A Handmade Tale

A Handmade Tale

Thos. Moser Handmade American Furniture
Customer in Residence participants choose from among Thos. Moser’s standard furniture designs, with room for customization.

Thos. Moser logo


By Jennifer Van Allen
Photographs courtesy of Thos. Moser

Each year, aspiring artisans flock to Thos. Moser’s Auburn workshop to learn woodworking in the style of the celebrated Maine brand.

Like a lot of people, J. Patrick O’Leary has long admired Maine’s Thos. Moser Furniture. A retired surgeon from Florida, he’s always marveled at the workmanship of pieces like the Pasadena Rocker, with its gentle curves, rollover edges, and seat hewn of cherry or walnut.

“It has this fluidity about it so that even when it’s sitting still, you can see motion in it,” the 77-year-old O’Leary says. “It’s just exquisite.”

O’Leary once built a desk in his woodshop at home, and he’s aspired to master advanced techniques like dovetail joinery. Two years ago, when his wife offered to send him to Thos. Moser’s workshop to build a piece of his own, he jumped at the chance. “I was fascinated by how you got pieces of wood to work together,” O’Leary says. “So this sounded really cool.”

Thos. Moser
Thos. Moser Customer in Residence program

O’Leary is one of more than 370 participants in Thos. Moser’s Customer in Residence program, a furniture-building fantasy camp that offers aspiring craftsmen an opportunity to work one-on-one with Thos. Moser furniture makers at their workshop in Auburn, transforming raw wood into elegant heirlooms. Participants get as much mentoring as they want in everything from selecting lumber to cutting, sanding, fitting, assembling, and finishing. At the end of the six-day program, Thomas Moser himself, who founded the business in 1972 in an old New Gloucester Grange Hall, signs each piece.

Now in its 12th year, the program has attracted men and women from around the world and various walks of life: CEOs, retired federal agents, a professional ballerina. Some, like O’Leary, are experienced woodworkers; others are novices. For many, the program offers something elusive in their professional lives, something many Mainers take for granted: a chance to use their hands to make something tangible, beautiful, and functional. Many come to create projects with spouses, friends, parents, and adult children. Often, they’re celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, or retirements. One man, who built a bed, proposed to his girlfriend shortly before the signing ceremony. (She said yes.)

For Jim Papineau, a former Navy SEAL from Santa Fe, the immersion in furniture making offered a welcome respite from everyday stresses. “It’s so relaxing and grounding, almost a zen experience, to spend a week completely focused on a singular task,” says Papineau, 62. He attended the program in 2011 to make the Edo Bench and returned last summer with his 28-year-old daughter to make a king-sized Vita Bed. “You have to just detach from everything else in your everyday life.”

O’Leary, who spent most of his career training aspiring surgeons, reveled in the rare opportunity to be a student. “Seeing this beautiful piece and knowing you put it together with your own hands makes you feel really good about it,” he says. “And knowing that it’s the high quality of Moser makes you feel even better.”

Visit thosmoser.com/cir to learn more.