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Torpedo Factory in Alexandria

Date added: 30-01-2009


A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to visit the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. I didn’t realize just how much astonishing talent is in our area. When most people think of DC, they think politics, lobbying, defense contractors, maybe tech or biotech if they’re in the know. I’ve never heard DC described as a great artistic Mecca, but I was truly impressed by the quality of some of the work at the Torpedo Factory. Here are a few of my favorites:

First is Nancy Reinke, a painter and print-maker. Her paintings seem very introspective, but her woodcuts are the real standouts. Would you believe that the above is a woodcut?

Next, Matthew Harwood, whose work just literally cannot be appreciated online so you will just have to visit and see it in person. These extraordinarily detailed drawings and watercolors are three-dimensional. Rather than being a quaint conceit like some I’ve seen though, these really jump off the page, I think due to their stunning level of detail. He’s draftsman-like in his precision.

Carol M. Dupre might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you enjoy M.C. Escher or the collage art of Dave McKean, you should really check out her studio. Again, these have to be seen in person to be believed.

Finally, something completely different: the Enamelists Gallery. A collective of fifteen different artists, this gallery features jewelry, wall hangings, bowls, trays and lots of decorative enamelwork. If you’re into color, the colors of enamel just can’t beat. None of the pictures on the site really picture how wonderful this gallery is.

And our own Mark Gatterdam’s mom, Barbara Gatterdam, has stoneware on display in the Scope Gallery. Such a talented family!

The weekend is coming so get out and take in some of DC’s local art scene. The Torpedo Factory is a great place to start. Just wear comfy shoes because you’ll want to stay all day.

Luddites Anyone

Date added: 28-01-2009

I got into this debate with the twenty something, now officially thirty something, marketing director of ours (Hugs and kisses, Alison). Silly really, but it typifies this ongoing …well, let’s just call it a difference in the way we look at life. She was paying a bill through the company of hers with a fist full of cash. I was curious why she’d choose to use up all her cash rather than pay with a check or some other arrangements with the accounting people. Then it began. The obvious was pointed out…just go to the ATM. Duh! When I pointed out that I did not have an ATM card, and had less interest of getting an ATM card, and that I prefer to go inside the bank and hand my transactions to an actual person, with an actual pulse, I was accused of being a Luddite.

Curt, one of my partners, quickly tried to intervene, only to confess that he too shared my lack of a banking card, and preferred dealing with someone with a pulse rather than something that beeps and burps at you. He took the next barrage of scrutiny, only to slink off slightly bruised. Thanks for taking one for the team, Curt. Us Luddites got to stick together, don’t you know.

The other day we had an oops in the shop, and the solution was to shave the face of the entire cabinet back about ¼”. Not a difficult thing to do in theory, but to actually do it is very difficult. The only way to really do this was by hand…enter Kevin Parker, one of our craftsmen. Kevin has a real passion for hand planes, and all things in the craft that are old timey. So, Kevin was call upon, and he proudly marched over and whittled away on the face of this cabinet for an hour or so, successfully saving both the cabinet and hours of additional time.

Think about this for a minute. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment in our shop, and the best solution to this and many other problems was a $25 hand plane. Who’s the Luddite now, Miss marketing director smarty pants? I’ll bet this internet thing is just a passing fancy, too.

Woodworking and other talents

Date added: 26-01-2009

I’m lucky to be surrounded by such talented people. Woodworkers, yes (genius, amazing woodworkers). But some of our genius, amazing woodworkers do other things as well. Take my friend Jason, who I worked with last year on the development of the Linnaea collection.

Not only can he build a gorgeous cabinet, he does wood turning and makes chain mail. When I saw his new Etsy store a few weeks ago, I immediately fell in love with a pair of chain mail earrings and today Jason was nice enough to bring them to me. It seemed sort of silly to mail them when we work in the same building!

Earrings by Sidewinder Studio

I feel much the same way about my new earrings that I do about my new file cabinet, which will be ready any day now. These were made just for me by someone I like, who likes me. It’s so rare to get that in a commercial transaction, but it’s a feeling I like and want more often.

This is part of why I’ve recently decided to buy handmade goods whenever I can — both for myself and for presents. Sure, sometimes it’s not possible (handmade iPod, probably not). But somehow my life feels enriched, just like we hope our furniture makes our customers feel.

Etsy clay love

Date added: 23-01-2009

It’s genuinely amazing to me just how many talented people there are on Etsy. I had always loved going to galleries and local stores like Appalachian Spring and Artcraft to see handmade items by local (and not so local) artists. This past weekend I also made a visit to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, which I will have to do a post about soon.

That said, another entire world opens up online. This Christmas I bought handmade ornaments for a friend of mine from a woman (Jennifer Orme) in the UK. I just never would have found her without the internet. She makes gorgeous jewelry too. I’m sure I’ll be forced to indulge soon.

Here are some other very talented artists on Etsy working in clay.


Element Clay Studio, Ceramics by Heather Knight


Ceramic coasters, LMNOProducts by Lauren McMahon


Judi Tavill, Ceramic Artist of Handmade Pottery, Vessels, and Objects

With all the wonderful handmade pottery out there, I am seriously reconsidering my decision to continue buying dishes from Crate & Barrel.

