It’s hard to chase success as an artist when you keep most of your work a secret. Kate Casey had established her own sculptural art practice in Brooklyn after working as a fabricator for a sculptor following her graduation from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “But I was very shy about everything I was making,” she recalls. “It touched on an inner world that I wasn’t prepared to advertise yet.”
A life-changing nudge came when she moved in with her boyfriend, inspiring the desire to update collegiate furniture acquisitions with higher quality pieces. “I thought, ‘I’ve worked as a fabricator and I know how to build stuff,’” Casey says. “So, I focused my energies into making a simple coffee table. I fell head over heels in love with it, abandoned sculpture and started working on just furniture.”
With her talents no longer hidden, Casey founded Peg Woodworking in 2014. The studio’s distinct furniture combines the soothing geometry and clean lines of Scandinavian and Shaker design with patterning inspired by Peruvian and American Indian weaving. While unmistakably sculptural, each piece is designed to endure, crafted from durable domestic hardwoods and cotton and nylon cord.
Though the woodworking for all of Peg’s furniture happens in its Bedford-Stuyvesant studio, the weaving, needing a dust-free environment, is done in Casey’s own apartment. It’s a meditative process that she is reluctant to outsource, even as orders grow in volume. “That’s such an intimate part of it for me,” she says. “We weave directly onto each piece, which allows personal time before it goes out into the world.”
Now a team of three—alongside Sally Suzuki and Catherine Woodard who came on board in 2017 and 2018, respectively—Casey hopes that the all-woman studio can be a visible example to young girls. “When I went to woodworking school, there was only one other woman,” she shares, adding that they recently hosted a group of Girl Scouts to earn their woodworking badges. “They don’t know limitations at that age,” Casey says.
Peg Woodworking’s future is equally bright, with 2020 introducing vibrant new colorways. The trio recently completed a series of colorful benches for Kelly Wearstler’s Proper Hotel in Austin and has several hospitality projects in the works. But it’s not just hotels clamoring after their pieces of late. In September, Casey received an email from Elizabeth Warren’s campaign manager: As a female woodworker from Massachusetts, they enquired, would Casey be interested in making a podium for the senator’s upcoming speech? Oh, and they needed it to be done in a week, using lumber from the homestead of former U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the Cabinet.
“Usually our lead time is six to eight weeks,” Casey says. “But we put everything aside and got all hands on deck.” The finished podium—referencing both a writing desk and a suffragette soap box—was thoroughly imbued with the studio’s ethos of women uplifting women. It also garnered the ask for Casey to lead a woodworking program for lower-school girls in New Hampshire. “When I came into the field, the warmth I received solidified the fact that I was in the right place,” Casey says. “I want to perpetuate that and pay it forward.”