No Lost Art
The fine art of handcrafted furniture continues today at American Furniture Design
Home, Garden & Design Editor
Live, Work & Play in Escondido
When you walk into the Valley Center home of Jon and Susan Rodriguez you notice something different. It’s subtle, but definite. It’s the sun on the wood as it illuminates each grain…and then you know: the exquisitely handcrafted pieces of furniture before you are anything but ordinary; undeniably, they are art of the very highest form.
While large furniture retailers –
such as Thomasville, Ethan Allen and Bassett – certainly have their
place and play a large role in today’s home décor, the traditional
craft of handmade furniture is not a lost one and is being practiced
by Brian Murphy, of Murphy’s Fine Woodworking (a division of
American Furniture Design), commissioned and purchased by clients
like the Rodriguez’s.
Murphy started woodworking with his dad and began his training in art as a young boy of 12. He has been working, in some capacity, in the field ever since. In 1991 he started American Furniture Design and has become one of the largest suppliers of woodworking plans, hardware and accessories in North America. His 68-page catalog is an industry staple, featuring materials stocked from around the world and sent to an international database of over 60,000 people.
A division of American Furniture Design is Murphy’s Fine Woodworking, the name under which Murphy plies his trade. A leader in the Arts & Crafts style (also sometimes referred to as the “Craftsman Style”) since 1988, Murphy, along with the occasional help of his son, Chris, has created more than 160 custom pieces of furniture for his clientele’s homes.
And this is where the Rodriguez’s
come in. Jon and Susan were in the market for a dining room table
and headboard for their bed when they came across an ad for American
Furniture Design. They both liked the Arts & Crafts style the
company produced, and called Brian to see what he’d say. Upon their
first meeting Jon recalls, “Brian was so passionate about his work,
and thorough about explaining the materials and process, that we
were immediately impressed. We were pretty sure we wanted him to
build our furniture before we even saw, in person, his work.”
That came next. Brian had them visit
his Escondido shop and it was after seeing what he had to offer that
the Rodriguez’s decided to expand the scope of their project; from
the original dining room table and headboard for their bed to 24
pieces and three rooms worth of furniture – one of the largest
individual projects Brian’s been commissioned for to date.
Of the experience Susan says,
“Brian’s an artist, a true craftsman, and we really appreciated the
fact that we were buying a piece of art versus a mass-produced
product. Plus, as I compared the cost of Brian’s work to that of
other fine furniture retailers, I found he was actually quite
competitive. As a result, our money went toward quality construction
rather than to buying just a brand name. We’ll have these items
forever.” A statement with which Brian concurs, “The furniture I
build is designed to last lifetimes, and is something that can be
passed through generations.”
Three rooms, 24 pieces, and ten and
a half months later, the job is complete, the furniture in use. Of
the whole process, the Rodriguez’s note, “It’s been a real growing
one for us. We’ve really come to see this type of furniture is art.
And we appreciated that Brian was a local builder and we could be
part of the process, popping into his shop on weekends to see how
things were going. And if ever we had a concern, he was always more
than willing to make revisions, even time consuming and costly
Of the process and what makes this
project unique, Murphy says, “Every board that I used was carefully
inspected and selected to highlight the very best grain pattern for
its application. Each piece was intentionally picked for where it
would be placed – the best boards being used for the most prominent
areas [such as a table top or arm rest]. This made the entire
project striking, and is a feature you’d never find in store-bought
furniture because they have to get the highest yield from the wood
Murphy is humble, but sure, about his skill, confident that the work he produces cannot be matched by your everyday retailer, or by any other craftsman in the area. And when asked if he feels threatened by his competition from the large retail stores, he simply answers with his mission statement: “If you produce an excellent product, render great customer care, and design for the customer’s need, there will always be clients that will want your work.”
And if the satisfaction of the Rodriguez’s is any indication, indeed, there will always be a client for Brian Murphy’s work. And two of them will likely be Jon and Susan Rodriguez again real soon – next up: a dresser to accompany their headboard.