Meet 14 Furniture Makers Who Embody the Maine Spirit

Your next heirloom is waiting in one of their shops.

Portland furniture maker Kyle Kidwell’s tapered-leg, walnut McCormick table, and matching bench, anchor a cozy dining area designed by the city’s Tyler Karu.

Portland furniture maker Kyle Kidwell’s tapered-leg, walnut McCormick table, and matching bench anchor a cozy dining area designed by the city’s Tyler Karu. Photo by Erin Little. 

By Sara Anne Donnelly and Sarah Stebbins
From the Spring 2022 issue of Maine Homes by Down East

Nearly 50 years ago, iconic Auburn furniture maker Thos. Moser ran an ad in Down East that reads like a rallying cry today: “Our furniture is inspired by traditional design, constructed with pride and executed by hand, restoring a relationship between man and his practical art.” Since then, dozens of men and, ahem, more than a few women, have followed in founder Tom Moser’s leather bootsteps. Some, like Moser, have built beloved companies with sizable product lines. Others toil largely independently, handcrafting innovative small-batch pieces with native hardwoods, branches, granite boulders, even bright-purple felt. Here, we introduce you to a handful of standouts in the latter group. Craftspeople who are willing to drive a U-Haul into the wilderness to purchase a whole tree, spend weeks scouring riverbanks for perfectly weathered driftwood, and “obsess over a concept for however long it takes,” as Portland maker Kyle Kidwell puts it, “to make it the best it can possibly be.”

Black-walnut, white-cedar, and katsura Plaid cabinet by Gabriel Keith Sutton
Photo by Gabriel Keith Sutton

Gabriel Keith Sutton

Biddeford’s Gabriel Keith Sutton grew up in rural Kent, Ohio, surrounded by Shaker- and early-American-style furniture built by three generations of men in his family. But it was a family friend’s mid-century pieces that turned his head. Since launching his business in 2000, Sutton has developed an autobiographical style based on those streamlined ’50s and ’60s profiles, adding turned legs and scalloped edges reminiscent of his family heirlooms, steel bases in a nod to his Rust Belt roots, and chevron-, hexagon-, and checkerboard- patterned veneers inspired by Massachusetts maker Timothy Coleman and inlaid Chinoiserie furniture he admires. Since relocating to Maine in 2010, Sutton has also begun to incorporate nautical elements, like shiplap. Next up: a tribute to his great-great-grandfather, a woodworker and gunsmith. “I have one of his old black-powder squirrel guns with silver inlays,” Sutton says. “I’ve been wanting to make a piece of furniture inspired by it.” Black-walnut, white-cedar, and katsura Plaid cabinet, $4,800. 

Ash-and-rush Simple stool by Heide Martin Design Studio
Photo by Mark Juliana

Heide Martin Design Studio

Working at a Seattle landscape-architecture firm, Heide Martin says, “I kept not wanting to be promoted.” She’d been an artsy kid growing up in Columbus, Ohio, but her German-immigrant parents did not consider art career-worthy. So she chose a “creative, yet respectable” compromise. Her favorite part of the job was designing furniture for outdoor spaces — “the scale, immediacy, and intimacy of it.” In 2015, she and her now-husband, Patrick Coughlin, a woodworker, moved to the midcoast so Martin could study at Rockport’s Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. Two years later, they launched their Rockland furniture company, where Martin is designer and Coughlin runs operations. “My approach is to make pieces as straightforward as they can be, while still providing a visual spark,” Martin says. Her Simple stool is available with a handwoven rush, Shaker-tape, or leather seat, while her ash Woolen bench has a fuzzy merino-felt top. “A lot of designs are driven by me being like, I want to try this new technique, how can I best showcase it?” Ash-and-rush Simple stool, $1,500. 

Ash Talbot lounge chair by Kidwell Fabrications
Photo by Michael D. Wilson

Kidwell Fabrications

It was a “love token” for his future wife that convinced Virginia Beach native Kyle Kidwell to pursue furniture making. He was working in the fabrication department at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, building infrastructure for exhibits, when “Lauren expressed interest in a credenza.” He’d been making furniture off and on since he was in college. But the credenza was more complex. “I went down a rabbit hole, in a good way, and it gave me the nudge I needed.” In 2014, the couple moved to Maine, where Kidwell made custom furniture for Kennebunkport’s Houston & Company before striking out on his own. These days, he toils in a shop he built in his Portland driveway, crafting clean, refined pieces that “emphasize execution — if a joint is not tight, I’m dissatisfied.” Prototypes live in his house for a while to ensure he’s happy with them. If he’s not, “I’m merciless, like get this out of my sight.” The credenza, for example, eventually went to Lauren’s parents. Ash Talbot lounge chair, $2,100. 

Media console by Corbin Design Co.
Photo by Corbin Vreeland

Corbin Design Co.

