Text by Vicki Ingham
For Kate Swann, each piece of lumber harbors a history. Whether it’s a 150-year-old walnut tree salvaged from the east slope of Oregon’s Mount Hood or a sustainably harvested maple that speaks of rainy summers and rustling wind, it tells a story. She keeps that story in mind as she designs custom furniture—and sometimes she even inscribes the tale somewhere on the finished piece, using pyrography or wood burning tools.
Born and raised in England, Kate discovered her love of woodworking while renovating her 1910 home in Portland, Oregon. Evening and weekend classes at the Oregon College of Art and Craft “gave me the technical competency to execute my ideas,” she says.
After moving to Tampa, Florida, she opened her own furniture-building shop. In 2009, she joined forces with Carl Johnson, a lifelong woodworker who had recently retired from a 30-year career with the city. “He is a master at figuring things out and solving technical challenges,” she says.
Their styles are very different, Kate notes. Her aesthetic is strongly influenced by Asian and contemporary design. Carl, on the other hand is, “more of a traditionalist, inclined toward Queen Anne and Federal styles.” Their contrasting approaches allow them to accommodate a variety of clients, who include architects, interior designers, and homeowners.
“We are a traditional classic joinery shop,” says Kate. “All the woodwork is based on old forms of joinery that stand the test of time— dovetails, mortise-and-tenon, hand-cut lap joints.” The focus on original design, traditional methods, solid woods, and hand-rubbed finishes sets them apart from other firms and guarantees that each piece is an heirloom with its own story to tell.