Renewal in retirement - Life in Rose City

Article Index
Renewal in retirement
Life in Rose City
'I do what I do'
Mr. President
All Pages

During his 30-plus years in the energy field, Johnson attempted to maintain, improve and widen his woodworking skills by working on assorted projects as best he could in his limited spare time. When he retired to Portland, he was concerned he had lost his woodworking abilities, but happily discovered they hadn’t disappeared.

“I’d been doing this stuff for 30 years, but when I retired and went full-time, my learning curve just went vertical. I began to realize quickly how much I still have to learn, especially making the switch to hand tools as a practical way to do one-of-a-kind furniture.”

Life in the Rose City
When Johnson returned to Portland, he wasn’t the type to sit back in a rocking chair and watch the world pass him by. He didn’t return to woodworking in a small way, such as building a bedside table or a couple chairs. Instead, he built a house.

“We came back from Washington, D.C. and built a Southern Colonial house up here on the hill, and I trimmed it out in the right kind of neoclassical trim, which included elliptical arches with the carved keys, and I carved three fireplaces. We had some palladium kind of windows, dentil moldings on the doors, mantles and a Monticello deck rail.”

The work served as an addition to a limited portfolio, admittedly limited in advanced work, but enough to bring to a few interior decorators and get his name out in public. He took a few blows to the ego, but his persistence in tracking down interior decorators paid off.

“I didn’t have a lot of selling points,” Johnson admits. “Some people looked at my portfolio and just blew me off, which was OK, and the other people started keeping me busy. About half my stuff now is word-of-mouth, the other half is interior designers. I’m actually surprising myself that I’m beginning to recognize in my work a sort of style that I didn’t know was going to emerge.”

Old school
Johnson’s design work is conducted much like it was several hundred years ago. Everything is done in pencil.

“Let’s face it,” he says adamantly. “CAD drawings are accurate and nice, but just dead lifeless, particularly for finer presentation. I do pencil drawings that are almost art and they love them.”

During the last few years, Johnson has built a wide array of furniture. Besides his numerous Western European decorative carving endeavors, his projects include a farmhouse kitchen work table, matched serpentine chests, fireplace mantles, a powder room cabinet, a Queen Anne cocktail table, pitcher chest, king-sized bed, custom entertainment centers and other items.

On some of his pieces, there is a mixture of several designs, something that would make some purists cringe when looking at the combinations. But that doesn’t faze the maker at all.

“I build to the client’s need — what it has to do, where it’s going to go, and what other kinds of things they have with them,” he says. “I’m matching the piece to the environment and using old forms to do that.”