Monday morning is my favorite time of the week. I love working and will have been thinking about so much over the weekend that I couldn’t sleep in on Monday if I wanted to,” confesses Caleb Woodard.
Following nearly 12 years in Washington, D.C., the high-concept furniture craftsman was happy to trade hour-long commutes for two-minute walks to work in his hometown of Springfield, Tennessee, a sleepy place about 25 miles north of Nashville. He says relocating, family in tow, about seven years ago has been the best thing for his work-life balance, his creative process and, ultimately, his business. “Being relaxed has allowed me to be more involved with my ideas,” explains Woodard, who begins each project with a meditation. “I spend a lot of time just sitting quietly—and that’s when most of the work happens. Picasso said without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
Woodard set up shop in a 1920s brick building one block off the town’s historic square. The shotgun-style space is roomy enough to accommodate a carving room and street-front studio—its original tin-tile ceilings and stripped plaster walls providing an atmospheric backdrop for Woodard’s otherworldly silhouettes. One wouldn’t be at fault for discerning hints of Constantin Brâncuși or Jean Arp in his oeuvre, though Woodard won’t make those comparisons himself. He is quick, however, to cite legendary sculptors, rather than furniture makers, as his greatest influencers.
At age 6, “my dad taught me traditional mortise and tenon, and how to dovetail, but I’d be sneaking off to the side with a block of wood just making shapes out of it,” recalls Woodard, who says it took a long time to embrace his idiosyncrasy. “I learned to move more instinctually to excel in the details.” He focused on perfecting his techniques, rather than trying to be unique. “Matisse said that anything good within you will come out.”
While Woodard employs a few traditional methods, like stack lamination—à la Wendell Castle or Isamu Noguchi—most of his processes are more proprietary. “Some pieces have more than 200,000 hand-applied textures and up to 400 hours spent detailing them,” he explains. In an era when nearly everything can be 3D printed and automated, “these are impossible to replicate by machine.”
Most are made from air-dried domestic hardwoods like walnut and ash, but Woodard has dabbled in ebonized sassafrass and often reaches for imported mahogany to fashion the elaborate hand-carved doors that comprise a quarter of his work—a majority for elite private residences in Miami, L.A., the Bay Area, the Hamptons and New York.
Considering his designer clients range from Kelly Behun to Joe Nahem to Amy Lau, it’s surprising to learn that only three of his commissions to date have come from the Southeast. In fact, Woodard hosts out-of-town talents so often he plans to build a stylized designer cottage on the property surrounded by courtyard gardens.
Until then, “My focus is exploring this allegorical, textural work,” he says. “I’m constantly aware of the brevity of life; that there’s only so much time to do what I’m meant to.”