There are many styles of rustic furniture. The most common and thought of is traditional log furniture made from natural logs – often hand peeled – sometimes with its bark left intact. Log furniture can be described as the simplest or even the most primitive of the rustic furniture styles. There is Adirondack style rustic furniture. The wealthy business people 20th century from New York built their summer lodges and camps up in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. Local craftsman were commissioned to build rustic furniture from domestic woods. Natural birch bark was prevalent and used in many designs, and over time birch bark furniture became a look synonymous with Adirondack style rustic furniture. Out west there was Mr. Thomas Molesworth with his distinct style and use of lodge pole pine. Mr. Molesworth combined natural wood, leather and accented his furniture with half log pieces and silhouettes of cowboys, cowgirls, buffalo and other western motifs. Then there is newcomer into the world of rustic furniture - barn wood furniture. Furniture made from reclaimed wood planks & beams from Midwestern barns. Barn wood has distinct texture. 100+ years of being subjected to the sun, rain and wind gives wood a distinct texture and warm patina. Barnwood makes excellent rustic furniture. There is a 21st century trend to build furniture from reclaimed wood and mix it with modern bases or use it in linear furniture designs. This combination or style could be argued is a form of rustic furniture. Yes, it is modern, but it is also rustic. One style that is seldom discussed, but without doubt, is a distinct and prevalent category of rustic furniture is “free form rustic furniture.” What is free form rustic furniture you might ask?
Well, free form rustic furniture has been around almost as long as any of the styles. What makes it a distinct style? Well, quite simply stated free form furniture has no right angles. No two pieces could ever be alike as it is primarily made with twisty branches or natural roots. Mr. Raymond W. Overholzer may be the earliest known free form rustic furniture builder. In the 1920’s Mr. Overholzer lived near the Manistee National Forest in Michigan. Mr. Overholzer often wandered through the forest. He lamented the over logging and worried that pine would never again grow naturally in the forest so he began to collect pine roots and branches. He started to fashion free from style furniture from his collection of organic, twisty woods and an artisan and distinct style was born. Mr. Overholzer works can be viewed at the “Shrine of the Pines”, a log cabin gallery showcasing Mr. Overholzer’s furniture in Baldwin, Michigan. If you are a person who likes rustic furniture or a rustic furniture builder, this is a place you must visit. Put it on the bucket list. Mr. Overholzer made over 200 works in his lifetime.
There are many talented free form furniture builders that deserve mentioning, but time does not allow mentioning all in this article. One of the most famous was Matt Madsen. Mr. Madsen started building free form rustic furniture in northern California in the fifties. Mr. Madsen liked to use redwood roots, manzanita, and juniper and combine these with thick solid slabs of burl buckeye and redwood. Matt moved and built furniture in many different areas of California, but he always stayed true to his distinct look. Mr. Madsen was a prolific rustic furniture builder. He often worked seven days a weeks. He loved to push the boundaries of designs. Mr. Madsen really became known for his incredible free form grandfather clocks and rockers, but anything he built quickly found a home.
In 2001 Mr. Madsen moved to northern Michigan to be close to his wife’s family. Mr. Madsen was in his seventies, but he still had the passion to design and build rustic furniture. Being in Michigan it was inevitable that our paths would cross. They eventually did and a friendship was formed. Several months later Mr. Madsen asked if he could work out of our newly built workshop. The answer may have taken less than a second to come out of my mouth, but it was resounding “yes”. Woodland Creek would have one of the best free form rustic furniture builders of all time teaching and mentoring us. We soaked up everything he offered. We watched and listened like all young apprentices should. Matt taught us how the wood has to flow and appear as if Mother Nature intended it to be this way. Not all the guys were able to learn the art of free form rustic furniture. Some thought and built linear and building free form was not within their abilities. We are very appreciative of everything Matt taught us. Matt’s wife passed away, and he desired to be near his family back in California so we shook hands and parted friends. We had Matt with us for about two wonderful years. Matt passed away about 18 months after moving. We honor Matt everyday by carrying on with his unique style of free form rustic furniture. I think Matt would be proud to see some of the new designs the men he taught have introduced over the past ten years. Matt loved to push the boundary of rustic furniture design and so do we.
On behalf of all the woodworkers of Woodland Creek Furniture, I would like to invite you to visit our workshop and see the guys carrying on the free form style of Matt Madsen. We give tours of our workshop seven days a week.
Woodland Creek Furniture