Masterpiece Woodworks, now operating
out of an industrial park "within striking distance" of the
city of Boston, had its origins over 30 years ago, when founders
Daryl Evans and Rick Hulme were in high school industrial arts
classes together. After graduating, Rick got a job as an apprentice
to a craftsman of Italian heritage who was building custom furniture,
and brought Daryl into the business as well.
"It was a place where you either
learn, or you're out the door," Daryl said. "We learned a
lot." They worked for Mario for a while, then for his nephew,
and "after several years, we decided we could do it on our own."
Based on their experience, Daryl and
Rick have always specialized in selling furniture wholesale to the
interior design trade. "It keeps it on a professional level,"
Daryl said. Plus, while he noted the technical requirements of
woodworking, "you can do a lot of work, and if the design isn't
there, it just doesn't look appropriate."
A couple of recent built-in projects,
for which they worked closely with the architect, involved a pair or
armoires for a Boston brownstone foyer, and, for the same architect,
a pair of crystal cabinets in a receiving room located between a
dining room and living room. Of the armoires, Daryl said, "there
wasn't a straight line on the things, with the serpentine front. It
was a lot of shaping, since they were fitted right to the walls, to
mirror each other left and right."
While the armoires were meant to take
guests' coats as they entered the home, the purpose of the crystal
cabinets was for mixing and serving drinks. They had concave side
panels of crotch mahogany, with marble tops at counter height for the
service, and upper sections of curved, divided leaded glass. The
cabinets were canted into the corners at a 30 degree angle.
While acknowledging the impressive
factor of projects like that -- and his appreciation that their
high-end clientele has let Masterpiece Woodworks weather most
recessions -- Daryl said, "I'd rather just build freestanding
stuff in the shop. It's a little less stressful."
The shop has six employees at this
point: three builders (one of whom is Daryl), two finishers (Rick
Hulme, the other founding partner, is in charge of the finish room)
and one designer/office staff. Each builder gets assigned a specific
project -- or sometimes two if they're small, such as coffee tables
-- with the assignments based on capabilities. For instance, one
person is better at the lacquered linen wrapping that they sometimes
do as a finish, while Daryl himself tends to do most of the cabinets
with TV lifts.
Those are media cabinets in the style
that accommodates the newer, thinner TVs, often with a motor lift
mechanism that sometimes swivels. Speaking of traditional media
centers, Daryl said, "Those deep cabinets, everybody
retrofitted those cabinets or got rid of them -- which was good for
"Furniture is trendy," Daryl
said. "It's like fashion, but a longer cycle." While his
shop still does some traditional pieces, "Right now, we're doing
a lot of contemporary pieces, pieces with clean, straight lines."
And some of the vintage type requests they get are for the sort of
mid-century furniture which has lines that can work with a modern
interior. The goal nowadays, Daryl said, is to create a certain
shape or silhouette. That doesn't mean it's easier. "Simple
lines can be more difficult," he said. "There's a reason
for tradition: they'd put layers of molding over joinery to hide
Other current trends include
incorporating metal components into wood projects: things like metal
feet for legs, hinges, etc. Masterpiece Woodworks works with a metal
fabricator that "speaks the same language we do, the same
quality of work," Daryl said. Recently, they created their own
metal guides out of aluminum to support the tracking system for the
leaves of a 12' long, 4' wide dining table that extended to 20'
long with leaves on either end. The ends, Daryl said, had
the appearance of breadboard ends. "So it was modern, but it had
Woods used by Masterpiece Woodworks
include a lot of riftsawn oak and walnut, Daryl said. With the
riftsawn oak, they often apply a ceruse finish -- sometimes called
liming -- in which an overlay of color, usually white, fills and
reveals grain lines. With the walnut, they will bleach it back to "a
lighter wood that we can bleach and dye and stain."
While finishing "is like a whole
other trade, like chemistry," that he himself doesn't keep up
with as much as the other aspects of woodworking, "finish is one
of our shop's assets," Daryl said. Sheens and patinas can be
critical in certain designs, and the shop has done finishes that
incorporate a variety of materials, including parchment, glass,
stone, and even shagreen finishes, made out of the calcium carbonate
belly of a stingray.
"The finish is everything: it
tells us what kind of material to use, what kind of joinery, what
materials won't crack the topcoat, the correct adhesive to secure it
to the substrate...," Daryl said. Taking those considerations
into mind, "There's more work upfront to a project," he
said. "Building it is almost secondary by the time we do all the
shop drawings. We use a lot of mock-ups. We've got one shot to do it
right, because every project is different."
Most of the time, that work is being
done in a 7,200 square foot shop. An addition about four years ago
doubled the space, but about 1,000 feet is dedicated to office and
showroom space, and "it's never enough space," Daryl said.
Tools found in that shop include two
sliding panel saws -- which Daryl described as "awesome"
-- a 36" band saw, 16" jointer, 24" planer, Festool
drills and more. What they don't have, but is next on the list,
according to Daryl, is a wide-belt sander. They also don't have a
CNC [computer numerically controlled] router -- but a neighboring
business is a sign fabricator with that capability, who works with
them. "It works. I don't have to spend 100 grand," Daryl
said. "But if I had one, I probably would use it more."
Overall, Daryl said of Masterpiece
Woodworks' custom woodworking, "It's a great business. It's not
the most lucrative business, but it's certainly fun and interesting."
His advice for those thinking of getting started? "Take a
business course. Business skills are important for anybody."
And, as for himself? "It keeps it
interesting because it's always changing. It keeps the juices going."