Furniture making is a man’s world, baby…….Unless your Aurora Sylvia and her all girls team.
Aurora Sylvia (far left, above) and her all girl team break the stereotype that only men are woodworkers. Her team consists of Hilda Berrum (second from left), Angela Cruz (third from left), and Isabel Abrego (far right). When asked to describe the women on her team, Aurora said, “They are all very nice, wonderful people.” She went on to describe each of the craftswomen individually.
Hilda is very serious but intelligent and a good worker, Isabel is very good at walking furniture – fitting drawers, and inserting parts, and Angela is good on machines.
Aurora has been working at Hardwood Artisans for eight years now and met her husband here. She is known around Hardwood Artisans for her motherly disposition, as well as her precision on machines.
In the past Aurora brought in lunches for workers, and to this day still has a passion for cooking. She says that her favorite thing to make is tamales.
Aurora is the mother of three, having raised her children for many years on her own, Aurora says that it can be difficult balancing raising children and having a full time job, especially when her kids were younger.
Many employees at Hardwood Artisans describe Aurora as a sweet, serious, and hard worker. When asked what her hobbies are, she blurted out with a smile “I don’t have time for hobbies!”.
Aurora, hopes to learn how to make more pieces and continue learning different skills. It is obvious that Aurora and her all girl team are an asset to Hardwood Artisans and will continue to break the stereotype that only men make good woodworkers.
“I wish I had the title of master craftsman,” says Sergio Zepeda, Hardwood Artisans’ craftsman. He desires that moniker. After 10 years of being a professional furniture maker, Sergio says he is still pursuing that goal. Think about that for a minute.
Sergio, like most of our cabinetmakers, is a perfectionist. He works to create the perfect piece, but in woodworking, there is always something less than perfect. Wood is organic, natural, and unpredictable. He is pictured next to our popular Simply Beautiful Secretary, a piece that requires numerous skill sets to craft.
Along the lines of his perfection, when asked what his hobbies are, Sergio says he likes to go to the gym, but then adds that his goal is to get to 10% body fat, weigh so-and-so amount, and be able to lift such-and-such amount of weight. He likes to work in specifics.
Conversely, he loves to cook, which was evident at our recent Lemonade Social where he was one of our chefs (right before he assembled a cabinet for demonstration!). He also has recently picked up fishing as a hobby. He does these things to balance the perfectionist inside.
Sergio is the father of two boys, 6 and 9, and has been married since 2005. His wife, Olga, lived in California previously. They met when Sergio went out to California to see family. After that, Olga received the first email Sergio ever sent, which he signed off as “your future husband”. Many more emails later, he convinced her to come to Virginia. They were married 8 days later. Now this is a man who knows what he wants.
More contradictions in his world: Sergio has his “famous” sleeveless shirts he wears pretty much every day, which he has made custom for himself; His house looks like a self proclaimed miniature Hardwood Artisans showroom, but he does not show it off; He gets very intimidated when starting a custom order, but he loves the challenge, and he always works through the problems, questions, and concerns; He says that he learns from everyone, even the “new guys”.
A great craftsman once said that ‘the measure of a craftsman was not by how many mistakes he makes, but by how well he hides them’. If we can get past the idea that anything on earth is truly perfect, I think we can honor Sergio with the title of Master Craftsman.
Hardwood Artisans craftsman, Greg Smith, has been with Hardwood Artisans off and on again for about 15 years. The 43 year old craftsman grew up in the Alexandria, VA area, and attended T.C. Williams High School.
Greg works on various dining tables, chairs, and custom projects that require the occasional “thinking outside of the box”. Greg says that his favorite piece to make is the Shinto Stool, because he likes the “obstacles” the piece presents. Greg began working for Hardwood Artisans in 1993 because his uncle worked here and thought it would be good for Greg to learn a craft.
Greg spends his spare time doing oil paintings and playing video games. His goal is to merge oil paintings with woodworking, replacing art glass panes with oil paintings. At work, he is a little, shall we say, sloppy with the work areas, but at home he is what several friends describe as a “neat freak”. These contradictions in life are seemingly typical for Greg. Ultimately, his goals surround a more metaphysical ideology, of serenity.
Greg has mastered mortise and tenon work, as evident in the chairs pictured. The split back splat was his design. He has several unique pieces that he has designed and crafted for himself and family members. We have several photos of his work throughout the organization. We featured Greg Smith here because we consider him a unique asset to Hardwood Artisans. Feel free to interpret that any way you like. As we like to say around here, if you are looking for normal, go someplace else.
Our customers are so often the exact inspiration needed for a new standard product. Not only are you creative but you are very good designers – no wonder our standard line keeps growing. This story starts when co-owner Mark Gatterdam met Aaron and Catherine in our showroom.
Aaron and Catherine have always had a fine appreciation for watching things unfold. Aaron told us, “We have always appreciated furniture and viewed it more as functional art as opposed to things-to-put-stuff-on.”
