Ian Wilson is wandering around his woodworking shop, a bright industrial space just steps from the Cambie Street Bridge in Vancouver. A few days ago it was humming with action, but on this day, it’s empty. There are no saws or sanders buzzing, no customers browsing the retail space out front, no stacks of lumber—but Wilson is clearly excited. His equipment has been packed up and is en route to a new space a few blocks away, at 1311 East 4th Avenue. All that remains are odds and ends, and the sweet, earthy smell of wood.
When Wilson founded the Joint Woodworking Studio in 2002, his goal was to showcase carefully crafted furniture and cabinetry and, at the same time, educate the public about how fine furniture is made. Over the past eight years that is exactly what he has done, designing and working with his team of skilled craftsmen to create custom-made bed frames, dining tables and chairs, coffee tables, end tables and more. The new location, now up and running, is just the latest stage of evolution for the Joint, which has carved out a niche as a designer of handmade, heirloom-quality wood furniture.
Browsing the finished pieces makes evident Wilson’s influences. He cites Danish modernist designers Finn Juhl and Hans Wegner as inspiration, and he also draws on Japanese art, pottery and craftsmanship. “There is such a respect for materials and process, I really admire that,” he notes. At the same time, his work has its own style, emphasizing organic shapes that embrace and enhance the natural character of the wood.
As a kid growing up in Vancouver, Wilson wanted to be an interior decorator. Later, he studied sculpture and three-dimensional art, travelled abroad and lived in Belgium and Holland before returning to Vancouver. He opened the Joint with the idea of designing and building custom pieces during the day and offering classes to educate the public in the finer points of furniture-making in the evenings and on weekends. At the end of 2005 Wilson stopped offering classes, deciding to focus his efforts on his craft, designing and building pieces for clients.
Wilson often works with cherry walnut, and says the source and character of the raw pieces of wood inform his designs. “I’m a material hound,” he says. “I just love finding and building and designing around really cool pieces of material.” Wilson sources wood from all over—focusing on reclaimed and salvaged pieces, and North American lumber from certified sustainable forests—anywhere from demolition sites to
Over the years he has had the chance to work on a range of interesting projects. He has decked out entire houses and condos with custom-fitted furniture. Working with architect Tom Weeks, he has made several pieces for Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral, including an altar, a baptismal font and a lectern from which Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have spoken.
Wilson’s artisanal, handmade approach and commitment to craftsmanship are rare among today’s landscape of mass-produced industrial design. “People are constantly asking us for catalogues. We don’t have a catalogue,” he says. For Wilson and his talented team, the fun is working in partnership with clients to create custom pieces. “As an artist, that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to produce a hundred of the same thing,” he says. “For some people it makes it a little tougher to get their heads around, but for us as a shop, that’s what makes it interesting.”
Photos: Mark Reynolds