Interior Design, Anyone?

Designer Katie Grech finished grad school at the Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids, Mich., less than a year ago, and she has something very few of her former classmates have: a job. “I feel really lucky to be here,” Katie says. Those of her friends who do have jobs, she adds, are mostly making copies and doing research; “I’m just kind of lucky to be doing design now.”

Katie built this rocking chair at home last summer.

Katie built this rocking chair at home last summer.

Katie earned an undergraduate degree in interior design, and focused on furniture making in grad school. She came our way through her mother-in-law, who she says had always admired our work (thanks, Mrs. Grech!). Her mother-in-law told her – maybe half joking? – that she should work here after graduating, and sure enough, Katie called Alison, our former marketing director.

We recognized her talent immediately and made space for her. She’s spent the past six months learning about our lines and how they are built, and she’s now our go-to person for interior design when customers ask for the service.

Katie sketched an early version of our Waterfall mirror.

Katie sketched an early version of our Waterfall mirror.

“We started noticing there was a niche for interior design” after a few customers inquired, Katie says. “It just kind of fell into our laps.”

One client, who had bought a house full of furniture from us, asked for help picking fabrics and colors that would coordinate, so Katie spent several hours helping him.

Another client is building a new house and needs help blending his new furniture from Hardwood Artisans with his existing furniture, in addition to choosing paint, windows, and flooring.

Katie’s been able to assist both those clients, and is also working on a kitchen project where the client presented intricately carved panels, and wanted them incorporated into the cabinetry.

Kitchen design- We just installed a kitchen to view in our Fairfax showroom

Kitchen design- We just installed a kitchen to view in our Fairfax showroom

She’s also sketched ideas for new additions to our collections, such as the Waterfall mirror above, and the Linnaea desk, below.

Linnaea desk drawing

Linnaea desk drawing

Although the sketch of the desk never came to fruition, she says, “I’m learning a ton from them – not only do I get to see the design, I get to see it built.”

Going Green

We’ve just found an incredible local partner to produce sustainable home accessories.

The DC-based Grant Dawson Collections has a Silver rating with the Sustainable Furnishings Council for its eco-friendly practices, such as using recycled and sustainable materials whenever possible.

You can find their Endangered Species collection at Neiman Marcus in Friendship Heights, MD.  The collection celebrates endangered species such as these little dart frogs:

Dart Frog Bottle Stoppers by Grant Dawson Collections

Dart Frog Bottle Stoppers by Grant Dawson Collections


And these endangered African orchids:

Orchid Vase by Grant Dawson Collections

Orchid Vase by Grant Dawson Collections


They also source sustainable wood, which you can see in the vase above and in this handsome cheese tray:

Claw foot tray by Grant Dawson Collections

Claw foot tray by Grant Dawson Collections


That’s where we come in.  CEO Sheri Gorsen and COO Cindy Testa recently asked us to produce the wood components for its products, which include chess boxes, single and triple bud vases, and sea-glass votive holders.

First, we had to do some prototypes, based on models they sent us.

They sent us the chess board and the orchid vase.  We fabricated the models in the foreground, including the blocks that hold the “Endangered Species” wine stoppers.

They sent us the chess board and the orchid vase. We fabricated the models in the foreground, including the blocks that hold the “Endangered Species” wine stoppers.


A closeup of the woodworking on the prototypes.

A closeup of the woodworking on the prototypes.


Even though everybody talks about going green these days, companies like Grant Dawson are hard to come by, because everything they do has to meet standards set by the SFC.  We are of like minds here – we use SFC-certified mahogany and other kinds of sustainable wood whenever we can.

Sheri sent over this nice testimonial:

“We chose Hardwood Artisans to make our wood products because they are local, skilled artisans with a conscience.  They are handmade in the USA and use SFC certified or equivalent wood from sustainable sources in North America.  Their workmanship is impeccable and they meet the very tough standards both socially and environmentally that we want.”

We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.

A Sheltering Space

A few weeks ago, I (Jennifer Sergent) asked the good people here at Hardwood Artisans if they might consider donating a piece of furniture to a local domestic violence shelter – the original post about the less-than-beautiful conditions is on my own blog, here.

Well, not only did they say “yes,” but they decided to build an entire room of furniture for the project, and designer Katie Grech is working on the overall design and color scheme. They also asked two local artists to donate paintings for the wall, and the wife of one of the artists, who is a potter, is donating a bowl.

Owner Ricardo Berrum, Katie, and our marketer, Julianne Yurek, went on a tour of the shelter last week with organizers from Knock Out Abuse, a charity that supports victims of domestic violence. They signed up to design the biggest of the shelter’s bedrooms, which needs to accommodate a family of five.

They will build a custom bunk bed with a trundle bed underneath for the project and a few other pieces.  Here are a few examples of what the bed will look like:

Bunk Bed in red oak

Bunk Bed in red oak

Loft Bed with Pedestal Bed, bookcase headboard and armoire all in maple

Loft Bed with Pedestal Bed, bookcase headboard and armoire all in maple

Loft Bed with Pedestal Bed, bookcase headboard and 4-dr dresser all in birch

Loft Bed with Pedestal Bed, bookcase headboard and 4-dr dresser all in birch

“We want to make sure everyone has their own bed. I really want to create a space that feels like home, that feels calm and makes them feel safe,” Julianne says.

