Robert Brou’s first foray into woodworking came when he was hired to restore and reproduce antiques for a New Orleans gallery in the late 1990s.
All of the aspects of woodworking he learned while building chairs, dining tables and Chinese Chippendale curio cabinets for Manheim Gallery, Robert said, come in handy today – especially the fact that “there were very little square corners; it was all delicate, curved.”
That fits in with his own original work at his Atlanta-based Naturalism Furniture business because, as Robert described it, “what I’m doing now is very organic.”
In the last two years, or so, he has started doing pieces inspired by the designs of nature, “starting with the Porcupine Table. I bought the top slab from a lumberyard in California and I lived with it in the house for a while, and then I looked at it and said, ‘that would be perfect for a porcupine.'"
He searched out porcupine images and set to work making the black walnut table with its zebrawood quills – over 100 of them. “We have kind of a communal shop here, and when people would come by and ask what I was working on, and I’d tell them ‘a porcupine table, with over 100 legs,’ that felt crazy.”
Still, Robert said, he decided to “jump off the deep end” and see where this path took him. So far, it’s taken him to ideas for a Sea Urchin coffee table made from buckeye burl, and a Jellyfish table with a bubinga top and oak tentacles.
“The Urchin Table is my coffee table in my house,” Robert said. “I live with every day, and I love it.
“You come across so many interesting shapes and combinations found nature, there’s almost limitles possibilities.”
Robert wants to move his business more in the direction of these original works, but right now, he describes himself as a “furniture maker for hire,” doing cabinetry, built-ins, kitchens, etc., with his original work done between paying jobs.
That’s one reason he joined CustomMade®, an online site where woodworkers can feature their work and potential customers can search for a woodworker, as well as experimenting with creating molds from his original pieces and casting them in rigid polyurethane foam to create furniture with a price tag that’s “a more affordable piece for the average person,” he said.
He also hasn’t completely moved away from his antiques restoration days. His current commission? Two reproduction George Nakashima lounge chairs. “The fellow I’m working with bought a Nakashima chair at auction, and he wants to reupholster the original and is commissioning pieces to go along with it.
“This is the third time I’ve done a Nakashimam reproduction for this fellow, but it’s the first time I’ve had an original to work with. It’s fun to see the work of a master woodworker and break it down and see how he did things.
Whether it’s the reproductions or his original work, Robert said, “With furniture, each one is its own new adventure.”
Editor's Note: CustomMade was the partner sponsor for Woodworker's Journal video blog coverage of the January 2010 International Builder's Show in Las Vegas. Click here for WJ editors' video coverage of new tools of the new year.