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Even at the age of 26, business-school-graduate-turned-carpenter Jeff Martin seems to have been born in the wrong century. Working from a spacious wood shop in the former mattress factory now known as Parker Street Studios, he often conceptualizes his household furniture designs without a computer, drafting board, or even a pencil and paper. From writing desks with secret compartments to tables that showcase the wood’s natural form, he creates each piece intuitively working within the specialized field of joinery.
Often mistakenly defined as the construction of wooden structures without the use of metal fasteners, the ancient art of joinery is in fact about fitting pieces of wood together in an effort to create a whole that “stands strong and solid as one.” Used on many scales, from erecting large houses to constructing cabinets, at its heart joinery is about building products that withstand the test of time.
Time is certainly of great concern to Martin, who, after a near-fatal snowboarding accident seven years ago, was left with a broken back, a serious concussion and no feeling in his lower extremities. Grueling physiotherapy helped him to fully recover and return to the Bachelor of Business Administration program at Bishop’s University, but Martin had experienced a marked shift of priorities. Having just overcome the possibility of spending his life in a wheelchair, he had no intention of pursuing a life imprisoned within the confines of an office chair, and instead decided to return to a dream he had upheld since childhood. After earning his BBA, Martin left university knowing that, despite no previous formal training in the area, woodworking would be his chosen path.
Following graduation Martin spent his days nestled in the forests of northern Quebec at the family cottage, assisting his stepfather, an accomplished handyman, and learning all he could about the craft of woodworking. Timber was in plentiful supply, and after trees were chopped for firewood Martin would set aside a few logs to use for his next projects. While the wood clearly had its practical uses, Martin couldn’t help but feel that “it was a shame to cut [the trees] down.” This reverence for life — not just his own but all forms of it — frames the foundational philosophy for his woodworking career.
Choosing his materials with utmost care and preferring reclaimed wood or wood that has fallen naturally from windfall, Martin’s choice of suppliers is affected by this basic principle, as evidenced by his avoidance of lumberyards that continue to sell unethically harvested wood, like the near-extinct Madagascan Rosewood. Martin considers his wood selection with the same practicality many Vancouverites use when purchasing organic produce. “It’s the same as knowing where you get your food and the person who farms it. As a woodworker, you have to know your logger and your suppliers.”
You certainly won’t find Martin’s work or the wood from which it’s made at your local IKEA. While the popular Swedish furniture maker is by no means the only manufacturer whose goods are designed entirely for scheduled obsolescence, it is perhaps the most obvious indicator of how even furniture is not immune to the fickle business of ever-changing fashions and emerging trends. “Right now, we’re at the lowest point of carpentry and design,” Martin confesses, almost sheepishly. “We’re tearing down houses every few years only to build newer ones. We’re incessantly renovating; nothing is ever built to last. That’s what makes up a large part of my day job: renovations,” the irony of which plagues him constantly. In a city as expensive as Vancouver, the reality is that this job not only pays the bills but also affords him the opportunity to further hone his skills as a master joiner and furniture designer.
His personal investment in each piece is remarkable, and ensures the excellence Martin strives to achieve in his work. Testing prototypes in his own home before production, Martin explains, “I want to know I can live with the piece comfortably and find it continuously beautiful.” With no grand illusions of becoming a legacy, whether in his own family or in the carpentry field on the whole, what matters most to Martin is that he can pass on his knowledge. Ultimately, he hopes to lead by example, offering advice, sharing his own experience and, most importantly, inspiring others through his canon of work, just as his predecessors have done for him.
Jeff Martin will be presenting his handcrafted furnishings at the East Side Culture Crawl on November 26, 27, 28th. His studio is located on the main floor of 1000 Parker Street Studios. He is currently developing a small product line that will be available for purchase around the winter holidays at Old Faithful Shop (320 W. Cordova Street).