The Path to Handcrafted Furniture
For wood artist Robin Wade, creating handcrafted furniture is a creative outlet that began early in life. At age eight, he made a mosaic tabletop using left over broken tile. “It’s actually almost a nice piece,” he says of the small table that today graces the bathroom of the Florence, Alabama, Slow Studio where he now builds handcrafted tables, chairs, daybeds, and more.
As a child, Robin wrestled with dyslexia, but today he sees his disability as part of his creative perspective. “It's not as simple as reading backwards, but that did happen a good bit. Even after years of tutoring and getting the reading straightened out, I’ve always seen life—concerns, thoughts, design and art—from a unique perspective.” Although that perspective didn’t immediately take him to a business of handcrafted furniture, Robin says he’s always been in a creative line of work. “Although most of my life's work has been involved in design in one way or another, I didn't realize I needed to be immersed in creativity until after I remodeled my parents’ A-frame home in 2004,” he says. Finding the right wood as well as sculpting each piece as needed to restore the residence—Robin’s childhood home built by his architect father—inspired Robin to begin building furnishings for the space and eventually leading to his business, Robin Wade Furniture. “The art of creativity seems to bring me peace. I'm so fortunate to have been able to figure this out.”
Today, that creative peace allows Robin to give second life to locally sourced trees with his furniture line. After a tree is sustainably harvested, milled into slabs, and dried for years, how does he decide what it will become? “The approach that seems to work for me is to keep an open mind,” Robin says. “As I slice through a log, I try to do it with no preconceived notions. I relish the beauty of each slice of nature. After the log has been slabbed and dried, I like to stand a couple of the slabs up somewhere I will see or walk past them each day,” Robin says, adding, “Eventually, the answer will come—or it won't.”
When the answer does arrive, Robin turns to modern technology to help flesh out his ideas. “By using Google’s SketchUp 3D software, I am able to see the piece-to-be from every perspective, and tweak it until it just feels right,” he says. After the computer modeling helps him see each piece, Robin goes low-tech with time-worn hand tools and centuries-old woodworking skills to actually create each piece. “I actually don't work at improving my chiseling and woodworking skills,” Robin says. “If I have a talent, I think it's in understanding the least I can do with a piece and have it still be beautiful and functional,” Robin says.
At the end of the day, Robin reminds himself that Mother Nature is the true artist of each handcrafted furniture piece he produces. “I'm only showcasing nature's amazing beauty”, he says, “with as little human intervention as possible.”