Northern exposure - The basic rules

Article Index
Northern exposure
Finding a niche
The basic rules
All Pages

The basic rules
Rodel has a national clientele, concentrated on the East Coast and Chicago area. Interestingly, sales in Maine are not so hot, averaging about one in-state commission every two or three years.

Rodel’s solo career started to take off with the design of the “Prairie Desk.” He had it photographed soon after the finish dried and put an ad in the New Yorker magazine, which led to a quick sale. He’s since sold 18 Prairie Desks, including one to a customer in Belgium.

If you order a piece from Rodel, don’t expect collaboration. He has a problem with customers asking for too many “bells and whistles.” He says, “too much ornamentation has a counter effect on the piece. I think I’m at the point now where I have enough of a reputation where people just say, ‘I want what you build.’ They don’t generally offer too much input.”

Rodel does, however, want to know the item’s intended function and anything he can learn about the clients’ lifestyle and home décor. Clients usually contact Rodel through his Web site to start the commission process. He asks for a deposit when the order is placed, a second payment after six months, and the balance before the piece is shipped.

“Everything on my Web site is ‘standard,’ which really means I don’t have to do a design. If it’s not on the Web site, it’s a custom piece, meaning I have to do a design and charge a design fee ($300 to $500). About 50 percent of my orders each year are new designs.”

Rodel, who buys most of his wood from Irion Lumber in Wellsboro, Pa., produces about 10 pieces per year.

Other endeavors
Since 2002, as his schedule allows, Rodel has taught intermediate level casework and table construction and design at various woodworking schools in his region, including the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, and Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Last October, Rodel gave a brief discussion at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn., in conjunction with the exhibit, ‘At Home with Gustav Stickley: Arts & Crafts from the Stephen Gray Collection.”

Rodel has also co-authored a book, “Arts and Crafts Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary” (Taunton, 2005), with Jonathan Binzen and “dabbles” in design consultation. On occasion, he has been hired by clients to design projects that are either too far away or too large for his one-person shop to handle. Several of these pieces are shown on his Web site.

Rodel rents his 1,200-sq.-ft. shop in a rehabilitated 19th-century textile mill on the banks of the Androscoggin River. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the L.L. Bean clothing retailer in Freeport. The shop features a Jet 15" planer, 10" Ulmia table saw, 12" MiniMax planer, a Delta/Milwaukee 14" band saw, an antique Kandi-Otto drill press, a VacuPress, two workbenches and a lot of hand tools.

Rodel prefers to work alone and has no plans to hire employees, though both of his sons, Ryan and Jamie, have helped out on their way to college. He applies all of his finishes by hand, often with the Tried & True brand of linseed oil and occasionally with shellac. He subs out upholstery and stained glass work.

“After doing this for so many years, none of the construction or actual building is really difficult anymore. The most difficult thing is coming up with a design that really works.”

Rodel is gradually becoming more interested in Chinese and Japanese furniture and architecture. He points out that they don’t stray too far from Arts and Crafts.

“One of the things that I realize is that a lot of my design is architecture. I think Arts and Crafts, and Chinese, and Japanese styles are all architectural,” he says. “I’m doing more work with more of an Asian flair. My interest is leaning towards being inspired directly by original Asian pieces.”

Soon to be featured on his Web site will be what Rodel calls the “Mieji bedroom suite,” a Japanese-influenced bed and dresser, and several more new designs incorporating the “jin-di-sugi” surface treatment that he has been experimenting with for several years. n

Contact: Kevin Rodel, Box 63, Brunswick, ME 04011. Tel: 207-725-7252.