The most memorable piece is the conversation piece. Defined by character and outlasting vision, it begs to tell a story. Who makes it? Where does it come from? What does it represent? Designers—the creators—have always been given the responsibility to spark genuine interest.
For a wood maker conscious of his or her medium’s origins, the story begins much in advance of the design process and well into the origins of the wood itself. Thorben Wuttke, founder of Honolulu Furniture Company, has gained recognition for his company’s attention on a question we often forget to ask about conversation pieces: Where do we get our resources and how is our furniture is made? His furniture is crafted with locally sourced sustainable wood, either naturally felled or reclaimed from deconstructed houses. And though koa has been the wood of choice of Hawai‘i-based crafters, Wuttke opts for monkeypod, which is the most readily available and sustainable wood source found in Hawai‘i. It’s also more durable and termite-resistant than koa.
“About 95 percent of wood is imported,” Wuttke says. “Hawai‘i is not very diverse in terms of wood for building houses, but for furniture, it is.” Wuttke credits much of his company’s sustainable philosophy to Re-use Hawaii, saying, “They got me started on the idea of building furniture from reclaimed materials, and if it weren’t for their service of deconstruction, it would be too difficult for us to do it ourselves.” With each piece of reclaimed or repurposed wood, the process preserves the character of old wood for another generation.
Leading by example, Wuttke aims to celebrate woodworking as an artist’s trade by bringing together artisans specializing in wood and metal work at his co-op space Oahu Makerspace. To truly use what is around you, you must also recognize that people are valuable resources. The Makerspace is a collaborative community of crafters renting shared spaces from Wuttke in his Kaka‘ako warehouse, where woodworkers share knowledge and equipment with those taking design and construction to the next level. It’s the tangible reality of the idea that two heads are simply better than one. Collectively, we’re able to tell a better story.
Originally from Germany, here by way of San Francisco, Heiko Greb is not a traditionally trained woodworker but instead has a background in genetics. From woodcarvings to more conceptualized pieces of metal, Greb’s creations arise from his completely self-taught talents. “I grew up on a semi-farm where we made our own firewood,” says Greb, who has been at the Makerspace for just a few months now. “Eventually, skill with a chainsaw led me to think differently about wood being just a log in the garden, and I started carving. I found that I liked it and was good at it. It just fell in my direction.”
Wood- and shell-inlayed jewelry boxes
Maho Shaw’s roots of woodworking go back 10 years. Her father was a carpenter, and together they built houses in Japan. Today, Shaw has taken these skills to minute proportions, working on small jewelry boxes often inlayed with wood and shell details. Shaw has worked out of Oahu Makerspace for just over a year, and you can find more of her treasures, like her koa boxes, at Nohea Gallery.
Mae Brown Furniture, furniture
Kristin Brown’s background is in business and marketing, but she has always been interested in furniture refurbishing. She approached former co-owner of Honolulu Furniture Company Doug Gordon for a possible apprenticeship, and two years later, Kristin now operates as Mae Brown Furniture from the same location she apprenticed in. “A lot of people buy materials from Re-use Hawaii,” she says. “I don’t think anyone buys new lumber. We all buy salvaged—it has a lot more character.” Currently in her workspace: lots of mahogany for a yoga studio in Kaka‘ako.
Heavy Metal Inc, furniture
Since 1998, Bill Reardon has worked with a slew of alloys from aluminum and stainless steel pipes to bronze and copper-nickel. Originally from New York, Reardon got his first taste of metalwork doing sanitary pipe fittings, which he ended uup in for 12 years. When he moved to Hawai‘i, he worked as a Pearl Harbor welder. Back then, creating furniture was a side project, but today, it is his forte. On welding functional art, Reardon says, “It’s a lot nicer than piping. I can do it all sitting on a bench, and the pace is different. You get to work with all types of equipment, and each job still has its challenges.” And on working in a collaborative space, Reardon affirms the upside: In front of him is a pair of sleek aluminum table legs, ready to be polished and placed with a monkeypod slab that Wutkke has been working on. “I get to work on projects and draw off almost everybody.”
Ho‘okani Music Company, musical instruments
Reid Shigemura knows wood and sound. In his corner of the space, which he has occupied for just a few months, several in-progress ukuleles are indicative of Shigemura’s specialty in musical instrument repairs and building. His ukuleles are made of spruce and mahogany, also known as tone woods, which are more commonly used for guitars than they are for ukes. For the past 15 years, Shigemura has honed his woodworking skills first taught to him by his father, a violin and ukulele maker. After working at Harry’s Music Store for more than 13 years, Shigemura recently left to pursue his own projects, one of which is Ho‘okani Music Company.
MICHAEL PRATT Michael Pratt Woodworking, furniture and cabinets
One of the elder and much more experienced gentlemen in the Makerspace, Michael Pratt is a third-generation furniture and cabinet maker originally from Saratoga Springs, New York. There, he worked many years as a general contractor and gained a reputation for his styling of Victorian restoration. Pratt moved to Hawai‘i in 2009 after spending 12 years in Florida. A bad motorcycle accident caused him to seek warmer temperatures. “Going into my forty-sixth year of woodworking,” he says, “I still love what I do. Woodworking is my passion and fortunately my job.” His most recent project: sliding wall partitions for a house on O‘ahu’s North Shore.