“My father was a senior partner in a law firm. My brother is a lawyer. They couldn’t fathom what I was doing when I headed down this path.” It was April and we were at the shop of furniture maker John Lomas. He dusted a stool, pulled round a chair, and motioned for us to sit.
“I was in my twenties,” he continued, “sitting in this corporate tower block in London, dreadfully unhappy, and forming my own escape committee. I recalled how much I’d enjoyed shop class. I wanted to make things. So I quit the business track and enrolled at the London College of Furniture. When I finished there, I headed to Sussex where I focused on antique restoration at West Dean. Then a year’s apprenticeship and west, to the Cotswolds.” Lomas started a restoration business there with a partner, who continues to run it today.
Still not satisfied, John hopped the pond in ’92, intent on finding his place in a different vernacular. American contemporary, perhaps? He told us he was looking for something more “transparent” than the antique business, something with intrinsic value.
“I love this, what we’re doing here,” he gestured toward the shop. “I love this work, where everything I make is brand new. And I love belonging to the Guild, for its standard of authenticity.” The Guild is a group of master makers setting the studio furniture bar for Vermont, and the region.
Of course we asked why Vermont or at the very least, how? John had traveled about America and Vermont’s character and lifestyle won out. “The community is incredible,” he told us. “The rural quality seemed to define the pace. There was a reticence here that I appreciated, though it took some getting used to.” We shrugged, but in agreement. That’s New England, after all…
John tells us about Starksboro, where he first landed, about the friends he made and the craftsmen he met. Two years later, he founded Cotswold Furniture Makers in Whiting and grew the business to a team of five, with 6,000 square feet of maker space and showrooms in Stowe and the Berkshires. Three years ago, he closed. “I woke up one day, and realized that I wasn’t making furniture any more and I wanted to do that again.” He talked about slowing down the pace, coming back to basics. And so there we were in Hinesburg, in a shop he built himself. South of Burlington by minutes, on a tidy dirt road, looking toward acres of pasture and meadow. The arc of Camel’s Hump the far east mark.
“I’ve been here for three and a half years now. The transition down to a one man shop has been very rewarding. The stress level has plummeted. And the commute is outstanding,” he laughed. “My customer base from Cotswold Furniture was incredibly supportive. They stuck with me because they liked our standards of quality and our transparency. Now they’re getting furniture that’s actually built by me.” And it’s really beautiful, custom stuff.
John’s work is contemporary with classical and Asian influences. It has a sort of cleanliness to it, and a bit of an edge, perhaps a touch of the old guard. “I suppose you can see the classical roots of my training, especially in restoration. I try to keep classical proportions in each piece.” He leaned back against his workbench. “And when you’re making custom, singular pieces, it’s impossible not to have some of yourself in the work. I suppose to some extent that what you’re looking at is a bit of me.” We love this. He’s pretty casual about this whole miraculous process. “It seems to me,” he replied in response to our prodding, “that whether by design or by chance we somehow differentiate ourselves.” Lomas says he’s been influenced by pieces and makers across the historical spectrum but he holds a particular place for the Cotswold Craftsmen of the English Arts and Crafts Movement. “They believed that working with the hands nurtures the human spirit.”
We’re examining the works in progress at the shop. A set of Chalford chairs, one of John’s most popular designs, often matched with a Gloucester or Farmhouse table. The finished product will show through tenons, which make the joints with a simple, decorative finish, that transparency John keeps talking about. The usual upholstered seat is left bare on this order, with a scalloped, hand-carved finish.
And the wood for this project? Locally grown cherry, and walnut for the spindles. “These chairs will be totally unique,” John lined them up side by side. “The next time I make them, it will be from a different wood. They’ll be grain-matched, as these are, but they’ll be different.” Grain matching is a serious business. It gives the furniture a kind of innate symmetry that our subconscious agrees with. And in time, the color will warm with nice consistency.
Making furniture is a slow business. “I feel like the quicker things happen, the more technological we become, the more our furniture is an alternative to this fast pace of life. You can put your hands on this. It takes a long time to build, and it’s built slowly. It’s not an anachronism. It holds a real place in people lives, it holds real value for now.”
We headed out toward the shine of Lake Champlain, awash in calm and hopefulness. If that’s slow furniture, we’re all for it. Thanks for sharing, John.
You can visit this craftsman’s PORTFOLIO for additional examples of his work or to reach him by email. Tour OUR SITE for work by other members, or for galleries of custom furniture sorted by function.