The craftsmanship of handmade furniture is evident in the details: the exquisite turn of the finial topping on the arch of a tiger maple bachelor’s chest, or the contrast of wood tones between the box joints of a table and its sides.
In a state that’s home to a furniture-making program at the Rhode Island School of Design and close to the North Bennet Street School in Boston, many workshops turn out high-quality, one-of-a-kind pieces that double as functional conversation-starters and heirlooms.
If you’re looking to add panache to your decorating or discover a piece to last for generations, you might want to explore some home-grown options. For a taste of what Rhode Island artisans have to offer, a good place to start is the 27th annual Fine Furnishings Show, which runs Nov. 4-6 at Providence’s WaterFire Arts Center.
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Featuring furniture, textiles, ceramics and other handmade pieces by about 90 exhibitors from across New England and as far away as Virginia, the show is an “invitation to be inspired,” according to its owner, Karla Little.
“Rather than a vanilla nightstand, people can see the beauty of the unique bubinga inlay added to a piece by one maker, or the well-made joints on another piece,” she said. “These are built to last.”
Illustrating the variety of talent, two of the furniture makers who’ll attend have very different styles, but the end results are equally sturdy and beautiful.
Torsten Mayer-Rothbarth completed a furniture apprenticeship in his native Germany, then studied graphic design. Since immigrating to the U.S. with his future wife 12 years ago, he has juggled both careers from his Barrington home.
“They both have aesthetics, creativity and problem-solving involved,” he says.
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His main piece is a multi-functional stool that pays homage to one designed for schools in postwar Germany. The minimalist piece can serve as a seat, nightstand, stool or, when several are stacked, a bookshelf.
“I like simple, straightforward ideas combined with old-fashioned craft,” Mayer-Rothbarth says. “These are current in design but utilize traditional skills.”
In addition to the stools, he does a variety of commission work and is adding a nesting table to his portfolio. For more information, go to mayer-rothbarth.myportfolio.com/maxmin.
Over in North Smithfield, Jon Peirce focused full-time on his furniture business, Industrious Revolution, in 2016 after establishing a reputation for high-quality pieces made of rich, figured wood.
From writing desks, valet chests and candle stands to small jewelry and tea boxes, his award-winning pieces emerge from a lifelong love for reclaiming and revitalizing old wood and using techniques such as accent banding to highlight utilitarian pieces.
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While his work is mainly on commission, Peirce says fear of higher prices should not deter furniture shoppers.
“People are conditioned by the box store model, and we can’t compete with that, but these are pieces that will last a lifetime and they are priced competitively,” he says. “I’m very picky about the wood I buy, and I like to find antiques that are too far gone and reuse the wood for something else.” For more information on his work, go to industriousrevolution.com.
Artisans at the show will display pieces, chat with visitors about commission ideas and even demonstrate their skills. The show also offers:
• A 70-foot Parade of Chairs, with pieces from all exhibitors, set against a backdrop mosaic of images depicting famous and historic chairs for an “almost museum-like quality,” Little says. “People will see diversity of design, materials, assembly and use.”
• A Designer Showroom in which interior designer Jan Franco creates a bedroom sanctuary featuring a bed handcrafted at Pompanoosuc Mills in Vermont, a rug from Rustigian Rugs in Providence and other pieces supplied by show exhibitors. “This gives them exposure and gives people inspiration,” Little says.
• Best in Show awards in eight categories. Peirce has won two years in a row.
A resource guide to RI-made home furnishings
If you want to buy local when decorating your home, here are some artisans to consider.
• Steve Kinnane, Little Compton, (401) 545-2785, SakonnetWoodworking.com
• Matthew Soule, Providence (401) 527-6617, SouleWork.com
• Corwin Butterworth, Wakefield, (401) 440-2798, on Facebook. CorwinButterworth.com
• Channing Gray, Providence, (401) 545-7156, [email protected]
• Susan Troy, Providence, (401) 499-5373, SusanTroy.com
METAL, GLASS AND CERAMICS
• Matt Cavallaro, Providence, (585) 329-6063, AresIron.com
• Lorna Stokes, Doone Studio, North Scituate, (401) 556-3720, [email protected], DooneStudio.com
• Deborah Goldhaft, Fire & Ice Studio, Providence, (401) 383-8691, FireIceGlass.com
If you go …
What: Fine Furnishings Show
When: Nov. 4-6 (Friday, 5-9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
Where: WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley St., Providence
Tickets: $10; free parking. Food trucks will be onsite.