Into the Woods

FIELD TRIP – May 2012 – Huston and Company

by Veronique Mcaree | photgraphy Amanda Kowalsi

A father, his son, plus a whole lot of wood. The result? Huston and Company’s exquisite—make that swoon-worthy—furniture handmade in Kennebunkport.

The Kennebunkport company’s graceful assortment of furniture ranges from occasional tables to cabinets, and its heirloom-quality work is cherished for its clean lines, subtle curves, and meticulous craftsmanship.
Company owners and designers Bill Huston and his son Saer (who joined his father’s business after graduating from college six years ago), along with just two craftsmen, are continuing the time-honored tradition of crafting beautiful, practical objects in much the same way that artisans did a century ago.

Huston’s path began in Norway, where he honed his woodworking skills and developed a love of simple, understated Scandinavian design. The company’s inspiration also derives from the Shaker aesthetic, Japanese minimalism, and the Arts and Crafts movement. Both father and son work to create designs that harmoniously fuse these disparate elements into something new.

Huston and Company’s collection can be found online and at their Kennebunkport showroom and workshop. The line consists of 50 or so standard pieces, all made from solid American hardwoods such as cherrywood, oak, ash, bird’s-eye maple, and black walnut. “The majority of our work is commissioned and these ‘standard pieces’ serve as idea generators to give customers a starting point,” says Bill. Saer adds, “When a client wants us to make a dining room table with six chairs, it’s a long-term decision that involves lots of collaboration. We show the customers plenty of visual references, which in the end results in creating a beautiful piece that will accommodate life at home.”
In addition to its residential clientele, Huston and Company creates furniture for an impressive list of libraries, academic institutions, and corporate clients. But despite the large scope of these projects—they are currently making 40 oak tables for a private school in New Hampshire and building a circulation desk for the University of New England library—the pieces are still made in Kennebunkport, by hand, with the same precision and care that has always been the company’s hallmark.

From hand-cut dovetails to mortise-and-tenon joinery and hand-rubbed finishes, exquisite craftsmanship sets the furniture apart from mass-produced options. In fact, each piece is signed and dated by the craftsmen. “We care so much about the product and how it’s made,” Bill says. “These are pieces that we’re handing over to people, which they’re going to have for the rest of their lives and pass down to their children. It’s made with a huge amount of integrity and pride, and that’s very important to us.”

Field Notes:

Favorite piece?
“The Coat Tree was a piece I originally designed in 1991. Since then we have built more than 1,500 of them. It is a very simple design and looks very simple in construction, but in fact it is one of our most difficult pieces to build perfectly. Also, it has a 25-pound cast-iron base made in my family’s foundry in Ohio, which was started by my grandfather in 1920 and is now in its fourth generation of family ownership.”

Best thing about working in Kennebunkport?  
“Our rural shop location is ideal for quiet, focused, contemplative woodworking and design work—and we can be walking on the beach in 10 minutes.”

If YOU WEREN’T BUILDING furniture, you’d be…?
“If I were 20 again I’m pretty sure I would be headed into architecture—the integrated design process and attention to detail fits me really well.”