Value Added

Date added: 20-01-2009

We had a lovely article written about us by Washington Post columnist Tom Heath yesterday (nope, no relation). Pick a copy of the Post or read it online: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/washbizblog/2009/01/value_added_12.html

If you don’t regularly read the “Value Added” column in the Post, I highly recommend it. We really enjoyed working with Tom on the article.

I also want to thank our loyal customers for their comments over the past few days. We love you too!

Why furniture?

Date added: 14-01-2009

It always so interesting to ask craftsmen how they decided to do what they do. The other day in our showroom, I met a man who makes guitars for a living (an honest to goodness luthier!). The story behind that choice must be just fascinating.

I’ve asked our craftsmen this question and they all have their own stories, like the craftsman who works for us who comes from a family of cabinetmakers.

I asked a similar question of Adam King, a furniture maker in Olney, Illinois, and he said the following:

It’s that compulsion that drives me to strive for a closer connection to my materials and my heritage in this craft. It’s that compulsion that has me exploring new ways to bring a very real emotional connection to you through my designs and my stories. It’s that compulsion that’s moving me in a direction that is honest and true to my passions and talents so that I can offer you the best work I could possibly create.

Go read the rest. It’s worth it.

Etsy love

Date added: 14-01-2009

While I was talking to a friend the other day, I was surprised that she hadn’t heard of my very favorite website–Etsy. Billed as “your place to buy & sell all things handmade,” Etsy is a collaborative effort by tens of thousands of artists and artisans. Though they do have a full-time professional staff in New York City that runs the website and does their marketing, the true stars are the artists themselves.

There are extraordinarily talented people in every possible category you could imagine. Over the past two years, I’ve bought countless presents from jewelry makers, letter press cards from graphic designers, even clothing. There are even a number of vintage sellers. Nearly anything you could buy in a conventional store you could find on Etsy. Not only are the items often of better quality that anything you could find in a normal store, they are very reasonably priced, especially considering the time and personal effort these people put into their work.

Take my latest find, a blacksmith and metal artist in Phoenix named John Doss who does both practical and decorative work. Recently he posted an item for sale–custom kitchen and bath accessories for $39.00 each.

A few years ago when I bought bath accessories from Pottery Barn, I paid just as much for the same mass-produced fixtures that everyone has.

They’ve been just fine, but had I known that custom made ones that are much more distinctive could have been had for almost the same price, I would certainly have chosen those.

In any case, Etsy is well worth a look, but it can be kind of overwhelming with all those tens of thousands of artists so from now on, every Wednesday, I’ll be posting about a particular Etsy artist or artisan that I love in the hopes that you will too!

Rocking chair round-up

Date added: 12-01-2009

The Hardwood Artisans Bungalow Rocker has been one of our most popular pieces for many years so we know that our customers love rocking chairs.

For the past few days, blogger and fellow woodworker Mitch Roberson has been posting about rocking chairs. He has created quite a little resource guide that has amounted to the furniture equivalent of a gourmet guide to rocking chairs.

If you’re at all interested in woodworking, I highly recommend that you high-tail it over to Furnitude and check it out!

Hardwood Artisans buddy Jeri Dansky on Design Public

Date added: 09-01-2009

Over the life of this blog, we have made a few blogger friends. Jeri Dansky, a professional organizer from my home state of California, is one of them. Today I saw that Jeri had some great tips for keeping organized on online retailer Design Public’s blog.

Go Jeri!

DC Big Flea This Weekend

Date added: 07-01-2009

Hello all! Alison again, Mark being otherwise engaged.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a huge thing for antiques. I’m not quite sure why that is. My parents aren’t big antique lovers so it doesn’t run in my family, but an interest in history and a love of books and research definitely does. Most of the fun of buying something new (old) is going online or to my ever-growing collection of reference books and researching the history of a piece I’ve purchased.

Right near our Chantilly showroom is the Dulles Expo Center, home five times a year to the DC Big Flea, a huge antiques market and my very favorite place on earth.

Over 1100 booths in two buildings make for a very full day of antique hunting, but I’ve been going for several years and I have my favorite vendors, mostly those who specialize in mid-century modern pieces. Though not technically antiques at less than 100 years old, much of the time I unearth relics of a forgotten era: when average furniture was made from solid wood or good quality plywood instead of particle board, when everyone needed a personal ashtray after dinner and the imbibing of adult beverages was not limited to after work or weekends.

I admit that watching old movies or shows like Mad Men, I assumed that the scene presented had to be an exaggeration, or an affectation of Hollywood glamor. However, in talking to some the vendors at the DC Big Flea and sitting at Christmas dinner with a wonderful gentleman who was in advertising in the 1960s in Manhattan, I was forced to reconcile my romanticized view of a design era I love with a very different and somewhat tawdry image.

But then, that’s the wonderful thing about antiques or pieces that reference the past. It makes it easier to understand how we got here and move past where we are now, hopefully to something better. How’s that for a thought for the new year?

If you’re going to the Big Flea, make sure to swing by and see us in Chantilly. And if you stop into the Chantilly showroom on Sunday, I’ll play show and tell with whatever new treasures I acquired. See you then!

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