Dining furniture by John Landis Cabinetworks, whose work will… (John Landis )
Over time, chairs, candlesticks, paintings and the like become attached to memories, which is probably why many of us have such a hard time letting things go. Family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation keep these memories alive.
But heirloom-quality furniture can be hard to come by. Much of the furniture made today isn't built to last one generation, let alone several. Of course, there are exceptions. Specialty furnishings stores offer heirloom-quality goods, and interior designers can open up a world of possibilities.
Furniture shows, however, like the Fine Furnishings & Fine Craft Show, which opened Friday and runs through Sunday at the convention center, offer an opportunity not only to shop for high-quality, handcrafted furniture, but also to meet the makers.
Visiting Baltimore for its third year, the show features the work of artisans specializing in items including decorative and sculptural pieces, dining-room tables, credenzas, desks, chairs and armoires, in styles ranging from traditional and Arts & Crafts to modern, eclectic and others that defy categorization.
The best part is that almost everything you see can be customized to your needs. Because most of the exhibitors are small businesses producing handcrafted goods, it is likely a shelf you see could be made larger or smaller or out of a different material, according to your need.
This, according to show organizer Karla Little, is one of the benefits of the show. Little, who began organizing similar shows in Providence, R.I., and Milwaukee 16 years ago, says that although the most obvious benefit is the ability to meet the maker and have something custom made, a fine-furnishing show is also "a great place to get to know the options, understand the different ways furniture is assembled, and see the many different species of wood and wood finishes."
One surprise of the show is that custom furniture is not necessarily super-expensive.
"People can get items handcrafted by American craftsman, on a timely basis, in custom sizes, finishes or wood species, with prices in the range of what you might find at a better furniture store," Little says.
Exhibitors you won't want to miss include John Landis Cabinetworks, Kauffman Fine Furniture, Michael Brown and Gary Keener, among others.
Little describes Justin Kauffman as "one of the young traditionalists." Through training, in part, at the oldest trade school in America, the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Kauffman honed his methods, joinery skills and design philosophy. He now lives and works in Rockford, Mich., where he designs and builds traditional heirloom-quality pieces featuring such traditional elements as dovetail joinery, ball and claw detailing, and bellflower inlays. Kauffman received the best-in-show award for traditional body of work at the 2010 Baltimore show.
Brown's work is also rooted in tradition, and he is known for putting a contemporary spin on the conventional Windsor chair. While most of his designs are best suited for dining or occasional seating, he also makes a great desk-chair version of the classic style.
Keener, a veteran of the Providence and Milwaukee shows, has been working with wood most of his life and finally made his hobby a profession in 2000. He has designed several lines of furniture, all characterized by their simplicity of design and quality of craftsmanship. Keener has won many awards for his work including one for best contemporary body of work at last year's show.
Of course, since the show is in Baltimore, you'll find many local artisans among the exhibitors — Rob Glebe, Mission Evolution and C. W. Robertson, to name a few. Because a benefit of working with a furniture maker is the opportunity to customize, working with a local artisan who has a shop you can visit or who can visit your home to make measurements can make the process easier.
Additionally, notes Little, "many of the furniture makers can do much more than furniture and can create moldings, built-ins or cabinetry."
One example is Robertson of Parkton, who won a best-in-show award for furniture last year and also specializes in built-ins, furniture-quality shelving and cabinetry.
And just because an exhibitor is local doesn't mean world-class quality isn't there. Mission Evolution, which designs contemporary furniture inspired by Arts & Crafts and Mission styles, is based in Colesville but has done work for clients all over the country, including some amazing pieces for Disney's Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim.
In addition to handcrafted furniture, the show also features art pieces, such as H and J Bronze Sculpture Studio's contemporary etchings and mixed-media sculpture, and Eric McLendon's hand-blown glass. One of my favorites for decorative work is Chestertown's Rob Glebe, who specializes in sculptural metal vessels and wall pieces.