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No Lost Art

esco mag coverThe fine art of handcrafted furniture continues today at American Furniture Design 

 By Dawn Brookshire Home, Garden & Design Editor, Photography by Dan Clement 

Live, Work & Play in Escondido

When you walk into the Valley Center home of Jon and Susan Rodriguez you notice something different. It’s subtle, but definite. It’s the sun on the wood as it illuminates each grain…and then you know: the exquisitely handcrafted pieces of furniture before you are anything but ordinary; undeniably, they are art of the very highest form.

While large furniture retailers – such as Thomasville, Ethan Allen and Bassett – certainly have their place and play a large role in today’s home décor, the traditional craft of handmade furniture is not a lost one and is being practiced by Brian Murphy, of Murphy’s Fine Woodworking (a division of American Furniture Design), commissioned and purchased by clients like the Rodriguez’s. 

Murphy started woodworking with his dad and began his training in art as a young boy of 12. He has been working, in some capacity, in the field ever since. In 1991 he started American Furniture Design and has become one of the largest suppliers of woodworking plans, hardware and accessories in North America. His 68-page catalog is an industry staple, featuring materials stocked from around the world and sent to an international database of over 60,000 people.

A division of American Furniture Design is Murphy’s Fine Woodworking, the name under which Murphy plies his trade. A leader in the Arts & Crafts style (also sometimes referred to as the “Craftsman Style”) since 1988, Murphy, along with the occasional help of his son, Chris, has created more than 160 custom pieces of furniture for his clientele’s homes.

And this is where the Rodriguez’s come in. Jon and Susan were in the market for a dining room table and headboard for their bed when they came across an ad for American Furniture Design. They both liked the Arts & Crafts style the company produced, and called Brian to see what he’d say. Upon their first meeting Jon recalls, “Brian was so passionate about his work, and thorough about explaining the materials and process, that we were immediately impressed. We were pretty sure we wanted him to build our furniture before we even saw, in person, his work.”

That came next. Brian had them visit his Escondido shop and it was after seeing what he had to offer that the Rodriguez’s decided to expand the scope of their project; from the original dining room table and headboard for their bed to 24 pieces and three rooms worth of furniture – one of the largest individual projects Brian’s been commissioned for to date.

Of the experience Susan says, “Brian’s an artist, a true craftsman, and we really appreciated the fact that we were buying a piece of art versus a mass-produced product. Plus, as I compared the cost of Brian’s work to that of other fine furniture retailers, I found he was actually quite competitive. As a result, our money went toward quality construction rather than to buying just a brand name. We’ll have these items forever.” A statement with which Brian concurs, “The furniture I build is designed to last lifetimes, and is something that can be passed through generations.”

Three rooms, 24 pieces, and ten and a half months later, the job is complete, the furniture in use. Of the whole process, the Rodriguez’s note, “It’s been a real growing one for us. We’ve really come to see this type of furniture is art. And we appreciated that Brian was a local builder and we could be part of the process, popping into his shop on weekends to see how things were going. And if ever we had a concern, he was always more than willing to make revisions, even time consuming and costly ones.”

Of the process and what makes this project unique, Murphy says, “Every board that I used was carefully inspected and selected to highlight the very best grain pattern for its application. Each piece was intentionally picked for where it would be placed – the best boards being used for the most prominent areas [such as a table top or arm rest]. This made the entire project striking, and is a feature you’d never find in store-bought furniture because they have to get the highest yield from the wood they have.”

Murphy is humble, but sure, about his skill, confident that the work he produces cannot be matched by your everyday retailer, or by any other craftsman in the area. And when asked if he feels threatened by his competition from the large retail stores, he simply answers with his mission statement: “If you produce an excellent product, render great customer care, and design for the customer’s need, there will always be clients that will want your work.”

And if the satisfaction of the Rodriguez’s is any indication, indeed, there will always be a client for Brian Murphy’s work. And two of them will likely be Jon and Susan Rodriguez again real soon – next up: a dresser to accompany their headboard.