This particular shelter houses families for up to four months, which is more than double the typical stay at most shelters, so it’s important to have a space that feels welcoming and home-like.

The beds, along with dressers they are also building, will be a light birch – a really strong species of wood that can stand up to the abuse of children and several people coming in and out. The color will also complement the blue-green colors Katie wants in there.

The color combination “is very serene,” Julianne says. “It’s perfect for a calming atmosphere, and warm enough so it doesn’t feel like a doctor’s office.”

Artist Bill Firestone is donating this 11” x 14” painting, which is in keeping with the colors of the room:

Bill Firestones painting he is donating to the shelter

Bill Firestone’s painting he is donating to the shelter

“I think this painting could work well. There are nice greens and blues. It’s calming,” Bill says.

Bill’s wife, Stephanie, is donating this bowl, which can be used in the kitchen or dining area:

Stephanie Firestones bowl she is donating to the shelter

Stephanie Firestone’s bowl she is donating to the shelter

In addition, local artist Romina Pereira is producing a custom painting specifically for the room.

The room already has a newly donated rug and window treatments, so Katie will be working with those. Also in the plans are a mirror and a comfy chair. At least one dresser planned for the room will be the proper height to put a baby-changing pad on top. The team is still contemplating how to accommodate all the storage needs in there, so the room doesn’t end up looking like it does now:

We all need proper storage space

We all need proper storage space

“Storage needs are really important,” Katie says, “because they accumulate a lot while they are there.”

Exotic Woods: Pop Quiz!

The April issue of House Beautiful is out now, and the theme running through the entire magazine is wood. Not all of it is online, so you’ll have to pick up an issue to see the many ways interior designers and manufacturers make decorative use of all kinds of wood species.

But one section in particular caught my eye: “Have You Ever Heard of These Woods?” It goes on to display 20 home accessories made from exotic wood from all over the world. For fun, I put owner Mark Gatterdam to the test with a few of them that are pictured in the magazine: How much does he really know about wood?

Tanguile: (Silence). “That’s waay out there.”

Tanguile wood is used in this mirror from Made Goods

Tanguile wood is used in this mirror from Made Goods

Padouk: Yes. “It’s so prohibitively expensive that you make small items with these woods,” such as this iPhone case below, from Miniot:

Reddish African wood. “How do you rout that out?” Mark wants to know.

Reddish African wood. “How do you rout that out?” Mark wants to know.

Acacia: “No.”

Acadia is a tropical hardwood, used here in this bowl by Michael Aram.

Acadia is a tropical hardwood, used here in this bowl by Michael Aram.

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A Marketer in Training: Julianne Yurek

Julianne Yurek

Julianne Yurek

Although we hate to see Alison Heath leave us as director of marketing, we will be in good hands with Julianne Yurek.  Julianne, who graduated from James Madison University last spring, will be working with one of our owners, Ricardo Berrum, as she gets up to speed.

The story of how Julianne came to be with us is as interesting as any of our customers, which include her parents.

First, though – and we love this – she took a break after graduating by heading out to the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexcio. This place is like Mecca for Boy Scouts, who come from all over the country to this 165,000-acre spread each summer – 20,000 of them in all. They spend the entire summer hiking through the back country, rock climbing, logging, learning music, watching the stars, even learning about weather.

The Tooth of Time at Philmont Scout Ranch

Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch

Julianne, who heard about the gig through an Eagle Scout friend of hers, worked at the trading post and hiked every weekend. “It’s really life-changing for some of those young men,” she says. And by the way she describes it, it might have had a similar effect on her.

When she came home for the fall, the interior design major found out that her parents had just ordered the Waterfall chest from Hardwood Artisans, but her mother was worried about the order. The light finish she requested might not go well with the yellow walls in the house, and her mother wanted to know Julianne’s opinion. “When I come home, I always play interior designer for my mom.”

She ended up calling Mark and putting the order on hold. Julie came down to the shop and met Alison to discuss a better finish for their chest. Here is the result, in mahogany with curly maple accents:

Waterfall Chest in mahogany

Waterfall Chest in mahogany

Waterfall Chest side detail in curly maple

While Julianne was there working out the new design and finish, she and Alison got to talking, Alison asked for a resume, and as it would happen, Alison’s assistant ended up leaving fairly soon thereafter for another job. Enter, Julianne!

Now that she’s been here for five months, we asked her about her favorite pieces. “I’m still on the fresh-out-of-college budget,” she says, but: “I’ve been eyeing the platform pedestal bed – I really love it.”

Platform Pedestal Bed

Platform Pedestal Bed

She’s also falling for the Shinto Bench. “It has beautiful details in it – it’s an elegant design.”

Shinto Bench

Shinto Benches in mahogany and walnut

We asked Julianne about her marketing goals for us, and she said she’s most interested in featuring the work of local artisans in the Fairfax showroom. “I think it will be neat to involve more local artists in our store and bring the community together,” she says.

She also wants to put more of her interior and graphic design skills to work. “I believe our furniture is a functional piece of art and deserves that respect. I am excited to engage more interior designers and art collectors with our company and keep up the excellent reputation it already has,” she says.

We have nothing but great expectations.

Too Wet or Too Dry? Neither, Please

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.