The refined rustic

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The refined rustic
A 20-year history
Production process
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The horseman out for a ride was passing Rick Braun's remote Ozark Mountains woodshop and, in a moment of curiosity, decided to find out what was going on inside. Dismounting, he walked into the shop to find Braun at work on a coffee table.

It turned out to be a red-letter day for the fledgling business — one that would force Braun to push the envelope of his production skills.

The horseman was John Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, the mega-retail operation with landmark sportsman and outdoor stores across the nation. Morris was planning to buy a defunct, 10,000-acre nature resort. The land was adjacent to Braun's.

"He came riding on horseback, by my shop, in the middle of the nowhere — and I mean in the middle of nowhere," Braun recalls. "He walked into my little shop. I had this coffee table going and he said, 'I like this. Can you build more of them?'"

Braun told him he could, and Morris said he would send his architect to the shop in about a week. They made an appointment. The architect showed up on the appointed date, looked over the coffee table and asked Braun if he could build tables and chairs to go with it. Braun said he had never built tables and chairs before, but was sure he could do it. The architect said, "OK, then, we need 10 dining room tables and 60 chairs."

"My heart just started beating," Braun says. "I asked him, 'And when do you need those?'" In six weeks, the man responded.

Braun says he gulped, and said, "I can build one table and six chairs in six weeks." He held his breath, wondering if his candor would turn out to be a deal breaker.

"Go ahead and do that," the architect said, "and we will go from there." Braun built the table and chairs and got approval to go ahead with the rest of the order.

"It was not on his time frame, but on mine," Braun laughingly recalls. "I had to hire extra help, but we got it done. I was confident that I could do it, but I made a lot of mistakes. I wished I could have had a mentor. It would have saved a lot of do-overs."

The completed pieces were used in a resort owned by Morris.

A 20-year history
The successful project earned Braun continuing commissions from Morris' company. Now, after 20 years in business, Richard "Rick" Braun's Wood Merchant in Lampe, Mo., accommodates private and corporate clients who commission pieces costing up to $8,000. Inside his 1,000-sq.-ft. shop and design studio, or on the additional 14,000 sq. ft. of outdoor work and storage area, Braun, 52, and his son Shawn Gates, 33, wrestle with monster old-growth timber they transport, section and dry, then custom craft into coffee tables, dining room sets, fireplace mantels, armoires, architectural accents and other furniture. Each piece is made from timber that can be more than 150 years old. In fact, recent work includes tables built for a Hilton Hotel restaurant in Branson, Mo., using wood from a tree documented to have been growing at the time of the American Revolution.