Furniture with a purpose

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Shaun Wilkerson refers to himself as a "flit." He owns a gallery and a custom furniture shop in New Orleans and a second gallery in Houston, and as a result he moves quickly from one location to another, the definition of flit.

"I flit around the country. I'm a migrating bird," Wilkerson said at his Houston gallery, Wilkerson Row. "I'm a migrating woodworker. I've gotten to the point now where I'm an artist; I do commissioned paintings. , I also own a couple galleries and a shop where all this is made. And I also have a couple of other businesses. But when people ask me what I do for a living I just simply tell them I make furniture. If they want to think that I am working in a garage somewhere putting together a little piece, then let them think that."

Wilkerson's repertoire of reclaimed furniture includes beds, tables, chairs, chests, lamps, book shelves; just about anything one would put in a house.

He got his start working for an architectural antique firm selling old doors and shutters in the 1980s. After detecting a growing market for antique mantels to fit grate heaters, most often sold under the brand name Heatalators, his first business was born.

"I just saw a market; people constantly coming in looking for mantels that would fit these new things," said Wilkerson. "What I did was take some of the old mantel designs, expanded them to fit the Heatalators and went into the mantel business."

It was a one-man show as Wilkerson operated Plantation Mantels with a radial arm saw, table saw and some hand tools. He had a national, wholesale clientele — with some retail sales mixed in — then furniture commissions started to happen.

"A lot of people would come in and ask me to build them tables and beds and I started branching off into making furniture," said Wilkerson. "I'm self-taught, trial and error, which can be expensive from time to time. It's been my method and it hasn't failed me yet; not too much anyway."

It's not easy being green
From his early furniture-making days, Wilkerson has been a believer in using reclaimed lumber. It has become the crux of his business and the only problem is maintaining a steady supply of heart pine, cypress and sinker (submerged) cypress.