“For me, artistic expression feels best when it is grounded in math and engineering,” Corbin Vreeland says. Growing up in Maryland, he learned furniture-making basics from his father, a financial analyst/woodshop “tinkerer.” Later, working as a financial analyst himself, in New York, “I found myself desperately needing an outlet that was more tactile,” Vreeland says. He started building furniture in a New Jersey workshop, then moved with his goldendoodle to study at Rockport’s Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in 2016. Today, he works mostly on commission in a former mill in Biddeford, revelling in the math puzzles that propel designs like this media console. Inside its slender African-mahogany box, a pair of tambour doors comprising 150 hand-cut slats slide smoothly on their rails thanks to calculations to the thousandth of an inch and two scale models he built. “The engineering part of me thrives putting something like that together,” he says. $3,000. 

Cherry-and-maple Thicket table by Wayne Hall
Photo by Danielle Sykes

Wayne Hall

“I can’t take a walk or drive in the country without seeing furniture in the trees,” Wayne Hall says. Sometimes he glimpses a table leg or chair crosspiece in a forked or curved branch; other times the shape of a tree “wants to be translated.” Working primarily with red-maple saplings and twigs, which have a “gestural quality,” he creates sculptural pieces that look like they sprung from a thicket. An Atlanta native who began honing his rustic style in 1992, Hall moved to Maine in 2000 to teach design at the University of Maine at Orono, where he remains on the faculty. He gathers trees to peel in spring, when the sap is flowing and the bark slips off easily; otherwise, he harvests in winter, when the bark adheres tightly to the wood. Piles of limbs dry in the Bucksport workshop he calls his “beaver lodge” — and in his Orland living room. “I brought in a stack two years ago,” he says. “I like looking at it.” Cherry-and-maple Thicket table, $975. 

Maple RS dresser with leather drawer fronts by Bicyclette
Photo by Brian Christopher

Bicyclette

As part of a pandemic reset last March, Brian Christopher moved his furniture business from his hometown of Philadelphia to the midcoast, where he and his partner, painter Carla Weeks, have friends. His new location in Brunswick’s Fort Andross, fort-turned-cotton-mill-turned-maker-space, suits Bicyclette, which is named after utilitarian-yet-graceful Parisian commuter bikes that exemplify the kind of functional style Christopher strives for. But recently, he’s introduced whimsical flourishes on pieces such as the grid-like RS dresser, which surprises with dewdrop-shaped legs, optional bleached or oxidized finishes that turn its wood ghostly pale or dark as pitch, and a choice of wood or leather drawer fronts that will wear with use and “take on a life of their own,” Christopher says. Confronting the weight of the pandemic, “I was like, let’s have fun. I need something to be fun right now.” Maple RS dresser with leather drawer fronts, $7,200. 

Driftwood Narrows coffee table by Designs Adrift
Photo courtesy of Designs Adrift

Designs Adrift

“No one knows what I go through to find driftwood,” says Phippsburg’s Michael Fleming, who will nevertheless tell you that he spends weeks treasure-hunting on midcoast islands and the banks of rivers and lakes in Maine’s northern reaches. But when a reality-show producer wanted to send a crew to tag along, he declined, not wanting to divulge his secret spots. Or film scenes “where they put a spin on it, like ‘oh my God, there’s Mike getting stuck in the mud!’” The bleached-hardwood specimens he unearths dry in a field he calls the “elephant boneyard,” then in his barn, where he turns them into gnarled table bases, knobby bed frames, and sinuous ladder-back benches. A former carpenter and fine-furniture maker, Fleming began working with driftwood in the mid-’90s, and found he loved “letting the material lead me to the design.” Driftwood art “tends to be Christmas trees and cutesiness,” he says. “But to me it’s raw, organic, elegant.” Driftwood Narrows coffee table. $2,900. 

Black-walnut-and-granite Wabi Sabi bench by E. Stebbins Furniture Design
Photo by Joseph Kramm

E. Stebbins Furniture Design

In 2013, Woolwich stonemason and poet Ethan Stebbins (brother of Maine Homes editor, Sarah) built a platform bed comprising four boulders collected from a friend’s private beach in Cape Elizabeth and an ash frame fitted into grooves he carved in their tops. A photo Stebbins posted on his website found its way to Pinterest, where it caught the attention of the New York gallery that now represents him. The bed became the first piece in his Wabi Sabi series of ash, pine, walnut, redwood, and stone furniture with interlocking joinery (no metal fasteners or glue), named after the Japanese aesthetic that celebrates beauty in imperfection. Working with stone and wood means “striking a balance between what you want to do and what the materials want to do,” says Stebbins, who spends days sourcing granite from local quarries. “There’s a good element of surprise in seeing it come together at the end.” Black-walnut-and-granite Wabi Sabi bench, $23,400. @stebbinsdesign on Instagram

Acadia Bench by Christina M. Vincent
Photo by Danielle Sykes

Christina M. Vincent

North Haven’s Christina Vincent works to capture the natural beauty of her adopted island in pieces that, like the coastline here, are “refined, yet wild.” A former interior designer who moved offshore with her husband in 2005, Vincent learned woodworking as an island-carpenter’s apprentice. Now she splits her time between landscape-design work and furniture making. Her mahogany Acadia Bench is typical of her style — sleek and understated, defined as much by what you see as what you don’t. Its minimalist backrest, shaped like a whale’s tail, punctuates vast swaths of negative space; scrollwork on the seat resembling water drops complements the theme. Pieces that push the boundaries of what’s structurally possible compel you to “look a little bit longer,” says Vincent, who is currently working on an even leaner version of the bench. “I think furniture is more interesting when everything isn’t laid out in front of you. When you have to wonder how it’s made.” $3,000.

