Eye candy for any lover of fine handcrafted furniture, examples of the woodworker’s craft fill the space inside Michael McDunn’s small showroom on Rutherford Road. Pieces range from a gorgeous Biedermeier-style desk to a natural-edged coffee table with dovetailed waterfall legs, made from two matched pieces of magnolia.
At the back of the space, a pair of white oak rocking chairs, with woven seats and quarter-sawn white oak backs, beg to be on a front porch. “The rockers have turned out to be a big thing here,” McDunn says of one of the newer additions to his line. Modeled on a classic Southern rocker, the chairs are designed and contoured to be sublimely comfortable.
Meticulous details define this perfectionist’s work: snug dovetail joints, precisely mitered corners, exquisite parquetry and marquetry inlay. “It has to be right,” McDunn believes. “For instance, [the horizontal] pieces in the back of the rocker fit tightly, and allowances are made for expansion and contraction of the wood. They’ll be tight forever.”
He’s come a long way from making dollhouse furniture for his sister in sixth grade. When he came to Greenville from Pennsylvania more than four decades ago, he took classes in design at the Greenville County Museum of Art, and nailed down a job as the museum’s resident woodworker. In the 30 years since he opened this studio, McDunn estimates he’s produced around 400 different pieces—ranging in size from stools to conference tables—many taking several months to complete. His work now graces homes as far afield as Europe and is displayed at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville.
In addition to teaching classes in his adjoining studio, McDunn usually has three to four projects in the works at any one time. The bulk of these are eighteenth-century reproductions. “A good eighteenth-century design is classic,” explains the artisan. “I apply those same proportions to more contemporary pieces, and it works out quite nicely.” He opens a door in the back of the studio to show me his latest—and most unusual—project, refitting the interior of a single-engine private airplane with ash wood veneer.
Whether classic or contemporary, McDunn’s furniture is as painstaking to make as it is beautiful to behold, and all these years later, the satisfaction of making something with his hands still drives him. “You’ve really got to make a major commitment to this kind of work,” he admits, “but some days it’s hard for me to imagine ever leaving it.”
For more from Michael McDunn, visit mcdunnstudio.com