Gwin crafts fine furniture in new woodworking shop

Published 12:19 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Adam T. Gwin, maker of fine furniture, recently opened his shop in a new location in Natchez. Gwin specializes in custom period reproductions.

NATCHEZ — Natchezian Adam Gwin hinges together artistic sensibility and a craftsman’s experience — creating a business as sturdy and unique as his fine furniture.

Gwin recently opened a new shop at 102 Martin Luther King St. in Natchez. With more space and a good location, Gwin has more room to dovetail his love for woodworking with his knack for helping clients design pieces that suit their needs and impress their guests.

Gwin said the 1,200 square-foot shop is a better space and better location for his goals.

“What I build is period reproductions,” Gwin said. “I build things the way they used to, which is fairly important to what I do.”

An example of a period reproduction Gwin is currently building is a China press. The top of the cabinet is encased in decorative glass, and the bottom “carcass” is enclosed with handsome doors.

“I used a hand rub, called a French polish,” Gwin said. “That’s the way it used to be done. It’s made with shellac. This (piece) is typical — on the higher end of what I do.”

While Gwin said some of his work can be described as “swanky,” other pieces are made with crude materials that possess a personal significance for his clients.

Gwin said Thursday a client picked up a display cabinet made from windowpanes from the client’s demolished house, and barn door parts.

The shop is located at 102 Martin Luther King St. in Natchez.

“I produce high-style stuff, to the more eclectic,” Gwin said.

He said the value of a custom piece of furniture lies in communication.

“You can go to a store and pick out furniture,” Gwin said. “But I believe I am a good listener. Someone has a specific need, and I enjoy sitting in the space, listening to what they want and need, taking what knowledge I have of the craft, and molding it into what the client wants and needs.”

Gwin said sometimes clients aren’t exactly sure what they need, or how to express it.

“Sometimes what they think they want is different from what they actually need,” Gwin said. “I help them work through molding what they want, with what they need.”

Gwin’s interest in woodworking was first cut as a Cub Scout in the 1980s, when the scouts were assigned to use a jigsaw to cut little ducks out of wood.

“I had always loved building stuff,” Gwin said.

After giving the ducks to his mother for a Christmas gift, she thought a jigsaw would be an appropriate gift for her son.

Gwin put his jigsaw to work, making more personalized gifts — cats, ducks and horses. One gift recipient, Gwin’s fifth-grade teacher at Trinity Episcopal Day School, Sissy Presgrove, said she is still proud to be the keeper of Gwin’s “original work.”

Like the wooden cutouts, Gwin’s first workshop was modest as well; it was just a countertop in a storage room.

“I’ve had a shop forever of some description,” Gwin said.

Eventually Gwin started working for a local antique restorer, Richard Branyon of Lower Lodge Antiques.

“He had a very nice shop,” Gwin said. “I began using his tools to build furniture myself.”

As Gwin developed his technique, his taste evolved with it.

“I couldn’t afford my own taste,” Gwin said. “So he helped me find the simplest things I could do that would be what is aesthetically pleasing to me.”

Gwin said like any endeavor, he started simply, graduated, and graduated again until he had a good grasp of basic concept.

“It’s interesting — everyone who does this kind of work has their own way of doing things,” Gwin said. “As I watched (Branyon), I developed my own style, and also wanted to learn more about how other people do things.”

Gwin’s career deviated from furniture making for a while, but eventually he crosscut his way back to furniture making when he started working with Natchez furniture maker and restorer Steve Huber. After a while Gwin decided it was time to go into business for himself, so he rented space from Huber four years ago.

“I started buying tools and acquiring lumber,” Gwin said.

Three years ago Gwin got into his own shop downtown, and finally opened his shop on Martin Luther King Street in Natchez Oct. 8.

Gwin is currently finishing a piece that might be considered the most beautiful ice chest in Natchez. He said the glorified cooler was called a cellarette in the old days. Gleaming mahogany with beautiful inlaid veneer will contain heavy plastic hidden under the lid and be lined with a metal box to keep the ice very cold.

“It’s for someone who might want to keep beer and wine cold in a formal dining room,” Gwin said.

For Gwin, his more challenging commissions are a metaphor for life — like a three-part dining room table he constructed.

The table called for 12 identical legs, veneered aprons, hinged legs for folding, wheels, and a nice sand and finish. Gwin said it’s important not to become overwhelmed.

“You have to focus on what’s right in front of you instead of the end product,” Gwin said. “There was no part of the project that was difficult — they were all things I understood how to do, but it was daunting to look at it.

“But when you break (the process) into pieces, it’s manageable.”

While commissions range from whimsical to classic, Gwin said at the end of the day he is fortunate to do what he loves.

“My dream is to be able to continue doing this,” he said.