Jaryd Walley's New 'Scene:' High-End Woodwork
As a former scenery builder in Hollywood, this South Carolina woodworker now focuses on furniture and cabinetry for high-end residences.
By Hannah Miller
When Jaryd Walley started applying for furnituremaking jobs after he moved to Greenville, SC, eight years ago, he had never made a piece of furniture in his life.
What the former southern Californian had spent the previous decade making was theatrical scenery and props for TV commercials, theme parks and visitors centers. Working for Lexington Scenery & Props, he helped build the green safe that held the jewels in the movie "Titanic." And for the visitors center at Kennedy Space Center, he helped fashion a full-scale replica of the lunar landing module.
While they may sound very different, scenery-making and cabinet building have some striking similarities, Walley says. For example, in terms of learning to do precise work, he says, there is nothing like working on scenery - craftsmen in that business have a goal of 1?32-inch tolerance.
"A lot of times you fabricate scenery in the shop. Everything is modular," Walley says. Then scenery is taken apart and trucked to location, where "other pieces have to fit into that set," he adds. "When you are on location, you don't have the luxury of having all the tools in the shop."
But other aspects of furnituremaking were foreign to him, such as joinery, making allowances for working parts like drawers and learning the characteristics of different species of hardwoods. Scenery is typically 1?4-inch lauan and pine, Walley says. But today, as head of JTW Ltd., his cabinet and furniture business in Greenville, he uses all kinds of wood, including ebony, redwood burl and sapele pommelle.
However, "My wood of choice for its overall history and look is the antique heart pine," he adds. Though most heart pine used now is reclaimed from old structures, like defunct textile mills, he was lucky enough to buy 6,000 board feet of never-used, 80-year-old lumber from a defunct sawmill. The 22-inch-wide boards from that purchase form much of the company's output.
JTW Ltd. makes furniture and cabinetry for high-end residences and commercial renovations springing up in South Carolina's Upstate region. That area, looking toward the Blue Ridge Mountains on the western end, has been undergoing an economic renaissance since German automaker BMW decided in 1992 to build a new plant there, and various automotive suppliers followed suit.
"I got in on the boom," says Walley, who expects to do from $400,000 to $500,000 in business this year. He has worked with three different downtown Greenville restaurants on their renovations and made kitchen cabinets and furniture for Spartanburg Country Club in nearby Spartanburg. Kitchen cabinets typically sell for $30,000 to $45,000. The farm tables Walley is fond of doing, usually from heart pine, bring $3,000 to $6,000 each.
"There is a clientele of people here who want quality and appreciate it," he says.
Determination to learn pays off
Walley may have arrived in Greenville at the right time, economically speaking. But at first it looked like he came with the wrong skills.
Burned out from working long hours at scenery making, he took a train trip around the country 10 years ago, looking for a place to relocate. On that trip, he visited an uncle in Greenville. "I fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains (some 25 miles away)," he recalls.
When he came back two years later and looked for work, "What we are doing is not really going to interest you," he was told by furniture and cabinetmakers. Determined, he slung pizzas, waited tables and framed houses before hooking up with a high-end custom furnituremaker who looked at photos of his work and "saw truly what I was, an artist," Walley recalls.
Like his bosses in his scenery-making job, the furnituremaker gave him broad plans and let him figure out how to achieve them, which was invaluable training for the one-of-a-kind work he does now, Walley says.
After two years, though he had no shop and only basic tools, Walley was ready to go out on his own. He built a bar for a downtown restaurant owned by a friend, and JTW Ltd. was born.
At that time, all he had was "an iron, a jig and a Skil Saw," Walley recalls. He still has the iron, he laughs, bringing out a home-laundry iron blackened from use. "This is my edgebander," he jokes. Actually, he has a Freud edgebander, along with a Williams & Hussey moulder-planer, Delta Unisaw, Mastercraft drill press, Delta boring machine and a Hitachi miter saw. JTW Ltd. does its own finishing with a Binks spray booth and a Kremlin air-assisted hydraulic pump for spraying. Lacquers, stains and glazes used include M.L. Campbell products, though other brands are used, too.
The initial restaurant job led to Walley opening a 2,500-square-foot shop. Three years ago, the shop moved to its present 10,000 square feet in an industrial area.
Walley's motto emphasizes the custom nature of his work "Your vision is my craft," he tells clients.
"I really create a look," he explains, crediting his background in scenery with helping him see a home or commercial environment as an entire entity. If it is a period atmosphere that is wanted by the client, for example, he can make whatever touches reflect that period.
As an example, for kitchen cabinets in a Country French-style home on a 70-acre estate, he used Restoration glass with antique heart pine and stained the floors to match the cabinets. He hid 21st-century conveniences behind period exteriors: Pocket doors in the heart-pine kitchen conceal a coffeemaker and microwave. Two columns that support a bridge over an Aga stove contain pullout spice racks.
In one living room, what looks like seamless wood paneling hides cabinets for stereo equipment and a pull-down plasma TV screen. The paneling and cabinetry were finished to match a 17th-century mantel they surround.
JTW Ltd. uses screws, glue and mortise-and-tenon joinery. Walley says he doesn't like to use nails. "Then you have to use filler, and I like things to look clean."
He also does some metal work himself, a talent left over from his scenery-building days. But he also hires other artisans for specific jobs. For one client, he built a metal mantel using two types of metal laminates, one perforated to transmit sound from a concealed stereo speaker. Stainless steel screws backed by black rubber washers became part of the design.
Walley is assisted at JTW Ltd. by three family members and one other employee. His wife, Michelle, is office manager, and his stepfather, John Baker, is a woodworker "and my right-hand man," Walley says. He also gets help from his musician/woodworker father, Denny Walley, a former member of both Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and the Captain Beefheart rock bands. Denny Walley lives in Atlanta, but comes up to help with special jobs. Woodworker Michael Littlejohn rounds out the staff.
The fact that JTW Ltd. is a family business "has a big impact on the way we do things," Walley says. "I think that [the family connection] makes it that much more enjoyable.
"The positive thing is loyalty, trust and an understanding of what I'm trying to do," he adds.
Walley considers meeting obligations important to his business, and sometimes that requires working all night. That is when he knows he can depend on his family, he says, "when it's crunch time and you need to put in that extra."
As Walley is interviewed, his father is working in another area of the shop, wielding a vacuum instead of a guitar and cleaning sawdust from a Hitachi miter saw.
"I have been cleaning up after him since he was two," he wisecracks about Jaryd. "Some things never change."
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