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Student's Wood Shop Project Goes Global

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In the introductory woodworking class at Virginia Commonwealth University, most students start out making coffee tables.

Kyle Buckner carved a seriously curvy lounge chair from 152 layers of pine.

The 23-year-old crafts student put a photo of the chair on his website, and on Sept. 2 it was picked up by Contemporist, a well-read modern design blog. “If I was a super villain … this would be the first chair I would buy,” one commenter wrote.

Buckner got more calls: from Architectural Digest Russia, from a Peruvian luxe-life magazine, from a British magazine for superyacht builders. They all wanted to feature the chair. “It's been unreal,” says Buckner, who hasn't set a price for it.

In junior high, when most kids were doodling superheroes, Buckner was sketching furniture designs. At 15 he started working in his father's custom car audio business, Sounds Unlimited, in Danville. He soon began creating high-end, custom audio installations, many of which were featured in show car magazines.

But Buckner knew he couldn't keep doing car audio. Because he invested hundreds of hours in each project, the prestige far eclipsed the pay.

Buckner got his diploma in electronics from Danville Community College, then decided he'd study graphic design at VCU. He found he liked working with his hands too much to sit at a computer, so he began taking sculpture classes.

“I never really understood the whole sculpture thing,” he confesses. For his first assignments he made a sinuous, wood-and-glass coffee table; an intricately carved wooden pedestal for his iPhone; and a lovingly detailed, three-quarter-scale MacBook.

The feedback: too functional. “They didn't really like any of my pieces,” Buckner says. But other people did. A fan bought the coffee table. Mac Life magazine published a photo of the iPhone pedestal. And the laptop sculpture ignited an online firestorm as people debated if it were really a top-secret Apple netbook prototype.

Working with a business partner in Florida, Buckner hopes to begin mass manufacturing his signature furniture and iPod dock designs while he continues creating original furniture. He wants each handmade piece to be so flawless it appears machine-made, he says: “People not believing I made a piece, that's what I really like.”

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