Simply Beautiful Furniture.

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Auf Wiedersehen, Good-Bye

Date added: 11-03-2010

Must all good things really come to an end?  Alison Heath, our marketing director extraordinaire, will be leaving us after this week. Her last day in the showroom is Sunday.

Alison Heath

Alison Heath

She came to us in 2007 after a career in marketing for non-profit organizations, and after a well-earned spring break, she plans to return to that realm. We’re just happy she decided to venture into our realm for a few years.

It all started when Alison was at the Convention Industry Council, but she had developed a habit for vintage and antique furniture on the side. “That was part of why, when I was looking through The Washington Post Magazine, I noticed a curly maple Waterfall coffee table” in our regular ad, she says.

Waterfall Coffee Table in curly maple

Waterfall Coffee Table in curly maple

She looked us up online, and loved the furniture. “Most people wonder, ‘Which piece should I buy?’ But I was wondering if these people needed any help.”

Alison called General Manager and Co-Founder Greg Gloor, and they later met for an informational interview. That led to Alison working in the showroom part time for about nine months while she kept her day job. Two years later, however, she signed on full time with us.

I asked her what her favorite parts of the job were. “It all comes down to the customers. Where in the furniture world do people just come for a visit?”

Customers – especially our repeat-customers – will often stop into one of our showrooms, ostensibly to look for something new, but end up staying for an hour just to chat.

“It’s like going to work and meeting the coolest new people every week,” Alison says. She adds that another favorite element was writing the newsletter.

“I loved it when someone would come up to me in the showroom and mention something I had written about, like the 3/50 Project (www.the350project.net), which promotes shopping at independent retailers,” Alison says. “It made me feel like I was providing a valuable service and it was fun to share some of my values, like buying local, and events that I enjoy, like Smithsonian programs and exhibitions, with other people who would ‘get it’.”

So why is she leaving? At 31, she’s still exploring different avenues in the marketing world, and she wants to make room for some “balance,” she says, such as her volunteer work with the Smithsonian, her church, and her family when they come into town from California.

And we admit it – a seven-day retail operation has a way of invading every pore of your life – but in a good way, right?

At any rate, it will be hard for her to forget us, as she is the proud owner of two pieces by Hardwood Artisans – a file cabinet she helped design (“sort of a combination of the Linnaea and Essentials styles”), and the pièce de résistance: A platform bed with floating headboard.

Alisons dresser and sideboard

Alison’s dresser and sideboard

Alisons Platform Pedestal Bed

Alison’s Platform Pedestal Bed

Alisons file cabinet

Alison’s file cabinet

“Once you get accustomed to a certain quality of furniture, it’s hard to go back,” Alison says.

We all hope she’ll keep her word and continue coming back to visit. We wish her the best of luck!

P.S.  From Mark Gatterdam: Alison’s leaving is very hard for me to get used to. Since almost day one she and I have worked to update the look of Hardwood Artisans. We agreed and fought and settled with each other. We completed each others sentences. She has done a lot of good for this company, and I for one am a much better person for having known her.

Too Wet or Too Dry? Neither, Please

Date added: 09-03-2010

Dry, cracked mud

I remember when I lived in Florida several years ago – with a roommate who hated air conditioning.

Picture it – No air conditioning, in July, in South Florida. Feel sorry for me?

Beyond my personal discomfort, my beautiful vintage walnut dresser was the one that really paid the price. Before I finally moved out in search of better climate control (and a better roommate!), the drawers of my poor dresser had swollen to the point where I couldn’t open them without a significant amount of elbow grease.

The opposite, of course, is true in drier climates, like Washington, D.C., in the winter. Wood furniture can shrink the point where it can crack or become visibly smaller.

Dining room tables can lose almost an inch of their length this way.

Mark Gatterdam recounts the tragic tale of his own house – we’re talking the framing here, which is a bit more consequential than mere furniture. There was a ton of rain on the construction site while he was building his house in Orlean, VA, which caused the framing to swell. The first dry season he and Erika were living there, the framing dried and shrank, causing a spider-web of cracks in his walls that were as much as 5/8-inches wide.

“I had to jack my house back up because the wood framing dried,” he says.

Humidification can be an awfully dry topic (so to speak). But for those of us in the business of hardwood, it’s pretty much what we think about all the time.

Our shop and showrooms have even harsher climates than homes, due to the constant forced air and the multitude of bright, hot lights everywhere.

That’s why, if you visit our shop in Woodbridge and look high into the rafters, you’ll see what look like large rectangular boxes spritzing mist into the air every couple minutes – just like you see in the produce department of the grocery store.

