RIDGEWAY, WISC. – From his hilltop shop and home in rural Wisconsin, Edward Wohl looks back on more than four decades of craftsmanship, building original fine furniture and designer cutting boards out of highly figured hardwoods such as bird’s eye maple. And he’s not done yet.
“I have been at my craft for 45 years and don’t see stopping any time soon,” he said. “In fact, my son Jonathan will be moving back to Wisconsin this coming June and joining the business.”
That business also includes Steve Pierick, who started working for Wohl more than 32 years ago when Wohl’s son was just six months old. And there is also Wohl’s wife, Ann Wolfe, who Wohl affectionately describes as the “COE, Chief of Everything.”
Rick Thaler, president of OGB Architectural Millwork, will share insights from operating a business that provides both residential cabinetry, and architectural millwork and interiors at the Cabinets & Closets 2017 event.
Wohl characterizes his furniture as “somewhere between Scandinavian and Shaker” design. It has a sculptural quality with rounded and shaped curves. There are no sharp edges or corners, and the smooth feel extends to every part of the furniture.
“We finish all the parts of any piece of furniture, the backs, the bottoms, the inside of the cabinets, even if it’s things people aren’t ever going to touch,” he said. “There’s never a point in any of my furniture where you will feel something rough, and I think people really notice that and like that.”
Although woodworking shop classes seem to be disappearing from most public schools today, Wohl attributes an early shop class as setting him on the path to his chosen career.
“I think all my life I have made things,” he said, “and I think seventh grade shop was the most fun I had in all my school days.”
Wohl comes to his designs with some formal training. He graduated from Washington University in 1967 with a BS degree in architecture. But he also says he owes a lot to his longtime friendship with the late Bill Stumpf, the acclaimed Herman Miller designer of the iconic Aeron chair.
“He was a real genius and a real incredible craftsman,” says Wohl. “Bill Stumpf paid extraordinary attention to every detail, every round, every curve, and I think I learned the essence of design and craftsmanship from him in a way that I never would have from anyone else in the world.”
Wohl also spent a summer at the California home and shop of Sam Maloof. Wohl’s chairs and rockers show the Maloof influence without being slavish clones of Maloof’s original design.
Wohl often makes scale models as part of his design process, and he incorporates design elements developed for one piece of furniture into other pieces. That gives his work a distinct and consistent style throughout.
But Wohl doesn’t depend only on his custom furniture business. He has a second shop dedicated to the manufacture of his line of 20 sizes of cutting boards as well as trays and chopping blocks. The success of the cutting boards comes as a bit of surprise to Wohl.
“We never thought the cutting boards would be a long-term craft item. Most craft items have a very short shelf life,” said Wohl. “But at this point in the game we’ve gone from making a few thousand a year to ten or twelve thousand a year, and we sell them all over the United States and in seven or eight foreign countries.”
One of the things that makes the cutting boards stand out is that they are all made of bird’s eye maple, a highly figured wood with which Wohl clearly has a long-time love affair.
“I’m not sure when I discovered bird’s-eye maple,” he said. “But it’s a perfect wood for the cutting boards because even when the shapes of the cutting boards are the same, each board is different. I love bird’s-eye maple. The pieces always look so great.”
Many woodworkers would envy Wohl’s rural craftsman lifestyle. He built is house and shop on a hilltop in 1982, with the shop just a short walk from the house.
“Having a shop here at home is perfect,” he said. “Often people come here and they say, ‘Wow, this place is nicer than our house.’ And I say, well, I spend more time here than I do in the house.”
With a wry sense of humor and a constant twinkle in his eyes, Wohl, clearly enjoys his work. “I love being in the shop,” he said, mentioning all the hours, days, nights and weekends he spends there. Then he quips, “I’m not sure I just make furniture so I can have all these tools.”
You can see an excellent and entertaining video about Wohl below or visit his website at edwardwohl.com.
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