This spring we took a trip up to Plainfield. It’s a friendly little village on the Winooski in Washington County, just fifteen minutes outside of Montpelier. Goddard College and Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers’ member Dave Boynton call it home.
Living proof that Vermont is gorgeous all year round, it was the height of mud season when we pulled up to the shop. Not too dreary! Dave and his wife rescued this 19th century farmstead and dairy barn. Of the barn, Dave grins at its transformation. “I’ve worked in a number of different buildings over the years. Chicken coops, granite sheds, bobbin mills, But none set up to be a woodshop.”
“So I finally built one… Fourteen foot ceilings, net metered solar power. We produce the power,” Dave said, “And feed it back to the grid. There’s radiant heat in the slab. Lots of natural light.”
Tour of the shop followed.
“I’m quite proud of my jointer. When we decided we’d stay in Vermont, that’s when I got this guy. Moved it back home in a horse trailer in three pieces. It’s 1940’s vintage. It weighs almost a ton and on this concrete floor,” he tapped his foot, “not a hair’s breadth of vibration. (Happiness!)
What’s your style?
“I think about that,” he told us. “I like to think that I’m making furniture that can spend time in a room that’s filled with antiques. [Furniture] that’s elegant enough and understated enough to stand the test of time.”
In addition to making studio furniture, Dave’s been a commercial cabinetmaker, instructor in both furniture making and canoe building, production manager for a large architectural woodworking company, partner in a small custom shop… “All experiences serving to expand my thinking about what is possible in a piece of furniture”.
On the docket today?
A sweet console table, a couple of drawings. “But check this out,” he said, unfolding a stack of some fine things layered in paper. Curious! “Elm burl veneer. Hard to work with. Treat it with a glycerin wash and press it, then it relaxes. Isn’t it something?
Look at this one, English Sycamore…” Pretty incredible stuff, and veneer certainly not a favorite of every woodworker, so that’s something unique about Dave.
The standing cabinet is a design award winner in Pommele Sapele and Birdseye Maple veneers, solid Mahogany and Abalone.
A dressing screen in colored lacquer and mirrored glass. “I love the Art Deco stuff. It’s just beautifully imagined and elegant.”
Why furniture? Why Vermont?
“I traveled a bunch out of school (Philly College of Art) and I was living in Santa Barbara. I met a guy who was cabinetmaker. He was very kind, and very generous with his time. I loved the culture of that small shop. It seemed very immediate. You could take something from the drawing board and make it happen,” Dave explained. He liked the visualization of it, and the problem solving. “You get to put your hands on it, the whole thing.”
So he bought a bunch of redwood burls and headed back East where he ended up at the Michael Coffey School. “I had one year’s tuition, so on a prayer and a whisper, I came up to Vermont. The next year we worked it out so I worked for him.” Following graduation in 1980, the furniture maker stayed on as Craftsman in Residence, teaching various skill classes, assisting Michael in the workshop, and producing his own commissioned pieces.
And here we are with Dave, in his awesome shop, a couple of decades later.
The craftsman’s done some teaching here on site but we were still delighted when he offered Sophia a live demonstration. He told us that he really enjoyed Vermont. He said it “was like this little garden, green all of the time. And on such a human scale.” And so you see in Dave’s work an ability to relate. And great beauty.