Their house was built in the 1940’s by Aaron’s great grandfather for his Grandfather and Grandmother to live in. His ever so handy Grandfather also built houses for his three daughters as well as another one for himself. I’ll let him tell the rest of the story:
“They are all located in Baton Rouges’ Garden District Area adjacent to Louisiana State University. Upon my grandmother’s passing Catherine and I decided to purchase the home from my dad and my aunt. We felt strongly about keeping the house in the family; four of the five houses are still owned by relatives. Our house is very small by today’s standards, just under 1,000 SF.
Catherine and I purchased it in rough condition. We are on the tail end of completing a massive renovation. Because the house is so small everything that goes in must be considered very carefully. Too much of anything, or anything large and bulky, or the wrong color will weigh the rooms down and cause them to appear very crowded and cluttered. Catherine and I have considered furniture very carefully. We drew a lot of inspiration from pieces on display at the Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach, California.
Catherine and I try to make the festival each year while visiting her grandparents on the west coast. We have been considering furniture to fill this house for over three years… we don’t get in a hurry.
We visited galleries when traveling on vacation and business. I even considered building some of my own pieces (believe it or not I can hold my own in the shop.) What initially drew me to Hardwood Artisans was the use of solid hard woods and the oil finish. No one does this for production… are y’all crazy? Catherine and I chose standard pieces from the Hardwood Artisans portfolio.
We thought we would push you guys just a little bit with the idea of incorporating a more “unique” headboard. It wasn’t until I saw the Motus Desk at the Culpeper shop that realized exactly what you guys are capable of. We were hoping that you all could understand our broad design ideas and then use your talents and ideas to create a design that matched us. That is exactly what you all did. To me that is infinitely more difficult and personal then simply taking a customer’s design and building it according to spec. We certainly appreciate the human element and emotional labor that you and your design team have incorporated so far. We cannot wait to see the final product.
As far as names… We’ll defiantly throw one in the hat for consideration… We’ll need to sleep on it. I’ll let you know our vote.
Here are a few pictures of the final bed!
Last fall, I had the opportunity to go to the Great Falls Studio Art Tour. My first stop was at Linda Jones’ home/studio. I fell in love with her paintings the moment I saw them, and I knew I had to ask her if she would be willing to display her artwork in our showrooms. To our luck, she said yes. And here we are now, with our newest artist displaying her artwork proudly at Hardwood Artisans.
It’s no wonder that Linda has been inspired to paint. Born and raised on the south coast of England, Linda has been surrounded by beautiful landscapes and scenery her entire life. Her interest in landscapes transformed into the study of geology and geography, and even as she was teaching the subject, she encouraged her students to sketch the landscape to understand it better.
Like many families that move to the US (including my own), the plan was for Linda and her family to move temporarily to Virginia for 2 years. That was in 1989. 22 years of living in the woods of Great Falls and within walking distance from the Potomac, gives her all the inspiration needed for her paintings. Having been to her home, I can see why Linda is inspired. She has pointed out to me the several birds that she painted just by looking out her window.
Although Linda has been sketching and painting since she was a child, she picked up her aunt’s set of watercolors at the age of 9 or 10 and started painting the roses outside in the garden, she had not studied any form of art until her daughter went away to college to study art herself. Linda did not realize that by taking her daughter’s advice, she would be turning her whole life around. (Linda’s daughter now works in art therapy with Alzheimer’s patients, and is also an extremely talented painter herself).
Linda has experimented with different mediums, but she prefers watercolor, acrylics and mixed media (involving fabric and paper collages). Almost all of her subjects tend towards realism, but she also enjoys painting abstracts. “Although most of my paintings are inspired by my immediate environment, I am fortunate to have travelled to paint in other parts of North America and Europe”, she says. She loves natural woods, such as maple, cherry and walnut, for framing her paintings, as she feels it’s very appropriate for her themes. She does all the framing herself.
Considering all the inspiring landscapes around her, Linda loves painting ‘plein air’ but usually tends to finish her paintings in her studio. She loves painting in subtleties and vibrancies of colors, especially showing the way the natural light hits her subjects. The best way to truly understand what Linda does is to take a look at her paintings yourself.
Linda’s gorgeous artwork is on display at our Fairfax, Alexandria and Rockville showrooms. For more information, go to the Great Falls Studios website (where Linda is a board member) to take a look at their annual tour, or click here to be directed to her website to view more of her artwork.
You can also view Linda’s works at the Garrett Arts Gallery Shop in Oakland, MD and the Deep Creek Lake Visitor’s Center in McHenry, MD.
We had an incredibly exciting March 31st at our Woodbridge shop. At 10:00 am, two buses arrived in our parking lot, stuffed to the brim with first graders. At first sight, the buses were quite intimidating and I almost began looking for a table to hide under. I (luckily) regained my composure and greeted the newcomers, all 80 of them. This crowd came about after we received a call about a month ago from Dale City Elementary School. They were interested in getting a tour of our Woodshop for all 80 of their first graders. My first reaction, echoed by many others, was ‘eighty?!’. However, once everyone got over their initial shock, we were all buzzing with excitement and ideas. We’ve given large tours before, but as far as I know, never to 80 first graders, so it was just as much of a new experience for us as it was for the kids.
