This weekend in Boston, woodworkers, furnituremakers, masters and students, and the general public converged on the Boston World Trade Center for WoodExpo 2012 whose stated purpose was to reconnect the maker and the buyer.
It’s a strange atmosphere, in a way, as there are several audiences this show is designed to attract (in no specific order):
- The Woodworker: For $9 (online ticketing), you gain entry for four days to the New England Homeshow (in which WoodExpo features quite prominently). In these 4 days (or in whatever portion you choose to attend), you have the opportunity to see demonstrations of techniques, concepts, methods of work, and listen to panel discussions which include some of the most talented and respected names in the game today. This year, these included: Chuck Bender , Al Breed, Glen Guarino, Tom McLaughlin, Terry Moore, Freddy Roman, Phil Lowe (unable to attend due to illness), (I’m certain I’ve forgotten someone…). Not only were there live demonstrations, but every one of these guys was accessible for one-on-one conversations. If you ever wanted to pick a master’s brain, what an opportunity. (Photo: Clockwise From Top L: Glen Guarino talks with Mike Morton and Rob Bois about stacked lamination; Terry Moore demonstrates veneering a round table; Chuck Bender makes some Bermuda dovetails, and Al Breed carves a Rhode Island Ball and Claw in 30 minutes or less.)
Just as valuable, in my view, was the opportunity to see the work that up-and-coming furnituremakers, students from North Bennet Street School and Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, and some really great self-taught woodworkers were showing, and talk in great depth about their pieces, their experiences, methods, inspiration, ideas, etc. Each has a distinctive style, be it in period or contemporary genres, so there’s really something to see and talk about for every woodworker. The passion for the craft is evident in every conversation. Follow the links at towards the bottom of this post, to many of the makers own sites so you can go see their work directly. At the end of this post, there’s a slideshow of all the pieces for which I took halfway decent images, but here are a few photos of the winning pieces:
- The Buying Public: The vast majority of people passing by the furniture on display are just that: passers-by who came to see the consumer home show (gutters, kitchens, etc.) and walk by, occasionally stopping when something catches their interest. This poses both a challenge to furnituremakers, but also some opportunities. The vast majority of these consumers are likely to buy new furniture at Ikea, Target, or discount/chain furniture stores, and for whom up-front cost is a chief consideration in furnishing their homes, which could be attributable to insufficiencies in their appreciation for the value and quality of fine furniture, in their finances, or knowledge of the availability, process or attainability of quality furniture. In this sense, the makers have some challenges: connecting with and educating these people to convey appreciation of the work, so that when the need and ability arise, they think of a furniture maker before Ikea to get what they want. This crowd also presents some opportunities for the maker to get feedback on their work from a large number of people (though most aren’t likely to share the negative opinions, but rather just pass on in silence), engage them to learn about what they want in furniture (market research), an lastly, an opportunity, with some strategic designing, to convert some of these to clients and buyers of custom furniture by designing not only top of the line pieces to exhibit at this show, but ‘entry-level’ pieces which become (you’ll forgive the term) the gateway-drug to fine furniture. By this, I mean high-quality pieces at a lower pricepoint (simplified, batch-made, etc.) making it more accessible and affordable to this audience and increasing the likelihood of converting a consumer from a low-quality, foreign mass-produced pieces. These new clients have potential to become the repeat customer of tomorrow when they see the value in well-made custom furniture.
- The Interior Designer/Architect/Buyers: These are the target market for fine furniture makers, who know about the value of top-quality work, and are often working for (or are) discerning consumers in many areas (not just furniture). These are fewer in number at this show, and growing WoodExpo to be a destination for these types of clients will, I believe, need to be the challenge tackled by the show’s organizers. If you’re a designer, architect or buyer, and you want some of the best furniture out there, this is the place to be to see the work, meet the makers, tell them what you want, and forge relationships that will add tremendous value to your own designs.
- The Furniture Maker: If you’re a maker, you’re crazy not to try to get into this show. It’s free. There is a ton of opportunity for educating, showing, getting design critique from peers and from masters, learning about the business, marketing, getting your name out, making connections, and making friends. Will you sell your pieces when you’re there? It happens every year, not a lot, but if some of the things I mentioned start happening (ie. Makers building some gateway pieces for the homeshow market, and organizers working towards building the attendance of the high-end clients to WoodExpo) it will happen more each year. Would you want to miss out on an opportunity like that?
- The Masters: What can I say? These guys come out to educate. To educate the public about the craft and fine furniture. To educate the next generation of maker on how to do it right, in business and in the craft, how to be successful, to market, to deal with adversities unique to the field, and more. To educate woodworkers on some really cool ways of doing some really cool things. What draws them? Love of the craft and desire to see us all succeed, and the craft grow. True mentors.
If you are in any of these target audiences (and there are probably more I haven’t thought of) and you missed this year’s WoodExpo, make a point to try and make it next year, it should be even better. (Don’t forget to read to the end to see some more images from the show!)
Some other blogs with other accounts from WoodExpo 2012 (List may be updated as more are published):
- UPDATE FEB 2013: Link to the 2013 event: The Furniture Project (formerly Wood Expo)
- Morton’s Wood Expo 2012: Favorite Wood (videos)
- Steve Branam’s CloseGrain.com accounts
- Newton Fine Woodworking’s Blog: ‘connecting the buyer and the maker is a two-way street‘
- Modern Woodworkers Association: my account from a different point of view
Links to some of the talented makers and masters in attendance (its well worth the time to browse their portfolios):
- Kevin Mack
- Steve Skillins
- Ryan Messier
- Allan Breed
- Niels Cosman
- Megan Caine
- Michael McCoy
- Tom McLaughlin
- Freddy Roman
- Glen Guarino
- Rob Bois
- Ed McCormack
- Quentin Kelley
- Chuck Bender
- Rusty Burwell
- Eli Cleveland
- M.Scott Morton
- Terry Moore
- (If I missed you, let me know and I’ll add you to the list!)