A short walk across the parking lot from the main office is the shop for our fine woodworking division, NEWwoodworks. While the walk stretches the legs, wandering through their space feeds every type of woodcraft obsession. On a recent visit to the shop, I was drawn to a thick live-edge slab, smoothly finished and awaiting shipment to its new home as a bar top. This led me to Rob, manager of NEWwoodworks for a chat about how this group of skilled woodworkers arrives at happy hour creations:
The feel of that smooth finish still bright in my mind I asked, what are the biggest driving factors in determining material and finish for commercial (specifically bar or restaurant) projects? “Usage and aesthetics,” Rob replied. “A huge variety of personalities, of feel and atmosphere, can be achieved with wood—both in the specific grade used, and the style when crafting it.”
I could understand that. Rough to sleek, fresh sawn to antique. It all has a place; it comes down to what the owner or designer wants to achieve. (Personally, I’m into wood with lots of character like beetle trails, nail holes, strap marks…much to the chagrin of my Dad, a long-time wood hobbyist who is all about clean lines and ray fleck.)
What’s a ‘need to know’ regarding wood in restaurant or bar spaces? “That wood can be used in places well beyond the floor or walls. It works in just about any aesthetic. Clean, crisp, modern in the grain, finish, or design to original sawn or hewn surfaces with through tenon joinery,” Rob shared.
“Second to that, keeping in mind that wood offers warmth, connection, even nostalgia. Think of an antique mahogany bar or the family dinner table. We really do believe in ‘wood where the elbows are‘, in a private home or a public space. Wood intuitively creates an intimate, relaxed vibe.”
These days I feel like I’m encountering more of an industrial vibe in bars and eateries. Exposed steel trusses, bright metal ductwork, big expanses of glass, minimal curves or organic shapes. Does wood have a place in these spaces? Rob thinks so: “We often suggest the integration of wood as it can temper the cold backdrop of concrete, glass, or steel in a space bringing authenticity, thoughtfulness. I think people instinctively connect with wood so it balances out the modern industrial atmosphere.”
There are projects with specific plans from designers or homeowners who know exactly what feel and style they want to achieve. There are others who want to know all the options and possible solutions. Both bring opportunity to practice detailed woodcraft which makes for a good day to our craftsmen.
Whole project solutions are one of Rob’s favorite ways to service a project–especially as it means designing multiple pieces for a single location, leading to a bigger impact on the aesthetics: “There have been plenty of occasions where we’ve started off with bringing a design idea to life for say, a community-style table, and it’s lead to crafting the table and then the booths, and the four top tables, and the bar, and lighting fixtures and even the bathroom stalls. It’s pretty cool, you know, how things snowball. We really enjoy having a large role in making the whole aesthetic shine.”
So, what’s Rob’s favorite eatery project? This question gave him pause, which I could appreciate as there is a good variety to choose from. “Hm. I’d have to say both Pressed Café and Kindred Fare. We did that cool CNC sign in Pressed Café, plus the tables, including a few that were narrow and counter-height. Kindred Fare was a great collaboration. It is one of those good examples of starting with a single piece, a table, and growing to include the hostess station, doors, smaller tables, the bar, shelving, fixtures—you get the idea. We were part of the design process sharing ideas and suggesting wood species/textures which was really fun and fulfilling.”
Also happening in the shop? Samples. Custom samples are produced for pretty much every project. This helps ensure client expectations are met, that the finish technique or product will suit the desired aesthetic. Rob explained further, “We’re always focusing on the final use. If elbows as well as plates, or pans, or wet pint glasses are going on the surface, we’ll make specific recommendations to ensure a long life for the piece.”