I’m really excited about the opportunity with my “Design Matters” column in Popular Woodworking Magazine to take you on some workshop tours of some outstanding designer craftsman. A couple of weeks ago I spent an afternoon in the Columbus Ohio workshop of Brooke Smith. Here is a master at the top of his game with a lot to share about design and the creative process. I’ll be writing more about Brooke for an upcoming issue but I’d like to share a behind the scenes look at our interview. My best description of Brooke is that he’s like a classically trained musician who is comfortable with jazz, blues, heavy metal, and chamber music. I’m sure he didn’t plan it this way but imagine a furniture builder trained in fine art, and illustrative design. A capable and creative painter, then switch gears and apprentice as a professional carver producing classical ornaments on high end picture frames. Think 10 foot by 15 foot 300 pound carved mahogany frames to house murals in the state capital rotunda. Then switch gears again and dive into period furniture, finally put all those skills together to make custom furniture for an eclectic client base.
The small shop occupies a two car garage and is the definition of a working space. Very few frills, yet by the pictures on the walls and the odd bits and pieces he collects on his walks nearby, you know he has a creative bent. He can’t resist holding on to a box of old foundry patterns just because of the interesting shapes and curves. I asked him what his favorite tool was and without hesitation he held out his arm to show me his hands. A true professional adept at both power tools and carving chisels, he knows that his mind and hands are the real tools at work. And his work speaks for itself. I can’t wait to show you more of it but for today just a sample.The chest on frame is what he calls a Sheraton chest but in reality it was designed for a client who wanted a dresser with a traditional feel but didn’t want to bend down and fiddle with low drawers. Brookes answer is sort of a Federal highboy. He drew inspiration loosely from a Thomas Seymour piece and as I looked at it I thought that the Seymour’s would approve. His traditional interpretations earn the high praise of respectfully extending that great legacy of design. Also note some carving detail from a secretary he recently completed for his own dining room. A masterpiece I could have looked at for hours. Brooke also has built quite a resume of contemporary work that I’ll be sharing in the article. I look forward to sharing this outstanding builder with you in the pages of Popular Woodworking Magazine.
George R. Walker