Jeff Hunt's web site
explains that he is known for making strong, graceful, functional furniture that melds design and craft elements from both the East and the West. That's an accurate description, but as is often the case, falls far short of the story a few pictures will tell. Look through some of the stunning work in his online gallery and you will see a wide range of style influences, all expertly blended and executed into furniture that makes you say,"I wish I'd made that."
Hunt grew up in a small town in Ohio, where he had some early influence towards woodworking. "I started woodworking by watching my father, an engineer with a woodworking hobby," Jeff told me. "I got my first set of tools at seven. I made toys, boats, and things like that."
After studying engineering and philosophy in college and graduate schools in Ohio and California, he found himself working for a company making billiard tables. The three years he spent there helped him develop his woodworking chops, but he was not yet ready for that life path. Instead, he became a marketing manager for MCI after getting an MBA in business management. It wasn't until 1990, when he began taking woodworking courses at Laney College, that he decided it was time to make the jump.
"I had a really good instructor at Laney named Keith Nason. He just loved what he did every day, and it showed. I admired that, and it pushed me into doing what I loved. I rented a bench in a friend's shop, started looking for clients, and started making custom furniture."
Today, at the age of 53, he lives with his wife and daughter on 20 acres outside of Nevada City, California, a former gold rush town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. The furniture he makes ranges from simple to complex, and his pieces are neither outlandish, nor boring. All are well crafted, and designed with a note of serene harmony.
"I try to keep them visually and tactilely interesting, and at the same time functional," Jeff explained. "Things like reveals, shadow lines, and negative spaces all play an important part of the design process. I like subtle rather than shocking contrast."
His "Vine Bed" is a good example. Its inlays sit slightly proud of the surface, which adds shadow lines and texture to an otherwise simple Asian-influenced form. Jeff reports that it has aged beautifully, with the rich cherry background mellowing to an even more subtle contrast with the inlay. Some of his designs, like his Frank Lloyd Wright inspired walnut chairs with floating seats, and his jarra wood console table, whose legs clutch a black ball with their "knees," have a delicious tension to them.
His engineering background and affection for mathematical forms also influence designs. "One of the nicest commissions I had was a ten foot dining table made of hand-chosen Claro walnut. It was part of a suite of dining furniture, including 20 chairs and a pair of end tables that could stand alone, or act as extensions of the main table. The top was pieced together like a Mondrian painting, with all its segments based on the Golden Rectangle."
In the mid-90's, he had several pieces accepted by the American Craft Council's San Francisco show, and has been in that show every year since. It is his largest single venue for gaining clients.
"Sometimes, I work with clients to figure out what they like, where the piece will sit, and what it must do, in order to come up with designs. At other times, designs come out of pure inspiration."
While client commissions are an important part of any custom furniture business, Jeff expressed his feelings about clients and the creative process beautifully by evoking a quote from Ayn Rand's novel "The Fountainhead." In it, a character named Howard Roark, says: "I have clients so that I can build; I don't build to have clients."
In this case, I'd say his clients are the lucky ones.