I recently had the opportunity to tour the wood shop of Beeken Parsons, a Vermont-based furniture maker that crafts exquisite, handmade furniture. The workshop was established in 1983 by Vermont furniture makers Bruce Beeken and Jeff Parsons, who first met as students in Boston University's Program in Artisanry. For over 20 years, the partners have crafted exceptionally beautiful, sustainable furniture out of their small shop in Shelburne, VT.
Using FSC-certified wood, this eco-minded company creates a number of products, including tables, chairs, lamps, beds, and office chairs, such as this one. The company has also made custom furniture for colleges such as Middlebury, using trees from the college’s own grounds. Using trees such as these results in something Beeken Parsons calls "character wood."
To find out more about "character wood," and for more examples of Beeken Parsons's work,
Beeken Parsons describes character wood as "dovetail[ing] beautifully with our design instincts, our love of the outdoors and our environmental sensibilities. Character wood tells the story of a tree, of dry summers, wet springs, storms, fires, wildlife activity, rich soils, or difficult growing sites. Grain textures reveal a history of growing conditions. Knots found near the center of the tree are the beginnings of branches formed when the tree was a sapling. Mineral streaks spring from injuries, insect or animal activity. Occasionally, we find spile holes in maple boards, an indication that the tree was tapped for sap to make maple syrup. Wood changes color around those holes. Knots and their surrounding grain have a deep, soft radiance when sanded and finished properly. Character wood has a remarkable range of color, from cream and salmon to auburn and chocolate. The beauty of nature is found, not in its regularity, but in its rich variety of shapes, textures and colors. This array of character lends a richness and vitality to the simple forms found in our furniture."
While some people may prefer "flawless" wood, I prefer the idea of telling a story within a piece of furniture, especially if this furniture is sourced from your own property. It doesn't get much more local or personal than that. Would you ever use character wood for custom-made furniture? Have you already done so?