When the system doesn’t work at times, we know immediately, as our lumber piles start to crack.

Our Rockville and Fairfax showrooms are also humidified. Before the system was installed in the new Fairfax showroom three weeks ago, some furniture panels shrank, so they showed an unfinished ring around the edges that once was hidden inside the frame. The birch cabinet doors in our design center also warped a bit, but everything should be back to normal in a few weeks, thanks to the new, higher levels of humidity.

While the concrete floors in the new showroom are really cool, furthermore, the concrete is a thirsty substance that sucks all the moisture out of the air, so the new system will offset that effect, too.

Mark says that once you take a piece of furniture home, it should be fine, unless it’s in an area of extreme moisture (such as a basement) or dryness (if you move to Arizona).

For the most part, he says, wood that is sourced and built in this region is used to the climate, but if you bring it out to the dry West or down to the wet South, there could be issues – just as there were with my nice dresser in Florida.

“It’s one of those things about solid wood that you have to anticipate,” he says. “There’s an awful lot to be said for buying furniture regionally.”

If you’re really feeling geeky, and want to know even more about the effects of humidity on wood, check out this informative article, right here.

Arts & Crafts Artisans Stick Together

Date added: 03-03-2010

Because so much of our furniture is known for its Arts & Crafts style, we like to complement that look with other objects of the same genre. Go into any of our showrooms, and you’ll find beautiful lamps by the William Morris Studio, framed decorative tiles by Motawi Tileworks, pottery by Ephraim Faience, and clocks and bookends by Schlabaugh & Sons.

Interestingly enough, all these companies were formed in the ’80s and ’90s, exactly one century after the movement that inspired them. Let’s learn more about each one:

William Morris Studio:

William Morris, an artisan in Benicia, Calif., makes Arts and Crafts lamps that would make the original William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement, proud. The contemporary Morris says the two share kindred spirits, but he has no idea whether they share any blood relation. “I’ve never been interested in figuring it out,” he says. Growing up, he adds, the connection “never even crossed my mind … It doesn’t matter. I have my own voice.”

And what a clear, bright voice it is:

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

William Morris lamp

Morris and his wife, Renee, debuted their collection of lamps at the Baltimore Craft Show in 1994. Before that, he had been a precision shop machinist for 17 years, and was looking to do something more artistic. He works with glassmakers and potters such as Ephraim Faience Pottery on lamp vessel designs; once they send him the vessel, he creates the wooden base and caps. Renee crafts the shades from translucent mica and parchment, using leaves from their own backyard.

Because of his background, Morris says, “I have that skilled eye” to create his varied designs. “There’s no formula. I just know — it’s one of my gifts.”

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A Chat with Matt Donohue, the Winner of Shop Time with Greg Gloor

Date added: 26-02-2010

Besides the owners’ saw-cutting at the grand opening of our Fairfax showroom last weekend,

Owners (left to right): John Hillgren, John Buss, Mark Gatterdam, Ricardo Berrum, Kevin Carlson, Curt Smay

Owners (left to right): John Hillgren, John Buss, Mark Gatterdam, Ricardo Berrum, Kevin Carlson, Curt Smay

Hardwood Artisans version of a ribbon-cutting

Hardwood Artisans version of a “ribbon-cutting”

One of the highlights of the afternoon was the auction of 30 hours in our Woodbridge shop with general manager Greg Gloor.

Greg Gloor, Matt Donohue, and auctioneer Stan Schelhorn

Greg Gloor, Matt Donohue, and auctioneer Stan Schelhorn

Of 15 bidders, Matt Donohue placed the winning bid at $1,650 – a real bargain, he said, since few finished pieces of Hardwood Artisans furniture cost so little, and on top of that, he gets shop time with one of the masters to build his own piece.

Matt is a budget analyst for the Army by day, but in his free time he loves to do woodworking in his basement shop in Burke, VA. Keep reading for a full interview on what he wants to do with his prize.

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Mark’s Excellent Adventure in Thailand

Date added: 24-02-2010

If the folks here haven’t seen hide nor hair of co-owner Mark Gatterdam in the last several weeks, there’s a reason. He and his wife, Erika, conveniently used their points to take a first-class airplane ride to Thailand. For three weeks. During the worst snowstorm we’ve seen in decades.

So: while you were out shoveling 20 inches of snow, here’s where Mark was:

Welcome to fantasy island.

Welcome to fantasy island.

