The Joy of Furniture Craftsmanship

Handcrafted Furniture

Nick Jones, owner of Nick Jones Designs

How many times have you seen a unique piece of furniture and wondered, “How did they make that?” With stores like Ikea mass-producing dorm room-quality furniture, handcrafted one-of-a-kind pieces offer elegant decor created with precision and care. Finely designed furniture adds artistry and aesthetics to any setting—it’s also part of our country’s history and helps preserve our heritage.

Since the original trek to the New World in the late 1400s, North America has been home to traditional hand-carved furniture, though the craftsmanship styles have varied throughout the decades. During the first half of the 18th century, walnut paved the way for mahogany as the dominant wood for building furniture, and the designs became less ornate. As Americans traveled westward, the function of furniture shifted from grandiose to modest. Furniture pieces were designed with greater comfort to accommodate a more leisurely lifestyle. With the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, mass production in factories gained steam while furniture designs became commercialized and lost authenticity. Through the 20th century, craftsmen created modern furniture pieces with more geometric lines reflecting the century’s advancements in technology.

But in today’s digital age, it’s difficult to imagine furniture craftsmanship as a personal passion, especially since much of today’s furniture is produced in factories. Surprisingly, however, unique handcrafted furniture designs remain popular among consumers, galleries and showrooms throughout the country.

Nick Jones Designs
Nick Jones Designs

For San Diego furniture craftsman Nick Jones, owner of Nick Jones Designs, making things by hand has been a passion for most of his life. He spent a good deal of his childhood helping his father and grandfather build everything from small crafts to room additions. This early exposure to building instilled in Jones a love for creation, which evolved into an infatuation with woodworking and fine craftsmanship. In particular, Jones creates pieces built completely from natural wood. Jones explains, “I craft all of my pieces out of solid wood and use a natural finish. I do not use any stains or dyes, which allow the beautiful tones of the natural wood to deepen and enrich over the years... I use different species from around the globe to achieve natural contrasts in my pieces.”

According to Jones, when a furniture piece is handcrafted the maker has left his identity in the piece; each creation is a reflection of the creator and his abilities to create. “I love the challenge of creating a truly unique and functional piece of art which will be enjoyed long after I am gone,” says Jones. “My real value is working with clients to produce a beautiful custom piece of art to meet their needs and exceed expectations.”

Much to his delight, Jones feels the general public is becoming more aware and “coming around” to the long-lasting worth of handcrafted furniture. In fact, Jones enjoys spending time with clients and discussing the greater intrinsic value of custom-produced furniture that is made of solid wood. Such pieces can be used for generations instead of just a few years. Explains Jones, “The majority of my business comes from patrons who understand the cost involved in commissioning a true piece of handcrafted furniture and would like to add a piece of art to their home which their grandchildren will enjoy as much as they do."

Handcrafted furniture offers several advantages over factory- produced pieces. Customers can request any color and size with additional details. Furthermore, certain furniture styles such as Art Deco simply are not offered in factory-made furniture due to the extensive veneering and construction.

Craig Thibodeau
Craig Thibodeau

When Craig Thibodeau was making furniture for his friends during his college years, he didn’t know he would later convert his woodworking hobby into a career making custom furniture. Currently, he is the owner of CT Fine Furniture in San Diego. “I’ve been making things all my life, from building with Legos when I was a child to working on cars during my teen years and studying mechanical engineering in college while building furniture on the side,” he says.

According to Thibodeau, the custom furniture market has changed dramatically during the past decade. Although many shops have gone out of business, clients are better educated about custom-designed furniture pieces. The majority of Thibodeau’s furniture designs originate from his clients’ ideas. He works with customers to refine ideas, and many times that includes adding decorative details like precious metal or stone inlay, a variety of floral marquetry or geometric parquetry designs.

CT Fine Furniture
CT Fine Furniture in San Diego

“I find designing furniture to be immensely satisfying. Making something special for a specific person to suit a specific purpose gives me great joy, and I get to do that every day while working with my hands to create beautiful furniture,”Thibodeau insists.

But furniture craftsmanship is not limited to life-size pieces. Dollhouse miniatures have been captivating young hearts for generations. From coffee tables to cradenzas, it’s fascinating to see familiar objects in tiny forms. Michael Sue Nanos, owner of Ms. Peggie’s Place: Dollhouses and Miniatures San Diego, has been creating since she was old enough to hold a crayon in her hand. As she reached adulthood she discovered her passion for designing and creating miniatures. Soon afterwards, Nanos began making and selling tiny wonders in addition to teaching the art form.

“Because of all my years and background in the arts, it was natural to showcase my knowledge for miniatures. They sure take up less space,” says Nanos. She is also proud to be teaching the younger generation of miniature enthusiasts. “I believe folks still value handcrafted items and know the difference between handcrafted and manufactured. I have 30 students that spend a few hours with me once a month, and together we create something beautiful for their doll houses.”

Custom-made furniture is designed to suit an individual’s personal taste, with the final visual impact of the furniture
in the hands of the craftsmen. Regardless of the object’s size, superior craftsmanship combined with a wide array of materials and compelling designs results in more than an object; it's art that will be cherished for generations to come. 

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