Falling into place

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Bud Tullis, of Solvang, Calif., has been producing custom furniture since 1972, mixing his own ideas with fragments of various design styles from all eras.

“Everything influences me, particularly the Danish Modern style. You’ll see a lot of that in my work, as well as the work of John Nyquist, Sam Maloof, Art Carpenter and Paul Tuttle.”

Tullis, 71, grew up in Long Beach, Calif. His plan after high school was to pursue architecture because he enjoyed drawing and thought it would be a fun way to make a living. He went to the University of Utah’s architecture school in 1956, but left after he and his brother inherited the family welding-supplies business in 1959. He took to his new endeavor — for a while.

“After 12 years, I finally realized I needed an occupation where I could build things with my hands. I didn’t want any employees. I had been building furniture in my garage during that time so I thought maybe some kind of craft would suit me. I discussed this at length with John Nyquist, who highly recommended I return to art school.”

In 1972, Tullis had a family with three children to support, so he had to put some good thought into how he would fund his next endeavor. He sold the welding supply business and went to Cal State-Fullerton, graduating in 1974. He then earned a Master of Arts degree in 1976 from Cal State-Long Beach. As you might guess, Tullis is a strong believer in education.

“You’ve got to get things flowing in order to get out of the mainstream and get your own edge. I tell everyone who comes into my shop and wants to work for me, or wants advice about making a living doing this, to go back to school and study design and, if you’re handy, the craft will take care of itself.”

Wisdom from the masters
While in graduate school, Tullis was lucky to study under Nyquist, John Snidicore and Frank Cummings. He also apprenticed under the late Art Espenet Carpenter, known for his “California round over” style, the rounding over of the front edge.

“The California round over is also known as ‘bull nose’. I learned how to do that, but I also learned how he did a lamination trick with his chairs. He’d laminate a leg, normally 4" to 6-1/4" laminations, and put a wedge between the middle ones to spread it out on the floor where it would ‘settle.’ I did my masters thesis on this process and still use it on pieces that I feel require that kind of grounding.”

Tullis was also curious about the business side of woodworking.

“One of the first things Art stressed was that in a one-man shop, you will spend half your life sanding and finishing. The next thing was creative designs and fabricating, and the next thing was marketing. Marketing is an extremely important aspect of this trade and most of us do a lousy job of it. I have done trade shows, galleries, museums. But word of mouth seems to be the best. In tough times as these, it is anybody’s guess.”

A progressive start
When Tullis left his apprenticeship with Carpenter, he felt confident and he was ready to take on woodworking as a profession. At that time, he was working on a couple commissions. Tullis’ only concern was whether the money from the sale of the welding business would hold out long enough for him to get established. It did.