against the grain
There are some personalities in the television industry who believe their own publicity, feeling disconnected from and superior to the people around them. And then there are those who don’t. Faber Dewar, one of the carpenters from the highly successful makeover show Trading Spaces, falls into the latter category. A laid back, friendly Scotsman, Faber has found his way into celebrity by hard work and remaining true to himself and his beliefs.
Yogi Times recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Faber about woodwork, furniture, sustainable choices and his life here in America. We met at a local coffee house, and as we spoke, many of the patrons turned out to be old acquaintances who would stop by to say hi and get an occasional piece of woodworking advice.
Yogi Times: What makes you so passionate about your woodworking and the craftsmanship involved in creating a piece?
Faber Dewar: What most people don’t understand is that I have had a furniture business for over fourteen years, and that Trading Spaces – as wonderful a show as it is – does not always give me a chance to showcase what I can do. I love to create things that are unique and that I can be passionate about while I create. I love to use indigenous materials or go out to salvage yards and pull out old thick planks of wood and recycle them.
When you work with wood it takes on a life of its own, and you salvage an old beam that may have been a special part of a 1910 Hollywood cottage, and that beam has a soul to it. In the saw marks, in its maturity, in its rawness. You sand it down to uncover what is beneath, shape it, and then add just the barest of shellacs to bring out its character.
YT: How did it all start?
Faber Dewar: When I was a little kid I was always in the garage with a hammer and nails and wood. I was always nailing things together and making stuff. I remember attempting a bas-relief when I was really young. I drew on a brittle piece of old wood and then took a screwdriver to chisel around to create a picture of a house and a tree. When I was carving with the screwdriver I became aware of all of the textural surfaces of the wood. That was one of my first moments when woodwork met art. My mom, who saved the piece, recently pulled it out and it took me right back, like through a time warp, to that moment where I could see myself on the floor with the screw driver just bashing it out.
YT: How has your connection to woodworking as art developed over the years? What is it that inspires you as you start a piece?
Faber Dewar: When you are making furniture for a living, especially when you start, you’re not allowed the privilege of being an artist. You have to build what people want just to pay the bills. My business partner and I started off very small with our showroom down in Venice, CA. We started going out recycling old wood from these 1910 cottages being torn down all over Venice and making mirror frames; bringing out the old finishes and patinas hiding in the wood. We then started to add other materials such as leather from old recycled sofas.
As we started making enough money to purchase better materials, we began to build more complex furniture in the Shaker, Sticklee, Green and Green, and Arts and Crafts styles that were popular in the Venice neighborhood at the time. When people found that we were hand-making quality furniture from scratch that was structurally sound and beautiful, the business took off.
Building these pieces though was still us copying an existing style. We had to stay within the confines of that style, very structural and very solid. But much of the Arts and Crafts style was inspired by the Japanese, so we went back a step farther and started creating a more Asian-influenced arts and crafts style. All of these influences inspire the creation of my work and now it often feels like I am doing my own thing with a lot of years of history backing me up. I have found a very specific look for my furniture but also enjoy the challenge of custom-making pieces for someone who appreciates the style that I am currently working in.
YT: You mentioned the use of recycled wood, but what are some of the other ways that you create furniture that emphasizes the concept of sustainable resources?
Faber Dewar: Re-using old wood is one of the best ways to carry on the history and soul of the original tree. An example might be that there is no need to chop down any more trees for harvesting Teak and Mahogany; we have more than enough of both of these types of wood if we are willing to re-use what we have, and not throw it away. Wood veneers are another way in which we can take one piece of wood and apply it to hundreds of pieces of furniture to get the same look of that original piece. Another example would be Walnut, an amazingly beautiful wood that is fast growing and great for making furniture.
My goal is to make people aware of the beauty of these woods in my work and increase the quality of the work I do. Hopefully the furniture I make is something that people can say “Wow, I want to pass that on to my grandkids,” and then I know that I have succeeded in making the art I aspire to.