Yes, while we were complaining of backaches and sore arms from all that shoveling, Mark and Erika were complaining of sunburn on the blog they created for the trip. As for aches, those got kneaded away by the 12 massages Mark got during the trip. His only complaint? That he didn’t get more.

From his perspective as an artisan, though, Mark was able to share a few observations that didn’t make the rest of us snowbound losers gag ourselves.

Bangkok is known for its tailors, so Mark and Erika both had clothes made for them while they were there – bespoke service for less than what you would pay at Nordstrom’s for a nice suit, can’t beat it.

Marks fitting

Mark’s fitting

They also visited a Thai Craft consortium, which showcases saori, a weaving technique. Sales benefit women affected by the 2004 tsunami by keeping them employed by their craft.

Thai Craft consortium

Thai Craft consortium

Next, they visited the White Temple in Chiang Rai. You thought our people at Hardwood Artisans were talented? We’ve got nothin’ on this:

White Temple in Chiang Rai

White Temple in Chiang Rai

Erika also saw a notice in a local paper for an art fair of master craftsman who are skilled in the Japanese bamboo basket weaving technique, known as beppu. They wouldn’t let Mark take any pictures, but we found some representations here:

Traditional Japanese basket weaving

Traditional Japanese basket weaving

Another example

Another example

Mark’s fondest memory is of going to Myanmar, and riding down the Mekong River into Laos. “Sitting on this long tail boat, scooching down the Mekong River, I’m thinking, ‘How did I get here?’” he asks. (That’s the David Byrne in you, Mark. But rest assured, that is your beautiful wife!)

And finally, a note on cutting trees. We have a huge shop filled with big, powerful machines to cut the wood for our furniture. It takes mere seconds to cut through big, long slabs of it.

But as Mark was sitting by the pool one day, he saw someone truly dedicated to his task, with nothing but a dull blade:

Pruning palms

Pruning palms

Here’s what he said about it: “We spent an hour watching a man pruning the coconut palm tree by the pool today. Everyone was watching. He climbed the tree barefoot, and proceeded to cut the fruit and lower it by rope to three men below. He was using what was obviously a pretty dull hatchet, chopping repeatedly at his task. These people are really very industrious.”

Watch out, artisans – run for the hills if you now hear Mark telling you that you need to be “more industrious.”

We’ll exit this post now with one last bragging right from Mark. You see, while we were staring out the window at a blizzard, here’s what Mark was looking at:

By the pool

By the pool

Not too shabby, eh?

Bill and Dru Vodra: Just Like Family

Date added: 21-02-2010
Look inside the Vodras’ lovely home on the Potomac River in Alexandria, and you’ll find a collection of Hardwood Artisans furniture dating back to their first purchase in 1985.

Look inside the Vodras’ lovely home on the Potomac River in Alexandria, and you’ll find a collection of Hardwood Artisans furniture dating back to their first purchase in 1985.

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.”

Bill and Dru Vodra sit on one of our sofas in their living room.

Bill and Dru Vodra sit on one of our sofas in their living room.

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.

(more…)

How Much Would You Pay for This Man?

Date added: 17-02-2010
Greg in his workshop

Greg in his workshop

Now think hard. This is our general manager, Greg Gloor, who will give you 30 hours of his time in our Woodbridge shop to help you make your own piece of Hardwood Artisans furniture.

You can bid on him at the grand opening of our Fairfax showroom at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 20. And you can have fun doing it: Alison asked a member of her church “who’s a really funny guy” to do honors as the auctioneer.

Your money will go toward a great cause: Kids R First, (www.kidsrfirst.org) a charity based in Fairfax County that gives 98 percent of its donations to school supplies and college scholarships to children from needy families in our region.

So that’s where the money goes. And what do you get with your 30 hours, you ask?

Well, here’s an answer from our esteemed artisans, and I quote:

•          Have you always wanted to learn how to build furniture or pondered what goes into the process?

•          Have you always wanted to know how the objects you sit on and eat on are built?

•          Do you want to gain knowledge so you can build the perfect chair you have always dreamed of or a nightstand that is just the right height?  These 30 hours with Greg will give you the basic skills and knowledge to do so.

•          Have you always wanted to learn how to design furniture, how to get the proper dimensions for a piece, what type of wood to buy, what nails you should use, if any?  All of these details you will learn in the 30 hours.

•          Greg Gloor is the founder and general manager of Hardwood Artisans.  He and his friend Larry started Hardwood Artisans in 1976 as a simple two-man shop using only a router, Skilsaw, hand sander and drill.  They built loft beds and platform beds from birch wood.

