Stunning custom furniture designs bring out pieces' inner trees
August 14, 2011 | 9:36 pm CDT

Ed Rode says he likes his designs to ‘reveal the tree within the furniture.’

The Napali table features a karri burl top with live edges all around. The base is red oak with cabriole legs dyed to a deep red brown to complement the natural color of the top.

Ed Rode characterizes himself as a designer and builder of fine art furniture, but adds, “Functionality is my utmost goal. The function has to be melded with the design.”

The inspiration for many of his stunning designs comes from a lifelong habit of spending time in the forest, sketching. The end result is a personal design formula that “reveals the tree within the piece of furniture,” Rode says. Some pieces demonstrate a tree’s record of having endured hurricanes, droughts, rainy seasons or forest fires, with dramatic results. Such specimens often present the most design challenges, he adds, and test his woodworking skills.

The 5,000-square-foot facility housing Rode Furniture in Livingston, NJ, includes both work area and showroom. The showroom inventory serves two purposes. Sometimes a designer walks in, spots a particular piece and declares that it will be perfect in a particular space, and Rode is “elated.” But he also is gratified when a customer is inspired by one of his creations and has the vision to see an alternate form of that piece.

The Hyperion Desk is 80 in. by 41 in. by 29-1/2 in. The top is one board of solid redwood with 1/2-in. acid-etched glass inlays. The base is bubinga with glass panels.

“I love the collaborative process, and I encourage the good design ideas that homeowners as well as designers bring to the process,” he says.

Rode relates one experience that demonstrates the breadth of vision some people have. A potential customer saw Rode’s ad in the July 2009 issue of Architectural Digest and visited his Web site. He liked the tables that he saw there, but was in the market for a fireplace mantle. However, the quality and design of the tables satisfied him, and he decided to talk to Rode about designing the mantle.

Rode uses wood from all over the world. In the United States, his best sources are New England and California. “Last year, I put at least 1,000 miles on a rental car in California looking for unusual pieces,” he says. “Additionally, I work with a supplier in Pennsylvania who travels the world looking for lumber. I often purchase wood from him that he finds in western Africa and southwestern Australia. He has fun, and he makes my life a lot simpler.”

This coffee table features crotch American black walnut. A lower shelf loosely mimics the shape of the top, giving the legs symmetry. The shelf is attached using through-tenons wedged with Swiss pearwood.

Before starting his furniture making business, Rode had a successful career on Wall Street that spanned three decades. His custom furniture company is only four years old, but has seen remarkable development, partly due to his corporate training (See details here).

Rode says that he was inspired by the works of James Krenov and Sam Maloof. Although his formal woodworking career is just getting started, he notes that he has been making furniture all his life.

“I can remember that when I was a kid and would fill out any kind of form or application that asked for hobbies,” he says, “I always filled in ‘woodworking.’”

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