisans of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers (vermontfurnituremakers.com). A $4,995 Dale Helms bed of cherry with spalted maple had a knot in the headboard. Helms removed the knot but left the hole unfilled, for visual and tactile interest.

Red Orchard, Wildwood Shopping Center, 10253 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-571-7333.

SANSAR
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Veena Singh is a pioneer. She opened Sansar 25 years ago, selling high-quality American crafts, from silver earrings to lathe-turned furniture. She’s selective in every medium she represents: metal, textile, ceramic, glass, lighting, and furniture.

Shoppers come for unusual gifts such as a sculptured graphite dragonfly ($40) or a small porcelain bowl with a hand-cut rim hand-painted with 22-karat gold or platinum ($65). Others with interior designers in tow order $20,000 dining tables from furniture artist Michael Cullen. Some of his pieces have sculptural qualities; he carves shallow, repeated patterns into his blanket chests. Other artists’ work is more moderately priced. Robert Carroll uses maple, walnut, and mahogany to make $500 end tables and $1,200 hallway consoles.

Sansar, 4805 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-8676.

THOS. MOSER CABINETMAKERS
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Thos. Moser’s spacious Cady’s Alley showroom is one of only seven in the United States. These pieces are unadorned and graceful; the furniture’s natural beauty is in the material it’s made of, American black cherry.

Thomas Moser, now 70, was influenced by classic Japanese joinery, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the American Shakers. The newest lines, Aria and Vita, have the stamp of son David Moser and recall Bauhaus and Mies van der Rohe.

One of the newest pieces, the Laptop Desk ($16,540), manages to stay true to the company’s simple design while creating a home for a computer and wires. A 23-inch-high, 15-inch-square table is one of the lowest-priced items at $425. Appropriate to its pricing and quality, this furniture is guaranteed for the life of the original owner.

Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers, 3300 M St., Georgetown; 202-338-4292; thosmasmoser.com.