Gathering for a meal is one of the most enduring and beloved traditions of the holiday season. No one knows this better than the individuals who craft those dining tables.
“Everybody wants tables for Christmas, always,” says Holly Carmichael, owner of TruWood Artisans in Stony Plain.
This version of TruWood’s Enchantment table, which seats 10 to 12, is made of salvaged red cedar from Valemount, B.C., with a dark grey stain. The top is constructed by joining several slabs together, incorporating some of TruWood’s signature bowties in black walnut. The base, one of the table’s distinguishing features, is comprised of two cedar stumps. “When I get [the stumps], they’re just full of sand and bark and it’s a crazy amount of work to get them clean like that, but well worth it,” says owner Holly Carmichael. “We’re not changing the shape of what Mother Nature has given us at all. We’re just cleaning it up and smoothing it out, and then making them level enough to bolt down the tabletops.”
Urban Timber owner Darren Cunningham, a member of Avenue‘s Top 40 Under 40 class of 2015, also notices a definite increase in custom dining room table requests toward the holiday season. “We’ve delivered tables on Christmas Eve before,” says Cunningham.
Those looking to purchase handcrafted tables for their spaces should take this holiday swell into account and place orders as early as possible to guarantee a table that’s complete in time for the festivities.
Just like family recipes that have been passed down for generations, a handcrafted table can become an heirloom. The experts have a few tips:
The choice of wood is perhaps the most impactful and obvious decision to make. Shane Pawluk, co-owner of Izm Designs, advises always being mindful of contrasting the table with a space’s floors, while Carmichael says it’s a matter of personal preference; contrast can make a big impact, but some clients will want harmony between the woods in their homes. For Cunningham, who works with reclaimed wood, it’s all about history. “If they [clients] are having trouble deciding between the type of wood they want, then we tell them the story behind the wood. The story usually sells the wood itself.”
Izm’s Iconoclast table is available in sizes up to 10 feet long. The version pictured, made from black walnut sourced from the eastern United States, seats six to eight. According to co-owner Shane Pawluk, the popular table was inspired by Izm’s desire for a pedestal table with a more branch-like base. The team created a prototype and changed a few angles in the base before settling on the current design. The intricate legs have internal joinery to ensure Izm’s modern aesthetic is maintained. “We want to keep everything hidden, clean, so you’re noticing the form more than the mechanics of it,” says Pawluk.
For a dining room table that will play host to countless meals and memories, durability is also crucial, and hard woods such as oak are the best bet. However, style sometimes takes priority – both Pawluk and Carmichael cite medium-density walnut as an incredibly popular choice because of its beauty. And don’t get preoccupied with the thought of seating your entire extended family during holiday celebrations. According to Pawluk, the occasional larger group for holidays shouldn’t tempt you to buy a bigger table than you need on an everyday basis. “People don’t care at holidays if they have to squish,” he says.
For a furniture piece that will be the central point of celebrations and special moments, developing a relationship and working with an artisan seems more fitting than simply ordering from a catalogue. Carmichael starts every table with a series of conversations, showing her clients pictures, exchanging ideas, and just talking about what would fit their needs – and that’s before the time-consuming process of aligning color and wood grain. “It’s a much different process [than at large manufacturers],” says Carmichael. “There’s a lot more care and love that goes into it.”
For its Box Car table, Urban Timber buys full boxcars to break down. This piece featured has a tabletop with oak planks that are over 110 years old from a boxcar in Kentucky, and a trestle base made of old-growth fir from grain elevators across the prairies. For the tabletop, the team members receive raw planks; they plane the bottoms off them, clean them up and join them together with specialized machinery. Afterwards, the tabletop is completely sanded and finished with Osmo, a hard wax oil. While the boxcar grooves are an integral feature of the table, owner Darren Cunningham has devised a wine-glass test to ensure it remains functional. “We drag [the glass] across, and if it hits one of the gouges and it doesn’t work, we just smooth out the gouge a little more.”
Cunningham encourages potential clients to come into the Urban Timber studio to chat with him and draw inspiration from the pieces slated for delivery. However, for Cunningham, it’s all about the final reveal. “People are very emotional when we drop off dining room tables,” he says. “I think they picture themselves sitting around the table; they picture themselves entertaining, having good times with family.
Canadiana Christmas: Truwood
1. Webber antique brass pendant, $897, from Christopher Clayton Furniture and Design House 2. Ceramic mug, $9, from The Pan Tree 3. Gold antlers, $9/$19, from Henry’s Purveyor of Fine Things 4. Custom wreath, starting at $100, from Kuhlmann’s Floral 5. Maple syrup jug, $42, from Habitat Etc. 6. Sled tea towel, $9, from The Pan Tree 7. Holly Boone felted ornaments, $35 each, from Tix on the Square 8. Alessi cheese knives, $160 (set of four), from Zenari’s 9. KHR wood turning pierced maple vase, $625, from Tix on the Square
Minimalist Holiday: IZM Iconoclast
1. Tomnuk divide pendant, $1,250, from Timbre 2. Smoked glass decanter, $395, from The Artworks 3. James Lavoie glass and concrete sculpture, $275, from Alberta Craft Council 4. Brit Read Gioco oil and vinegar tray, $85, from Timbre 5. Vintage Birks spoons (Set of 12), $250, from Swish 6. Sugahara black martini glass, $110, from The Artworks 7. Sugahara black tumbler glass, $65, from The Artworks 8. Alessi corkscrew, $120, from Zenari’s 9. Felted pierced coasters, $45 (set of four), from the Art Gallery of Alberta Gift Shop 10. Urban Carrot hot glass blue ornaments, $30, from Tix on the Square
Formal Farmhouse: Urban Timber
1. White and gold tree, $17, from Henry’s Purveyor of Fine Things 2. Bistro chandelier, $2,998, from Christopher Clayton Furniture and Design House 3. Sugahara faceted glass tumbler, $45, from The Artworks 4. Cocktail mixer, $25, from The Pan Tree 5. Antique brass candlesticks, $210 each, from The Artworks 6. Custom floral centrepiece, $250, from Fabloomosity 7. Ceramic plates with gold plating, $33 (set of four), from Henry’s Purveyor of Fine Things 8. Cambria quartz cheese board in Brittanica, $50, from Floform