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Artisan: Function First

If it doesn’t work, this furniture maker won’t build it.


When one of his favorite professors heard him play and told him he was better at drumming than painting, “I started to look at it a little differently,” he recalls. “The immediacy, the personal connection with the audience I really liked about music, as opposed to how the ‘painting thing’ was happening, to please this or that art critic or be in this or that gallery, which didn’t seem very noble or pure to me.”

Funny thing, now Garrett is showing his hand-built furniture in an upscale gallery alongside critically-acclaimed paintings by other artists. And the drumming has given way mostly to different pursuits, like running the sound board at Ashland Coffee & Tea and developing his furniture business from a home-based shop in Hanover.

Garrett worked for years with furniture maker Harrison Higgins, himself a local legend for his quality reproductions and fine contemporary designs. “Doing the repairs on antiques, the really high-quality antiques, and building the reproductions was good practical training,” Garrett says of that experience. “It the chair has stayed glued together for 200 years, there’s something to be learned there. The thing that’s most important to me in making furniture is that it works. The chair is comfortable to sit in, it’s not going to fall apart, the piece has a legitimate use in daily life. I like the response from people in music and in furniture. I want to know this is something they’re using all the time.”

Garrett prefers the unstained beauty of mahogany for most of his pieces. “It’s easy to work, you can carve it, cut it and shape it. A lot of people think it’s too dark or red if they’re used to seeing factory furniture, but if you just put oil on it, it has a nice warm color.” He often contrasts that wood with accents of ash, maple, oak and cherry, intentionally avoiding more expensive and exotic materials to keep his pieces in an affordable range for clients.

He builds tables, cupboards, chairs and other pieces, creating custom designs that often have elements of art deco or Arts and Crafts. Lines are clean, simple and smooth to the touch. In a show through Feb. 24 at the Rentz Gallery, Garrett is displaying a dining table and chairs of mahogany and ash, three mixed-wood occasional tables and an ash media cabinet. He encourages people to sit on the chairs, examine the joinery, and consider the object’s functionality alongside its aesthetic. If nothing else, he wants this work to be used and enjoyed.

“When I have time to think of such things as goals, I want to leave some mark,” he says. “I like the notion that people are going to have these things for a really long time. It just looks and feels different when you have a handmade piece.” HS


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