Headboard by Studio 89
Photo by Melissa Fuller

Studio 89

Eight years ago, Scarborough health-care workers/furniture makers Melissa Fuller and Nondas Iacovou were working for a tribal hospital in Bethel, in the treeless Alaskan tundra. “You learned to appreciate resources,” Fuller says. “We’d be like, ‘look at this beautiful piece of firewood; we can make a candlestick!’” When they returned to woodsy Maine, where they’d lived 20 years earlier, they were committed to showcasing native hardwoods in elegant, “uncomplicated” pieces. The couple sources ash, birch, cherry, and maple from sawyers all over the state; the maple for this live-edge headboard came from a giant tree they purchased in Livermore Falls. “When we showed up with a U-Haul, the guy was so surprised; he’d had it advertised for months,” says Iacovou, a Cyprus native who met Fuller at the University of Vermont in 1989. The five-year-old company they run together references that date. “We both design, we both make, and, so far, we’re still married,” Iacovou jokes. $5,000. 

Walnut cabinet with foldaway table by Element Furniture
Photo by Clayton Thompson

Element Furniture

In 2019, Clayton Thompson, of Rockland’s Endeavour Craftsmen custom-woodworking shop, designed a freestanding cabinet with a folding dining table that tucks into a compartment for a Boston condo development. The small-space-friendly ensemble, rendered in rich walnut with brushed-gold pulls, wound up being the first offering in owner Tim Massey’s new modular-furniture line, launched in late 2020. Thompson spent the first six months of the pandemic dreaming up pieces, using the St. George home he shares with his wife and four children as a “test kitchen.” Among them: a mudroom cubby unit, a cabinet with a fold-up desk, and a wardrobe, all of which pair with matching bookshelves. Constructed of sturdy plywood, with walnut, oak, or cherry veneers, the pieces cost 40 percent less than Endeavour’s custom work. And unlike, say, the items from a big-name modular manufacturer Thompson tried to move here from Utah, “they’re designed to last.” Walnut cabinet with foldaway table. From $6,995. 

coffee tables by Jamien St. Pierre
Photo by Jamien St. Pierre

Jamien St. Pierre

Self-taught cabinet and furniture maker, and self-described “curmudgeonly New Englander,” Jamien St. Pierre grew up in Readfield, moved to Bar Harbor in the early 2000s to attend College of the Atlantic, and now works in a woodshop “in the middle of nowhereland” on the outskirts of town. Over time, St. Pierre has evolved a weighty Arts and Crafts aesthetic to include what he calls a “lightness of presence” achieved with hand-carved, often subtle details, such as the beveled edges, gently tapered legs, and apron cutouts on his Ellipse coffee table, available in bleached red oak and rosewood, pecky ash and rosewood, and walnut and ebony. “The designs I’m most interested in push the limits of the wood to the lightest it can be,” St. Pierre says. “I want someone to see one of my pieces and say, ‘wait a second, that’s not nearly as simple as I thought it was.’” $1,850 each. 

Triumvirate table by Yuri Kobayashi
Photo by Mark Juliana

Yuri Kobayashi

“Woodworking is a visual language,” says Tokyo-born Yuri Kobayashi, a sculptor and former professor of furniture design at Rhode Island School of Design, who settled in Camden a decade ago. Trained in architecture and woodworking in Japan, Kobayashi twists ribbon-like lengths of ash, white oak, and beech into willowy forms inspired by vines, leaves, and arched bridges. On her Triumvirate table, six curving strips of pale ash form a three-legged base capped with a dark-bronze glass top that conjures an inverted shadow. Like much of her work, the Triumvirate was designed not on paper or a computer, but through trial and error in her shop, using wire and wood strips. “I was playing with it and realized, oh, these three legs can puzzle into one together,” she says. “Three is a magical number to me, and the triangle is a magical shape. The three-legged table is my interpretation of unity, wholeness, and harmony.” $12,000. 

York dining set by OCB Design
Photo by James Allen Walker

OCB Design

“I dress almost exclusively in black and gray, but I love seeing pops of color in furniture,” Otis C. Baron says. “In nature, you see bark and flowers, so it reads as natural to me. I also have a daughter named Violet, and when you have a little girl, you’ve got to embrace pink and purple.” Baron’s ash-and-felt York dining chairs, which live in his own home with a matching table, are stripped-down versions of Mission-influenced mahogany ones with leather upholstery he created for clients. One of the world’s oldest textiles, felt feels at once timeless and modern, he says. Baron hails from rural Cape Cod, where “everyone built their own houses,” and studied sculpture in college. After moving to his late-wife’s hometown of Portland in 2004, he made custom furniture and worked for Woolwich’s Tidewater Millwork before recommitting to the furniture business. “To me, it’s a nice hybrid of sculpture, woodworking, and design,” he says. York dining set, $7,700. 

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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