I was speechless when I saw the two buses pull into the lot, but somehow managed to introduce myself and get them all into the showroom. In my flustered state, I was unable to take a picture of all of the children filing off of the bus, but I did snap a few of the hectic day! Check them out below and let us know what you think.
I asked them what they thought our Library Wall Bed was and I received the answer ‘it’s a shelf, DUH.’ It was only when I pulled the bed down did the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s start. The reaction to our Glasgow TV Lift was one of pure earsplitting joy, which is something the first graders and I have in common.
A few of the questions that Emily and I faced:
“Where do you get your wood?”
“Why do you make everything out of wood?”
“Are your lamps made out of wood?”
“How much does that cost?”
“How much does the entire company cost?”
“How did you become a craftsman?” (I’m proud to say that several of the children want to become craftsman when they grow up!)
“Can I buy that for a dollar?”
“How much does the world cost?”
“Is the world made of wood?”
It’s safe to say that these kids were very curious and did pose some very good questions!
We all had too much fun giving these tours! We thoroughly enjoyed Dale City Elementary School’s visit and hope that we get to see them in the future (maybe as craftsmen themselves!) Always keep in mind that we offer free tours, even to large groups such as this. We benefit from it just as much, if not more, than you will. If you’re interested in receiving a tour, email me at email@example.com or come into our Woodbridge Shop and we will have one of our talented craftsmen show you around!
The third and final installment of our Photo Contest results contains several of our favorites. Enjoy!
This custom built-in window bench looks great in this room and made most of us want to pick up a book and settle in.
I can’t decide what looks better – the ship or the Hall Table underneath it!
Can you just say ‘aww’? This adorable dog makes this dining table look absolutely adorable.
Nicole has a great dining room set! And great photography skills – she was one of our Honorable Mentions.
This Waterfall bed fits in perfectly with the feel of the oriental decor in this bedroom.
This photo shows off the dovetail joinery of our drawers and the gorgeous cut of our wood… but it’s hard to look beyond the cute cat. Nick doesn’t need to get a cat bed – it looks perfectly happy in our Craftsman chest.
Thank you for looking at the results and entering the contest! We all enjoyed it. Keep an eye out for more blogs in the future – especially for one on our Cutting Edge event for those of you who can’t make it down for the festivities.
Bill and Dru Vodra have so much of our furniture in their Alexandria home that when I went to visit the other day, he laid out one rule for the tour: “The default position here is, it’s Hardwood Artisans. We’ll tell you what’s not.”
The Vodras are among our dearest customers who keep coming back for more, and it’s with their constant support, input, and ideas that our lines have evolved from just loft beds to any imaginable case good for the home.
That’s why, when they walked into one of our showrooms recently and a sales associate who didn’t know them approached, co-founder Larry Spinks waved off the associate. “Oh, don’t bother with them – they’re family.”
Keep reading to get the full house tour.
For a while, I thought Murphy beds only lived on old sitcoms. Honestly? I didn’t think they existed anymore. I laughed when Mark Gatterdam first told me that Hardwood Artisans made Murphy beds – I thought it was a joke. I had in my head this image of some cheap bed falling out of the wall, hitting some poor slob over the head with a laugh-track voiceover.
Weeellll, not so much, it turns out. The way these artisans make enclosures for the Murphy bed, so you would never know there was actually a bed in back, was a surprise to me.
“People are so amazed to see they still exist,” Mark says. On most of the Hardwood Artisans beds, all internal bed mechanisms come from the original Murphy Bed company.
One of them is featured in the current online edition of Washington Spaces magazine, where Joan and Jack Dempsey hired us to build one for their small basement so it could be used as a guest room—when it wasn’t in use as a poker room or wine cellar.
“I’ve known about Hardwood Artisans for years,” Joan Dempsey says. When she and her husband downsized to a remodeled carriage house in Alexandria, they knew they wanted a Murphy bed. “We knew they did extremely high-quality work, so it was a no-brainer to go with them.”
And because these beds come with Tempur-Pedic mattresses, she adds, it’s much more comfortable than a typical pull-out. The ultimate compliment came from her 16-year-old nephew: “He said he had never slept in a better bed. He talks about it all the time. I don’t know what kind of cat nip they have in that bed, but it was amazing.”
Another project in DC’s Chinatown (which I blogged about for Washington Spaces last year) allows Annie Kammerer to work in a sleek, contemporary office by day, but still make it welcome for guests at night.
Not only does the custom unit fold down into a bed, a panel on the outside also folds down into extra desk space.
Annie had this to say about the outcome, which she shared on the Spaces blog:
“The den really functions as both a spacious office and a cozy guest room–I swear it doubled in size with this installation. The guest drawers to the left of the double bed (coupled with the closet) make the room comfortable for two guests. The office is definitely the most Zen space I’ve ever had to work in.”
Joan Dempsey says she turned to us because no other company would agree to change their measurements for her space, and much of what Hardwood Artisans does is custom. “It wouldn’t have worked if they had not worked with me.”