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.
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:
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.”
Besides the owners’ saw-cutting at the grand opening of our Fairfax showroom last weekend,
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the auction of 30 hours in our Woodbridge shop with general manager Greg Gloor.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Next, they visited the White Temple in Chiang Rai. You thought our people at Hardwood Artisans were talented? We’ve got nothin’ on this:
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:
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:
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:
Not too shabby, eh?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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:
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
Or for more information, view the event details here.
It’s been pretty, but are we ready for this to end yet?
All in all, we think it might be nice if it stopped now.
This isn’t Michigan, after all!
What, you don’t think “fun” and “kitchen remodeling” belong in the same sentence? Having gone through one myself, and written about countless others, I think the sentence is possible if you go into it with the right expectations.
Hardwood Artisans has recently gotten into the business of kitchens, and the new Fairfax showroom has cabinetry on display to show the kind of work they do:
As you might guess, cabinetry from Hardwood Artisans isn’t cheap – in fact, no cabinetry ever is, according to this great write-up on the HGTV Web site. Cabinetry accounts for 35 percent of your remodeling budget – the biggest chunk of all line items, including labor and appliances.
As they say, you get what you pay for. So check out the cabinetry General Manager Greg Gloor and co-owner Mark Gatterdam built for their own kitchens:
Going back to HGTV, I tend to think its programming gets a little goofy at times, but the articles on its Web site are very informative. (Full disclosure: I’ve written a couple of them!)
Here are some other great links to kitchen remodeling on that site, which are worth printing and keeping. This one talks about finding a good contractor, and this one details how to set a budget, plan, and even pay the remodeling bills.
Another great resource for researching remodels is the National Kitchen and Bath Association, or NKBA for short. I found a good all-around article with consumer tips here, which talks about when — and why – to update, and there is an exhaustive Q&A that gets down to the nitty gritty of every aspect of kitchen remodeling, right here.
And if you want to know how the marketers have you figured out as a kitchen consumer, read this interesting article about a survey of more than 3 million households, which asked people about their searching and buying habits for kitchen upgrades.
So once you have your remodeling plan, you’ve set aside enough money for each of the line items (including those unexpected expenses that always enter the equation), you’re ready to have fun, right?
Speaking of fun…
Owner Ricardo Berrum is working with a couple who who just ordered a kitchen plan for their DC condo. They came back to Hardwood Artisans after buying a piece of furniture from us 20 years ago.
Part of the new kitchen plan includes custom-carved drawer fronts of quarter-sawn white oak, which the customer provided.
“That’s most likely the reason they went with us,” Ricardo says. There are about 20 panels that the couple purchased 10 years ago. “We’re going to try to use all of them and integrate them into their kitchen,” he says.
We’ll post pictures of the finished product in 10-12 weeks, once the project is installed.