When we visited Dan Mosheim’s workshop last year, he was celebrating thirty-six years in the studio furniture business. His is the kind of benchmark that all craftsmen hope to achieve; an extensive, distinctive portfolio, recognized by critics and connoisseurs, with installations in public and private spaces across the country. The craftsman also somehow keeps up a blog: A Woodworkers Photo Journal chronicling the work at Dorset Custom Furniture.
Since the DCF catalog is stylistically diverse, it was difficult to choose a finished piece or two to feature here. We settled on Bridges, for its aesthetic and design story. The bench was Dan’s contribution to Bennington Museum’S STATE OF CRAFT exhibition a few years back.
Its design was inspired by the life and times of Irvin Seeders, long-time Bethlehem Steel riveter, and grandfather of the furniture maker. The project, in all, was a collaborative effort between Dan and his two sons, Sam and Will. “Sam did the steel work and green paint, Will did the burning and finishing, and I roughed out the recycled oak wood, worked on assembly and the conceptual stuff.” Typical Dorset Custom Furniture, dividing the jobs up according to specialty, resulting in a piece that’s totally unique, with a measurable WOW factor. Since then, a really cool line of Bethlehem Steel studio pieces has emerged.
At the time of our visit, the DCF family tallied five. Or six. Five guys making furniture. And one guy making instruments. Trevor’s been with Dan since 2006 and he’s the resident CNC master. Check out his work. Chris was the newest to join the group, a seriously competent woodworker (recent work here) who’s also spent time in the shop with past Guild Member Bill Laberge of Dorset VT.
We didn’t meet Mr. Lucky (a.k.a Jim Parson) whom Dan describes as VP of Lightness and Humor. A talented woodworker and glass blower, Jim and Dan have worked together off and on for many years.
There were a few projects underway when we visited, and some ready to ship. Will was working out a neck for a five string open back banjo. “It’s all Vermont native wood – cherry and hardhack — and themed inlays,” he told us. A few years ago, Will had been working in the furniture shop and making instruments on the side. As an accomplished player, it was a natural fit and after a blush of first orders, he shifted his title to full-time luthier.
Of course there are similarities between furniture and instrument making. The design process, the client relationship, the way past projects inform new experiences… all shared elements with the addition of one, the performance requirement.
“Right. It has to make music.” Will laughed. But then he leaned in, and said earnestly, “I put my heart and soul into my instruments, touching, making every piece. I consider where it’s going, how the person will use it. And I think people like knowing that some presence of the maker is there.” Will explained that he’ll even tackle the metal hardware eventually. “I’ll find time to work out that process with my brother, next door, and that will really set my work apart.” We liked his approach but had to let him know we think he’s already there… You can see for yourself at Seeders Instruments.
And the ‘next door’ Will referred to? That’s his brother’s metal shop, Sam Mosheim Metalwork.
“I taught myself,” Sam told us. “I had a couple of friends who studied sculptural metal work and I’ve learned from them. You get to know the basics,” he says. “And then it’s just about practice. And more practice and more practice.” Sam’s been working metal full time for about five years. Each project is basically a custom job and he takes those, most of the time, from start to finish; design to installation.
With a really solid and diverse portfolio of work, clients and contractors are inspired to request a drawing with their own customization. “Part of the process is figuring it out. And each time you learn from it and become better and better.” No doubt, as you’re out tooling around Southern Vermont, you’ll start to spot Sam’s work here and there… railings, porches, balconies, sign posts, you name it. Just beautiful stuff. And his contribution to the DCF catalog has been pretty profound, and popular. The guys are cranking out fantastic slab tables with steel bases that have heft, shimmer and lightness all at once.
And when Sam’s not working in the shop, he’s gone fishing. That’s guaranteed.
Before we headed out, we reconnected with Dan, almost embarrassed to ask if he would choose a favorite project. Easy going in response, he offered up a library. A job from scratch. “We cut the wood from the clients land in Glastonbury, built the library in Arlington, assembled and finished it in Cambridge. Then we took it apart, put in on a truck and drove it down to New York, where we suspended it like a half inch inside an 18×22 room. It took the better part of year from start to finish.” Wide-eyed but not surprised, this seems exactly like the thing these guys would do. Totally custom, unsurpassed quality, no limit to the vision or execution. And it seems like a reasonable project for Dan to choose. But (and there’s always a but) after scrolling through pages of blog content, we think he’s got a sweet spot for pool tables, too.
We did get to ask Dan what he thinks about Vermont. “We’ve lived almost 40 years in the same geographic area, and we’ve made unbelievably interesting friends and worked with unbelievably interesting clients. We’ve got a great shop, gardens by Kit, two great and talented kids working with us, a little time for golf and tennis … What more could a person ask for?”
It’s probably safe to say what’s been good for Dan has been good for us, too. Dorset Custom Furniture is a real life, feel good story about Vermont, and about art and creativity. Also about what’s possible in a family that’s devoted to design, quality, and one another.