Tim Grant // WoodReform
The last time I saw Tim was about a year ago. We met for coffee in Railtown. When he said there had been a fire at his shop in Richmond, I was afraid I wouldn’t see many more of his lovely wood furniture pieces. Today I find him cozy in his new studio space at 1000 Parker Street and cheerfully wet sanding a high gloss shelf. Before the end of our chat, he tells me that this has been his best year yet.
How did you get started?
I moved to BC with my sister when I was 16. I wanted to be an architect, but when I got to BC I didn’t finish my upgrade in school (school in Quebec ended at grade 11), so I took a job in a furniture shop. I grew up in a family of woodworkers. When I realized I could make money doing what I already knew, it was an easy decision.
What kind of shops did you work in?
At first, I worked in a waterbed factory. I also made tables. It was a small, but nice sized shop.
Then I went to work for an Italian company. I learned a lot about technique working with Europeans. The guys there used to tell me, “You’ll never be like us!” because I wasn’t Italian. After a while I got tired of that, so I left.
My next job was building houses. I heard from a friend that they were looking for framers to in Tokyo, so I went there. I started leading home building projects from start to finish. That was interesting because it allowed me to think about the entire building, not just the furniture within it. Understanding the skeleton of a building is incredibly helpful in knowing how to build the furniture within it. How a piece can be mounted to a wall and where it will live within a space are the kinds of things I think about often.
How did WoodReform come about?
When I got back from Tokyo, I got a wood shop in Richmond. I started building saunas and then got into the film industry. I built sets, and I built them well. I was able to recycle a lot of materials and I knew how to build things fast and inexpensively. I only really worked about 100 days a year because of the filming schedule and the efficiency I was able to maintain. This was when I married and had kids, so I got to spend a lot of time with them. With the spare time, I started designing and building my own furniture and getting commercial jobs.
What was your big break in building your own furniture?
I did a project for Ken Nahoum, a celebrity photographer, on Greene Street in New York City. I met him through a film connection. Philippe Starck had sketched out the project and then passed it onto an Italian architect. Ken asked me for a quote and flew me to NYC to see the site. I spent three years in Richmond building that.
How did you continue to grow from there?
I moved into a bigger shop with a spray booth. This allowed me to explore colours and finishes – something I’ve always been particular about. Film teaches you how to hone in on that. Everything looks different on camera.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic?
My early aesthetic was very Japanese, from my time in Tokyo. The project at 95 Greene Street opened my eyes to a more modern aesthetic. The pieces were timeless. I still make a lot of similar pieces today. Generally, I continue to guide my designs toward a minimal aesthetic and I like to think about the durability and longevity of a piece. I make pieces that are meant to be lived with.
What drew you to architecture and furniture in the first place?
I’ve always been interested in the structure – the how and why behind a piece and the parts you can’t see. I've always made everything since I was young. I see my son like that now. Not a week goes by that he's not building things of his own imagination -- from wood, cardboard, legos. He's way ahead of his time at ten.
What kind of trends or different styles are you seeing now?
Textured solid wood has been catching my eye for a decade now. So has white wood -- I mean, really white; like paper white! Mostly I see bleach used to lighten whiten wood, but it's not the right formula. Personally, I’ve been pushing the limits with fittings, such as cantilevers, and even eliminating structural support members -- forcing wood tension to provide natural support, or using steel with wood in support combinations.
Why do you enjoy working with wood?
The way you cut wood affects its tension. If you cut out a piece, the wood will move. If you don’t pay attention to the fibers and the moisture, the wood will move. Wood is alive and will respond to you.
What’s your ideal style of working?
I’d prefer to work with a group of people who specialize in their own medium. For example, I don’t pretend to be an expert in metal. Metal can react to heat similarly, but I don’t understand all the nuances of metal the way I do with wood.
Do you have a favourite piece of your own?
The blue table that originally caught your eye is still one of my favourites. It’s a high gloss cut polished finish on solid quarter sawn white oak. It was a ton of work but I felt confident in crafting something that I hadn’t seen done before.
What have you learned lately?
How to source better, up to date hardware that is modern, sleek and minimal.
Do you have a preference between building furniture or millwork?
I prefer furniture because it’s more about the joinery and the live wood. It’s great when I can do both though because it lets me bring the entire space together holistically.
Who’s your ideal client?
My ideal client is someone that’s very trusting, someone who recognizes peoples’ experience. I like to explain the process of what I’m doing as we go through it. Ideally, I’d like to work with clients who have some sort of interest in that.
What’s the most challenging thing that you do?
My signature box joints! They can’t be CNC’d and they're dangerous to cut. It takes so much focus to get it just right so the two pieces fit perfectly together. When a joint with so many surfaces fits perfectly and needs no filler or adjustment right off the blade, it's extremely satisfying. I can probably make about 4 finger joint tables per year.
How do you source wood?
I don’t have a terribly special process and it’s hard to say what exactly I look for in a piece of wood. It’s mostly about keeping it long enough to understand it – and always knowing whether or not it’s dry.
How do you know that a piece of furniture is going to be great?
I can tell that something will be special when I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it. A piece that challenges me takes more of my focus and determination.
What advice would you give someone just starting out?
Don’t copy other people – find your own style. When I worked alone, I had focus. Work alone. There’s a lot of value in collaboration, but you have to put your nose down and hone your specific skills while developing a unique style. Put the time into the process. I like to work with other experts on projects, but you have to remember that the rest of the team needs what you have.
To find out more about WoodReform or to get in touch with Tim, visit woodreform.ca.