Doug Clarner is a people person. Affable, reasonable, and good-natured, he’s been a teacher, a coach, a board president. He’s been the Guild president, an entrepreneur and a furniture maker. We visited Doug’s shop last fall when he was smack between the latter two.
Clarner grew up in Contoocook, New Hampshire. And though he’s lived on the West Coast, he’s a New Englander at heart. Believe me when I tell you, his favorite season is winter. To his children’s delight, he builds an ice rink in their front yard. So that’s Doug. A resilient, realistic guy who makes clean, classic furniture.
His influences include Shaker simplicity and Japanese design. His work features traditional mortise and tenon joinery with a focus on beautiful woods, and function. Given that he’s a social guy, he’s always up for collaboration. When we asked him to choose a most memorable work, he gestured to the postcard above at right, of his Thread Leaf Sideboard.
Handcrafted in cherry with a single board top. Walnut detail and impressive botanical panels designed by NEK artist Trenny Robb. The year it was produced, the piece brought Clarner and Robb a first place finish in the Vermont Fine Furniture Design Competition. Must have been hard to beat the gorgeous lines and back-lit mica panels but even quiet (when lights are off) the piece is still impressive.
We asked Doug what inspires him. He said “anyone who can make a living making things by hand.” He smiled easily. Really pretty simple. In a past life, the guy was a math teacher. He’d take his math students out to the woodshop where they’d build an Adirondack chair. No matter what, he’s a doer and maker. But it’s hard to make a living as an artist in the Northeast Kingdom. “So if you want to do what you do, and have a great life, you have to be creative.” When we arrived, Clarner was doing just that. Getting creative around furniture with a fellow Middlebury alum and long-time friend.
Doug told us he was struck by one request, and then another, from regional colleges to create gifts for departing faculty or board members, or a collegiate piece for a graduate. He mentioned a chair, and a commemorative table. The table idea, he said, he kind of liked… And so a new company was born.
Featuring one signature end table in solid Vermont cherry, with traditional pegged mortise and tenon joinery, and a grain matched aprons, and legs. The hardwood complimented by a custom Vermont granite or marble top. “What I like about it,” Doug told us, “is that it’s a really simple piece for a good price, but not disposable in the least. So for a graduate… It’ll be a table in your tiny New York apartment. Then an end table in your living room. Then it’ll move to your office. Then someday you’ll give it to your kids.” Doug laughed.
I guess it was kind of refreshing. Our businesses do evolve and change. While we half expected to see Doug at work on another thread leaf sideboard, we were pleasantly surprised at his alternate course. Every once in a while you have to shake things up. Be a little adventurous. When one approach seemed limited, this resourceful craftsman took his standards and skills and applied them to a new project. What else would you expect from a New England furniture maker?
A bit reluctant to say goodbye to Doug’s Rockwell-esque homestead, we bid the craftsman a good afternoon. He helped us out with directions, sending us over to St. Johnsbury where we’d see Guild Member Paul Donio and Hawk Ridge Furniture.
We headed up toward the ridge to check out the big views. It was good advice, as you can see below, and it’s no wonder one would want to persist in finding a way to live, and live well, all the way up here, amidst all this beauty.