Tim Clark’s family had a rule at the holidays. Each kid had to make one gift by hand. They drew names, picked a project and set to work. His dad had a small woodshop in the basement with a table saw, a router, some files. “We got really good with files,” Tim told us, “and I hacked my way through a bunch of projects.” Then he grew up, went off to Middlebury and enrolled as pre-med; orthopedic surgery. Fascinated by how things went together, bones (as he put it) were his thing.
As it shook out, he switched his major to Spanish Language and Art. But the bones; the bones remained… Clark makes chairs, and he makes them beautifully. Of course, he also makes other stuff like custom sideboards, dining tables, benches, even boats. But when we visited his studio this spring it was all about chairs, and they were hanging from the rafters.
Clark’s home and shop are located between Middlebury and Vergennes; a place he built himself. A shop just feet from his own front door. This one, he tells us, is his fourteenth or fifteenth. “I’ve worked in a chicken house, made it double the size. I’ve worked in garages.” He smiles, “In Burlington, I worked in half an auto garage, ran my own teaching program there.” He’s moved so many times, he can wire a shop in a snap. And the last time around, he built one right here in Addison County.
A master craftsman with decades of experience, Tim focuses on the Windsor form in particular. The Windsor chair is an American classic, combining qualities of lightness, strength and grace; what Wallace Nutting called ‘an irresistible blend’ and what Clark has indeed perfected and made his own. The craftsman makes traditional Windsors as well as a couple of signature studio lines.
In his Waltham chairs, he replaced the shallow traditional Windsor seat with a shape he describes as “part surfboard and part stealth fighter,” and with his Cod Rib pieces, he engineered a spindle design that allowed the back to flex while remaining quite strong. Some furniture makers send out for parts. Tim makes all of his from scratch. He tells us he’s a laborer at heart in love with the making, a condition suffered by each and every one of our guild members.
“In 7th grade, my class took a trip to Williamsburg [VA]. I saw wooden instrument makers, furniture makers and a man making cedar shingles on a shaving horse. The smells of the green wood, the hissing of hand planes and the thunking of chisels and mallets.”
His own shaving horse faces the two south windows of the shop and he watches movies while he does his handwork. No doubt the guy’s got it down to an efficient process. If he wasn’t a furniture maker, he might have been an engineer.
But when he’s showing us the facets of the hand plane on the spindles, explaining that when the sun shines, particularly on the painted ones, they catch and reflect the light, we think he’s an artist.
Apparently we’re not alone… Though Tim’s work is happily ensconced in homes and offices across the country and abroad, he’s also represented at a handful of popular public venues. At the Woodstock Inn, you may get lucky enough to reserve a room with one of Tim’s arm chairs at the desk. At the Park Hyatt in DC, you might recline in one of Tim’s rockers and watch the bustle go by, or chin up to a meal at the Blue Duck Tavern, perched atop one of his Waltham Benches. Designer Tony Chi sought Tim’s studio skills, commissioning a 29′ Windsor seating piece that would enhance the classic American atmosphere of the farm to table, fine dining restaurant.
And while Tim sort of bashfully adds a few more ‘famous’ clients to the list, we chime in with praise of our own for one of his local projects… cherry and steel benches installed at the Shelburne Museum’s Pizzagalli Center. He goes on to mention the show at the StateHouse. “That’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “In a way, our most important show of the year.”
Clark is a craftsman dedicated to his work, approaching each piece with passion for the design process and a fastidious, focused attention in fabrication. His pieces are timeless, heirlooms in the making. And they’re as at home in a room filled with fine antiques as they are in a modern, open and even kid-friendly floor plan.
When we stopped in, Tim was knee deep in shavings with a dining set readying for California and a custom Waltham production heading for PEI. We noticed, too, that there was another order pending, as documented below. “Stilts for Claire Clark.”
Tim’s a father of two, a son and daughter. A husband, a brother, a boat builder, a teacher, an engineer. And a master craftsman. We know his work speaks for itself but it’s a real pleasure to talk (and write) about. Thanks, Tim, for the hospitality!