Whenever he posts pictures on WoodCentral.com, which he does often, Hikmet Cihangir Sakman‘s work is greeted with both accolades and envy. Both are well deserved. Working out of a shop in the picturesque tourist town of Victoria, British Columbia, “Chico” Sakman, as he is known to his friends, creates furniture that is beautifully designed and superbly executed. Although he now calls Canada home, it’s a long way from his roots.
“I am originally from Turkey,” Chico explained when I asked about the origin of his name. “In Turkey, people use their middle name as their primary name, so there I would be H. Cihangir Sakman. I dropped the middle name because it is difficult for people here. In fact, it is an unusual name even in Turkey. Here I use the name Hikmet (“heek-met”) and introduce myself that way formally, but everyone who knows me well calls me Chico, a nickname my sister gave me when I was seven years old. Chico was the cowboy sidekick of a comic book hero named Zagor.
“I lived in Turkey until 1987. In spite of the fact that Turkey is a Muslim country, I went to a French Catholic school until high school. Unlike other Arabic countries, Turkey has a decidedly European lifestyle with no restrictions on personal activities like drinking. When I was 20, I left home and moved to Victoria, BC to go to school.
“Initially, I was thinking of going to school in England, but I thought there would be too many Turks there and instead of learning English, I would be hanging out with other Turkish students speaking Turkish. I wanted to avoid that. A family friend who lived in Victoria told me she was the only Turkish person there. ‘Come here,’ she said, ‘and we can keep each other company.’ Going to Canada guaranteed immersion in a new language, so I went there. I studied economics, business administration and English at the University of Victoria.
“Just one month before graduation, I met a woman named Terry Scott. She is originally from Victoria and, like her name, is Scottish. I returned home after graduation, but a month later Terry showed up on my doorstep in Izmir, Turkey. My family loved her as much as I did, and two years later, we married and moved back to Canada.
“If I had my choice in life, I would be a car designer, but there is no opportunity for that while living here, and I really like Victoria. I have sent some of my designs, unsolicited, to Alpha Romeo. They never got back to me, but one model they made later showed up with my taillight design.
“Once back in Canada, I started looking for a suitable job. Unions are powerful here, and I had trouble finding a field I could enter as an administrator, which was my training. My father was in real estate, so I became a real estate agent for three years, but did not like the work. I did buy a house in 1994, but it needed lots of work. I had always been good with my hands, but coming from a white collar family full of lawyers, doctors and engineers and having been raised in a condo, I never had the opportunity to have a shop or work with my hands.
“For stress relief and out of need, I started doing trim work on the house. Because our mortgage payments were so high, we could not afford any furniture. I bought a few secondhand pieces, dissected them and remade them the way I wanted. They looked awful, so I decided to try to make them from scratch. That’s how it started.
“I was completely self-taught. At times, I would read articles and not even know the terminology they were using, and many of the words were not easy to find in a dictionary. I had to do a lot of guesswork. For example, there was no way of knowing what ‘proud of the frame’ meant, and not being a native English speaker made the job tougher.
“I got better and, before long, others started asking me to make things for them. I started with small tables and cabinets, and word spread, even without advertising. I found that I really liked creating things with my hands, then standing back and looking at it. Of course, there is also pleasure in hearing positive feedback from customers. I quickly caught on that what I make is worthy of people’s money. I did a few pieces and took them to a local furniture store. They liked them, and I was in business. I quit the real estate business and never looked back.
“My first original design was a padauk and maple floating top table. I made it in two days after seeing it completely in my mind. The legs twist 45 degrees from base to top, a cut I did, oddly enough, on the jointer. First, I chamfered the leg and, registering the leg from the shoulder of the bevel, I created a triangular facet on each leg so that when it is done, the leg appears to twist smoothly.
“My wine cabinets are my signature series. Although most have some outside taper to break up the lines, the prominent design characteristic is a series of squares within squares. However, when you look at it as a big picture, the door opening appears rectangular instead. It is a bit of an optical illusion.
“Some of my pieces use design elements from different styles combined, and I like blending unexpected elements to work well together. It is like combining flavors to create a taste both interesting and pleasant. Especially with Arts and Crafts, I find pieces often need something to break up what is essentially a square box.”
Along the way, Chico did a bit of teaching and some writing for a Canadian woodworking magazine aimed mainly at novices, and he currently edits his guild’s newsletter. That’s really quite an accomplishment for someone who came here to force himself to learn the language, but with all his endeavors, Chico seems fearless.
“I would rather drown in an ocean than a puddle,” he explains, “so my philosophy is just dive in, take it from there, and see where it will take you.”