•          Greg knows woodworking. Greg knows furniture design. Greg is also a wonderful, fun person to work with and learn from.  Not only will you learn great woodworking skills, but we believe you will have an great time doing it.

•          The best part of this auction is how you will be able to put the skills and knowledge Greg teaches you to a practical use.  You and Greg will go through the process of designing and building your own piece at our incredible wood shop in Woodbridge.

•          Greg is willing to work these hours into your schedule.  If the weekends are a better time for you, we can arrange it.  If the weekdays work better, we can make it happen. We want you to learn a lot, enjoy your time and leave the shop feeling happy, and with a piece that you can call your own.

Quick, easy kitchen fixes

Date added: 15-02-2010

Kitchen remodels are never inexpensive, particularly when you have a personal commitment to quality like many of our customers. Let’s say you aren’t ready to completely overhaul your kitchen, at least not for the next few years. There are several easy-to-do solutions that can give your kitchen a quick facelift.

Cute and colorful knobs can brighten up your kitchen.

Cute and colorful knobs can brighten up your kitchen.

Replace (or add) knobs and pulls. When my parents bought their latest home, it was brand new and completely built and finished, therefore, it was up to them to customize it.  One of the first things to go was the standard bronze knob on the all the cabinets. My mom is a very cute, crafty lady, so she chose very cute hand painted ceramic knobs, similar to this one. What a difference it made to the kitchen! What was a once pretty standard became whimsical and inviting. Imagine what knobs like these could do to your cabinets.  Just be sure to check the size you need before you buy. If you have 3″ handles, you’ll need to purchase handles that screw in at the same place – you don’t want to fill holes.

A sophisticated glass knob

A sophisticated glass knob

Replace light fixtures. If you have a kitchen light in the middle of your kitchen or hanging over your kitchen table, swap it out. Don’t be afraid to throw some color into your lighting.

Colorful lighting can cheer up any kitchen.

Colorful lighting can cheer up any kitchen.

New floor coverings, linens and upholstery. If you  have rugs in your kitchen, say at the kitchen sink, put a different colored or textured one down. Not only are new rugs more squishy (therefore better for your back), but a brightly colored one could really pop! New hand towels, table cloths, placemats and kitchen chair seats can make a world of a change too. You can keep within the establish color scheme by trying out a new pattern too – got flowers? Try stripes!

A new rug can completely change how you look at your kitchen.

A new rug can completely change how you look at your kitchen.

Clean off your countertops. This may seem silly, and more of a cleaning issue than a design one, but it’s shocking how different your kitchen can look when you de-clutter your countertop.

So the next time you think you need a new kitchen and don’t have the funds or motivation for a re-haul, try even one of these things and for a fraction of the cost and time you can get a new look!

Katie Grech is a designer at Hardwood Artisans. You can email your design dilemmas to Katie here and she will answer as many as possible in future posts.

“Ribbon” Cutting? Yeah, right.

Date added: 14-02-2010

Most grand openings involve a ribbon cutting to get things started. But as we contemplate our upcoming grand opening at the Fairfax showroom, ribbons just didn’t seem to fit who we are.

So, we’re going to do a different kind of cutting on Feb. 20 – with THIS:

Who needs scissors?

Who needs scissors?

It’s an antique loggers’ saw that Curt Smay found at a friend’s house, which is where he got this great idea. Two of our guys are going to use it to slice open a log to unveil the new store – which quietly opened last month, but we’re pulling out the big guns, er, saw, next Saturday. How cool is that?

After the official log cutting, customers can come in and enjoy music, food, wine tastings, and demonstrations. Owner Mark Gatterdam will talk about furniture care, and Edwin Moncada will be explaining the technique behind creating stained glass.

Meanwhile, customers can also participate in our live auction to win 30 hours of time in our Woodbridge shop with owner Greg Gloor, who will help the winner make a furniture piece of his or her choosing. So if you know anyone who loves woodworking, bring them along!

Here’s where to find us:

Pender Village Shopping Center

3905A Fair Ridge Dr.

Fairfax, VA 22033

703-537-0600

Or for more information, view the event details here.

Snow, Snow Go Away

Date added: 09-02-2010

It’s been pretty, but are we ready for this to end yet?

This is what the Fairfax showroom looked like Friday night.

This is what the Fairfax showroom looked like Friday night.

By Sunday, the Fairfax showroom looked like this.

By Sunday, the Fairfax showroom looked like this.

And the parking lot looked like this.

And the parking lot looked like this.

All in all, we think it might be nice if it stopped now.

This isn’t Michigan, after all!

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