Woodworking in paradise - Telling the story

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Approaching his mid-30s, Calhoun was faced with a premature midlife crisis, although it is hard to imagine such a quiet guy being in a crisis mode. It was more of a time for reflection as he looked toward the future.

“I called around and got a job working construction, which lasted about nine months,” he recalls. “Then I started really thinking about what it was that I wanted to do. And I decided that I like to do woodworking and I’d love to do furniture. It kind of went with a lot of things I had done.”

He worked in a small “semi-custom” furniture shop for about a year before deciding to work alone.

“I looked at the situation and said, ‘You know what, I think I can do better on my own.’ I had no idea what I was getting into. I was old enough, 34, to know better, but I still went with it anyway.”

Calhoun had a small inheritance that he sunk into equipment. When he looks back, he is amazed he was able to drum up any business. He was relatively unknown and didn’t possess much of a woodworking portfolio. But somehow he managed to receive enough orders to keep his head above water. Considering the gamble he took, Calhoun acknowledges that he was very fortunate in terms of the outcome.

Telling the story
Maui is home to some very wealthy people, many of whom own several homes and want to furnish them with fine artistic objects, often with the “Hawaiian look.” Calhoun’s pieces often evoke a story and it is important to the furniture maker that his clients understand that.

“When people see your work, it’s like any other art, really,” he explains. “If they meet the artist or see the work and get part of the story, if they feel some connection to that, then they want more of the story. That’s one thing that has really helped my sales recently, to begin to realize those things, and when you’re talking with clients, give them the story because that’s what they want. It’s not just that piece of furniture. How did you start doing this? How did you get to this point where everybody around here says if you’re looking for something like this, go talk to that guy? They want to know all those things. They’re looking for stories. When you stop and think about all of the arts, whether you sing, write plays, do movies or whatever you do, we’re all telling stories.”

Through the years, Calhoun has built pieces featuring many styles from around the world. He has developed his own style, what he calls “Pacific Nouveau.”

“I love Art Nouveau, and I like most of the way it’s gone since then. Furniture design is always evolving. I love the motion; I love the curves, the organic lines. Admittedly a lot of it, even back in the late 1800s, because it was derived from the Rococo revival, tends to be overdone, overly busy and all of that.”

Calhoun starts many of his jobs by simply sitting down with a piece of paper and a pencil, usually with some kind of foggy idea, before he sketches. Eventually he is satisfied with something that “works.”

“Very often it takes hours of moving lines around,” he says. “I’m trying to learn CAD, but between trying to earn a living, the time it takes to do the work in the first place, and learning those types of skills on a computer, it’s a bit of a challenge. I’m trying to work with TurboCAD; it’s accessible and reasonably easy to learn, and a reasonably priced program.”

Tiny Island, big bucks
Again, Maui is home to some very wealthy people, owners of what’s known as “mega-mansions.” For the custom woodworker, that’s where the big paying jobs are. But obtaining them is not all that easy.