|Finding a niche|
|The basic rules|
Furniture craftsman Kevin Rodel of Brunswick, Maine, goes beyond the basic elements of design with his Arts and Crafts-style tables, desks, bookcases and chairs. Rodel, who has 30 years of experience designing and building furniture, started working for Thomas Moser, then went his own way in the mid-1980s, building a loyal clientele. He has further established himself in the fields of interior design and consultation, and also keeps busy writing and teaching.
Rodel does reproductions and adaptations of the designs by C.R. Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley and others associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. He is drawn to the style because of its diversity.
Location: Brunswick, Maine
Shop size: 1,200 sq. ft.
Experience: 30 years
About: Rodel draws inspiration for his commissioned furniture from the roots of the original International Arts and Crafts movement.
Gross sales: $70,000
Advice to other furniture makers: “Try and find a style that you do like and just research it and research it some more until you know and understand it cold. Then see what you can do with it. Start with just modifying existing designs, then try out some spec pieces. It’s important to advertise, but do so wisely. I can’t say how or where, because everyone’s locale and style of work is different, and that should help direct where one advertises.”
“If you see the Shaker style, you know its characteristics right away; the same with Federal and Queen Anne styles,” he says. “With Arts and Crafts, it isn’t like that. You would never know that what Stickley did and what Joseph Hoffman did in Vienna was really the same movement unless the movement was explained to you. That’s why I’m still in with Arts and Crafts. It’s a vibrant, rich and varying design style, so I’m always finding new opportunities for design.”
Rodel was born in Philadelphia and initially sought a career in sociology after graduating from LaSalle University. While looking for a job, he did some volunteer restoration work on a wooden ship in Philadelphia harbor. The Gazella Primera was a Portuguese cod fishing barkentine, then owned by the Philadelphia Maritime Museum.
“I found that really fascinating, and that made me start wanting to learn about woodworking. I just read everything I could about the trade and started teaching myself.”
Rodel, who was 25 at the time, began networking within the woodworking community. There were a couple shops and showrooms on Philadelphia’s bustling South Street, where he often went to admire the craftsmanship. But with student loans to pay off, Rodel took job on an assembly line in an auto factory.
By age 27, Rodel realized he really wanted to become a full-time furniture maker and headed for the Northeast. “I had the impression that New England had a lot of small furniture shops. It seemed like the place to go to learn traditional-style furniture making, which was very hard to find in a big city like Philadelphia. I tried Lancaster County (Pa.), but that area was tied up by the Amish, and I couldn’t beat their wages.”
He settled in Topsham in mid-coast Maine. This was the late 1970s and Rodel was not yet interested in opening his own business. He just wanted to work for someone, as he knew he had a lot to learn. He soon landed a job with Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers.
When he started at Moser’s, there were about 11 woodworkers, a finisher, a secretary, and the owners, Tom and Mary Moser. The company, now based in Auburn, Maine, has since grown to about 100 employees with showrooms through the country.