A Thousand Years Reclaim, or the Bog Oak Revival, Part 2: Thomas Newman Furniture Maker
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There aren’t many designer-makers who produce cutting-edge work that is original, elegant and visually stunning. Yet I managed to find such a team just around the corner in our metropolitan “neighborhood” of Hoboken, NJ. Thomas Newman and Vladimir Krasnogorov’s shop is a fascinating furniture workshop; in it you can find a CNC machine next to an old jointer and a virtual reality helmet next to a Lie Nielsen plane. The reason for this rich and inspiring habitat is clear, to produce innovative designs by incorporating all that is possible into the duo’s arsenal of imagination and techniques. Tom and Vlad work together successfully to push the boundaries of design and wood. What enables them to do this is an exceptional mastery of traditional woodworking techniques and a high level of dexterity in the most advanced computer-aided design. In this entry, I’ll show Tom and Vlad’s most recent achievements in incorporating swamp oak into their designs, and next time I’ll talk about their highly sophisticated computer-aided design creations.
Before we start showing what is currently being done in their shop, let me introduce you to the founder and owner of this municipality, Thomas Newman (Instagram). Tom began his love affair with wood more than fifty years ago. He began his career as a furniture restorer. As a self-taught, he had immersed himself in books and magazines (there was no Youtube in the 1970s) and with a lot of hard work managed to position himself as one of the best restorers in New York City. Tom says that while the mechanics of carpentry, hardware and carcass construction could be grasped quite easily by looking at drawings and taking things apart, this was not the case with furniture finishes. The conclusion was a topic on which he spent his lost time in those days. He said he couldn’t have been so successful without the help of George Frank, a finishing expert and book author on the subject who followed him. In Tom’s words: “To know your way with finishes you have to prepare yourself for a lot of trial and error – and disaster.” Tom said that when Frank retired and moved to Florida, he gave him a box full of ultimate treats – rare pre-poly era recipe concoctions. Towards the end of the 1970s, Tom was enchanted by the furniture design and especially by the works of George Nakashima. As before, he delved into numerous published sources, read and experimented with, and eventually decided he was ready to branch out into Studio Furniture.
His first successful products were bespoke traditional style high-end tables that he built for the Howard Kaplan showroom in New York. Many of the files 500 tables he built over the years stemmed from a handful of design archetypes that customers could influence in terms of wood or veneer type, edge details, and hardware choices. This gave clients, or their decorators, the feeling of being an integral part of the design game, while at the same time making Tom’s work less monotonous and repeatable.
Over the years Tom has collaborated with many of the City’s iconic designers and decorators. With some, like Bill Diamond and Tony Baratta, he accepted design indications and guidelines, but with others he took on the role of lead designer. As a manufacturer who relied on woodworking to make a living, he had to diversify his creative palette. He has always looked for ways to reach new clientele and has had his pieces on display and in the collection of famous Manhattan-based galleries. More recently, with the shift in tides in commerce, from traditional brick and mortar joints to web-based representation, Tom and Vlad’s work has been presented with the acclaimed contemporary Twentieth gallery.
Then, a few years ago, Tom met Allen Telt who introduced him to Bog oak. After watching, touching and hearing the stories of this spectacular material, Tom was enchanted, and so began a new chapter in his long and prosperous career. Most of Tom and Vlad’s swamp oak projects involve using thick veneer on a substrate. To create their inlay designs they use the natural color variation of swamp oak (from darker on the outside to lighter and yellow in the core of the trunk) to compose fantastic geometric patterns. In other cases, they let the Bog oak live edge slabs speak for themselves and rest them on hyper-modern-looking bases.
Swamp oak screen
Dining table 1
Dining table 2
Swamp oak coffee table
Next time I’ll talk about Vlad’s (Instagram) extraordinary trajectory in furniture design and how he and Tom make beautiful and poetic pieces of fine furniture.
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